Darling: Series shakedown report

FIRST BLOOD TO NISSAN IN PRODUCTION CAR CHAMPIONSHIP DARLING - Reigning champions Nissan drew first blood when the opening salvoes of the Production Car championship were fired at the Nissan Dealer 400, opening round of the Absa Off Road ...

FIRST BLOOD TO NISSAN IN PRODUCTION CAR CHAMPIONSHIP

DARLING - Reigning champions Nissan drew first blood when the opening salvoes of the Production Car championship were fired at the Nissan Dealer 400, opening round of the Absa Off Road Championship, here today.

Veteran former champion Hannes Grobler, with a new co-driver Juan Mohr in the factory Nissan Navara, took the honours in the 70 kilometre prologue to determine start positions for the race tomorrow. Grobler and Mohr came in 19 seconds ahead of reigning drivers champion Duncan Vos and Ralph Pitchford in another of the factory Navara entries running in the premier SP Class.

Third were Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin in the Castrol Toyota Hilux with veteran former champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer fourth in the factory Ford Racing Ranger. On a hot and humid day the top five was rounded out by a third factory Nissan Navara crew in Norwegian Ivar Tollefsen and Briton Quin Evans.

"We had a good run and Juan and I got on well in the car," said the veteran Grobler. "I am sure we are going to develop into a good combination and today's display was a good start for us.

"It is going to be a tough race but we look to be in good shape."

Vos and Pitchford also reported a clean run as did Cronje and Birkin. Woolridge and Skjoldhammer were also happy with the opening day of their season, while a fuel starvation problem cost Tollefsen and Evans time.

"We did not push too hard today," said Castrol Toyota's Cronje. "The route was a little dusty and we are happy with where we are."

Behind the top five there were mixed fortunes for Chris Visser and Japie Bezuidenhout in the Castrol Toyota Hilux and off road legend Alfie Cox and Hennie ter Stege in the Motorite SP. The Toyota crew ran into differential problems and are doubtful starters for the race, while the Motorite team reported a clean run.

"It is going to take us time to get used to running a Production Car," said Cox. "On that basis we were happy with today's performance."

Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber, in the Raysonics Nissan Hardbody, were fastest in Class D. They had a clean run to edge out last year's top rookies Ramon Bezuidenhout and Stefan Lock in a Toyota Hilux.

Third were reigning drivers champion Cliff Weichelt and new navigator Jimmy Goch in the N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux D4D. Minor mechanical problems cost them time.

Castrol/Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux pair Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux lead the Class E brigade ahead of Thomas Rundle and Brian Roberts in the Barden Tyre Services Nissan Hardbody. Third were Toyota Hilux newcomers Wynand van der Linde and Seffie van Schalkwyk, with Ford Racing Ranger pair Jack Peckham and Lucio Santoro in fourth place.

Peckham is the reigning drivers champion and le Roux the co-driver champion. There is not much between the top four in Class E, and a good battle looks to be on the cards.

The race proper starts at 08h00 in the town centre in Darling. The finish is at the Darling club with the first car expected at around 14h30.

VARIAWA/ROUSSEAU WIN NISSAN DEALER 400 PROLOGUE

DARLING - Former South African drivers champion Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau, in the Total Motorsport Porter, set the early pace in the prologue for the opening event of the Absa Off Road Championship, the Nissan Dealer 400, here today.

Variawa and Rousseau won the prologue to grab pole position for the race proper tomorrow. The pair were 23 seconds quicker than Brandon Harcus and veteran Richard Leeke in the Motorite BAT to grab the early psychological advantage.

Both crews reported clean runs with Harcus, back in a Special Vehicle after a season in the Production Vehicle category. Leeke is a multiple SA rally and off road champion who is back in a Special Vehicle for the first time in more than 20 years.

Third were reigning champions Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann (Motorite BAT) with Naeem Moosajee and Rayhaan Bodhanya fourth in the Tyre Rack Jimco. Former SA champion Karl-Heinz Sullwald and son Quinton completed the top five in the Sullwald Transport Zarco.

"We had a good run," said Variawa. "We were often in contention last season and hopefully we can turn that into a win or two this year.

"The car is good, the route is good and it should be a good race."

For Harcus the return to the Special Vehicle fold was a bonus. The BAT builder spent last season in a factory Ford Racing Ranger in the Production Car category.

"This is where I belong," said Harcus who won this event two years ago in a singleseater. "Being back in a Special is great and I think Richard is also going to enjoy himself."

The big losers in the prologue were last season's overall championship and Class A runners-up Nick and Ryan Harper. The father and son crew crashed three kilometres into the prologue.

"We hit and ditch and cartwheeled," said Harper senior. "The engine and gearbox mountings are broken so it is an early trip home for us.

"It is very disappointing but that is racing."

The fastest time in Class B went to reigning champion Jan Kraaij and new co-driver Tiddo Voogt in the Keymax BAT. They came in ahead of veteran Cape pair Bes Bezuidenhout and Johann de Bruyn in the Adenco BAT.

The Cape crew, however, are doubtful starters for the race proper. A gearbox problem could keep then from coming under starters orders.

Brothers David and Gary White, in the Ruwacon BAT, struck the opening blow in the new Class P category. The Whites edged out another set of brothers, Johan and Etienne Bezuidenhout in the Adenco BAT, in what looks to have the makings of a highly competitive category.

Third were the reigning Class S champions Richard Schilling and Chris Davies in a Raceco. Class P is set to take over from Class S, which will be phased out at the end of the season.

The race starts at 08h00 tomorrow in the Darling town centre. The finish is at the Darling club with the first car expected at around 14h30.

-credit: absa/mweb.co.za

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About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Ralph Pitchford , Quin Evans , Duncan Vos