Eastern Cape 500 final summary

FIVE IN A ROW FOR NISSAN, HAT-TRICK FOR VOS Fish River Sun - Former South African champions Duncan Vos and Ralph Pitchford gave Nissan their fifth Production Vehicle win in a row when they won the Amathole 500, round five of the Absa Off Road...

FIVE IN A ROW FOR NISSAN, HAT-TRICK FOR VOS

Fish River Sun - Former South African champions Duncan Vos and Ralph Pitchford gave Nissan their fifth Production Vehicle win in a row when they won the Amathole 500, round five of the Absa Off Road Championship, which finished here today.

It was Vos's third win in a row and Pitchford's second win of the season after he missed last month's Toyota 1000 Desert Race because of overseas commitments. But, for the second race in a row Vos, in a factory Nissan Navara, was gifted a win by Castrol Toyota Hilux pair Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin.

Cronje/Birkin led by more than a minute when they crashed only a kilometer from the finish. The pair also crashed last time out when they had victory in their grasp on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, and handed victory to Vos and stand in co-driver Richard Leeke.

The Cronje/Birkin indiscretion and the demise of reigning SA champions Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan, also in a Nissan Navara, lifted Neil Woolridge/Kenny Skjoldhammer, in the factory Ford Racing Ranger, into second place with Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn taking the final podium place in the Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux. Cronje/Birkin, after being helped back onto four wheels by the de Bruyn's, limped home in fourth place with Mark Corbett/Rudy Balzer (Century Property Development Nissan Navara) rounding out the top five.

Grobler, suffering from a bout of flu, and Jordaan also crashed when they hit a sluit and destroyed the Navara's suspension. With Manfred Schroder and Ward Huxtable, in the Barloworld Absolute Ford Ranger, retiring with a broken differential the situation at the front of the field was always delicately poised.

"When we saw the Toyota on its side we couldn't believe it," said Vos. "It was the sort of race where you had to focus, focus, focus and then focus some more.

"The route was ultra fast with varying terrain and conditions and you could not afford any lapse in concentration."

Cronje/Birkin and Schroder/Huxtable shared the fasted time on the Friday prologue with the Ford crew retiring early on. At the halfway point Cronje and Birkin led from Grobler/Jordaan and Vos/Pitchford with Woolridge/Skjoldhammer moving up the field in impressive fashion.

Class D was dominated by brothers Henri and Maurice Zermatten, in the Ryobi Nissan, who have found their touch after a slow start to the season and scored their second win in a row. The Zermatten's were just over four minutes ahead of Cliff and Louis Weichelt (Bosal Toyota Hilux 4D4) with Ramon Bezuidenhout and Stefan Lock (Toyota Hilux) a further seven minutes in arrears.

Championship leaders Harold and Tiaan Coen, in a Land Rover, had a wretched event. They never recovered from a poor prologue and were eventually classified sixth in class behind Coetzee Labuscagne/Johan Gerber (Raysonics Nissan Hardbody) and Jurie and Arnold du Plessis in the BB Auto Nissan Hardbody.

The demise of George and Sharon Barkhuizen in the Ruwacon Toyota Hilux, who rolled heavily, handed the Class E win to Jack Peckham/Lucia Santoro in the Ford Racing Ranger and eased the logjam at the top of the class championship. At the start of the event just one point separated the two crews.

Peckham had an eventful event. He was forced to finish the race on his own after Santoro suffered a severe bout of car sickness midway through the morning.

Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux (Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux) trailed in around 15 minutes behind Peckham. There was a welcome podium finish for Thomas Rundle/Brian Roberts in the Barden Tyre Services Nissan Hardbody, while Brian Martin/Ockie Fourie (Castrol Toyota Hilux) also lost championship ground via a non finish.

Nissan won the manufacturers challenge to increase their lead over reigning champions Toyota.

POPULAR WIN FOR ALBERTS/HUNTER

Veterans Nardus Alberts and Collin Hunter provided the fifth different Special Vehicle category winners in as many races with a popular win in the Amathole 500, round five of the Absa Off Road Championship, which ended here today.

Alberts and Hunter, in the Wrapsa BAT, crossed the line on three wheels to give Alberts his first national championship win since the Caledon 400 nearly 20 years ago. The car lost the left rear wheel a kilometre from the finish with Alberts/Hunter holding off championship leaders Nick and Ryan Harper, in the Atlas Copco BAT, by just over three minutes.

With the Motorite BAT crews of reigning champions Alfie Cox/Hennie ter Stege and Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann failing to see out the distance, second place saw the Harpers consolidate their championship lead. Third were Colin Matthews and Alan Smith in the Century Property Developments BAT, with Matthews equaling the best result of his career.

"This is a special moment for us," said a delighted Alberts at the finish. "I have waited a long time for a national win and to do it against such a competitive field is a boost for us older guys."

Alberts and Hunter started third in the Special Vehicle category behind Gary Bertholdt/Geoff Minnitt in the Atlas Copco Porter and Cox and ter Steege. Mechanical maladies sidelined Bertholdt/Minnitt and Cox/ter Stege, and Alberts and Hunter suddenly emerged as potential winners.

After the halfway mark Hutchison/Bergmann also fell by the wayside, along with Toyota Desert Race winner Karl-Heinz Sullwald and Paul Helberg (Sullwald Transport Zarco). Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau (Total Motorsport Porter) were slowly dropping back, and from eighth place after a disappointing Friday prologue the Harpers gradually moved up the pecking order.

"We wanted a good finish to consolidate our championship hopes, and that is exactly what we got," said Harper. "What made it more satisfying was that after a disappointing prologue we did not have a good start position."

The big news in Class B was the end to the Hendrik and Jan Kraaij winning streak in the Regent Racing BAT. After four wins in a row an off road excursion cost them wads of time.

They were eventually the last car to finish before the time bar rule came into operation and this placed them third in Class B. The win went to former champion Marcus Taylor and Derek Keith in the JRE, with Johan and Etienne Bezuidenhout battling along to finish second in the Adenco BAT.

Class S saw lone finishers in KwaZulu-Natal crew Glen Gibson and Mark Whitehurst in the Absolute Aceco. It gave the pair their first win of the season with championship frontunners Richard Schilling/Chris Davies (Plastotech Raceco) and Nic Goslar/Richard Carolin (Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco) failing to finish.

Schilling/Davies did not start after clutch damage suffered during the Friday prologue to determine start positions. Goslar and Carolin were time barred after sideshaft problems.

-credit: msa

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About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Mark White , Alfie Cox , Ralph Pitchford , Mark Corbett , Duncan Vos