NISSAN FINISH 1-2 IN GRUELLING LESOTHO SUN 400 Nissan Motorsport's Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford (Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody) raced to a third successive Absa Off Road Championship win in Lesotho at the weekend, when they led home 22...
NISSAN FINISH 1-2 IN GRUELLING LESOTHO SUN 400
Nissan Motorsport's Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford (Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody) raced to a third successive Absa Off Road Championship win in Lesotho at the weekend, when they led home 22 survivors from 46 combined production and special vehicle entries in the Lesotho Sun 400, round five of the championship.
It was a race of attrition for many in the mountain kingdom with hard luck stories, near misses, lucky escapes and a spectacular end-over-end crash to talk about after two days, 432 km and between seven and 10 hours' hard driving.
Second among the nine surviving production cars was the second Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody of reigning champions Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan, who finished 38 minutes behind their team-mates and 57 minutes ahead of Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin (Castrol Team Toyota Hilux 2.7i), who scored their second successive class D win.
Cox and Pitchford and their 3,5-liytre V6 Nissan delivered a faultless performance throughout the weekend. They were the fastest production vehicle combination in Friday's 8-km short circuit and 48-km prologue that preceded Saturday's race and they led the 376-km race from start to finish.
Grobler and Jordaan were second quickest in the short circuit race, but experienced electrical problems in the prologue when their Nissan stalled and then refused to restart when they were just 15-km into the route. They were towed back to the Designated Service Point by their team and the fault was identified and fixed in time for Saturday's race.
Their misfortune, however, dropped them down to 35th in the starting order and 16th among the production vehicles. The pair has been forced to come from behind in each of the last two championship events and again they turned in a trademark charge through the field.
Despite having to drive in the dust of the other competitors for much of the race, they managed to catch and pass all but their team-mates by the time they reached the finish.
Second in class D and fourth overall was the Team Ford Ranger of Manfred Schroder and Alec Harris, with Henri Zermatten and Bodo Schwegler recording their 19th consecutive finish in seventh overall and third in class D in the Mastercraft/Ryobi Mitsubishi Pajero.
Winners of class E for the second event in a row and fifth in the production vehicle category were Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst in the Tyco Trucks Toyota Hilux. Second in class and sixth overall were reigning class E champions Hugo and Japie de Bruyn (Castrol Toyota Hilux), while Zane Pearce and Hennie Vosloo were ninth overall and third in class E in their Castrol Team Toyota Hilux.
Notable retirees among the production vehicles included Gavin Cronje and Robin Houghton, who spectacularly rolled their Castrol Team Toyota Hilux 2.7i end-over-end after hitting a bump in the road. The pickup ended up on its wheels with its occupants no worse than shaken up and Cronje drove it slowly back to the Designated Service Point 20 km away to retire for the day.
They had qualified fastest among the class D vehicles in Friday's prologue and were leading their class at the time.
First among the special vehicles in the 432-km race in the Lowlands and the Maluti mountains of Lesotho was the BAT of father and son pairing of Nick and Ryan Harper. Second was the Motorite BAT of BAT creator Brandon Harcus and Alec Salley, with Shameer Variawa and VZ van Zyl third in the Total Porter.
First in class B and fourth overall among the special vehicles was the Motorite Racing BAT-Nissan of Evan Hutchison and Trevor Ormerod. Second were brothers Rudi and Pierre van Graan in the Technochair Zarco Lite and third were brothers Hendrik and Louis Fourie in their Zarco Lite.
Class S was won by former national off road champion Richard Schilling and Chris Davies in their Plastotech Aceco, who were 11th. Second and 13th overall were Nic Goslar and Jaco Robbertze in a Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco.
Notable retires among the special vehicles included the brothers, Gary and Bevan Bertholdt in the BATs. Bevan and co-driver Nick Selemolela in their Chev-engined BAT started the race from pole position after taking the honours in the prologue, but went out while leading on the second lap with gearbox problems.
Gary and co-driver Siegfried Rousseau led in the early stages after Bevan and Selemolela suffered a puncture but were to go out when a tie-rod bolt broke just six kilometres into the second lap.
The Nissan team of Cox/Pitchford, Grobler/Jordaan and Du Plessis/Du Plessis won the manufacturers' prize for the day.
1 N and R Harper (BAT) 7h 40m 33,8s; 2 B Harcus/A Salley (BAT) 7h 45m 34,4s; 3 S Variawa/VZ van Zyl (Porter) 7h 58m 01,7s; 4 E Hutchison/T Ormerod (BAT) 8h 16m 21,9s; 5 W Battershill/R Sutton (Jimco) 8h 33m 41,0s; 6 Rudi and Pierre van Graan (Zarco Lite) 8h 59m 24,4s; 7 T Marsh/M Whitehouse (BAT) 9h 03m 15,8s; 8 H and L Fourie (Zarco Lite) 9h 33m 38,8s; 9 C Matthews/J Erasmus (WPP Footloose) 9h 35m 10,4s; 10 J Thomson/C McNamara (Zarco Lite) 9h 44m 11,1s.
1 A Cox/R Pitchford (Nissan) 7h 11m 06,3s; 2 H Grobler/F Jordaan (Nissan) 7h 49m 02,1s; 3 M Cronje/C Birkin (Toyota) 8h 46m 14,7s; 4 M Schroder/Alec Harris (Ford) 9h 7m 07,7s; 5 C Visser/J Badenhorst (Toyota) 9h 11m 35,9s; 6 H and J de Bruyn (Toyota) 9h 11m 47,9s; 7 H Zermatten/B Schwegler (Mitsubishi) 9h 22m 50,9s; 8 J and A du Plessis (Nissan) 9h 34m 34,0s; 9 Z Pearce/H Vosloo (Toyota) 9h 42m 00,0s.