Toyota Dealer 400: Series event summary

ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP CHAMPIONSHIP WIN FOR VOS, SEVEN IN A ROW FOR NISSAN Just three seconds were enough for Nissan factory driver Duncan Vos to clinch the Production Vehicle driver's championship in this year's Absa Off Road ...

ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP CHAMPIONSHIP WIN FOR VOS, SEVEN IN A ROW FOR NISSAN

Just three seconds were enough for Nissan factory driver Duncan Vos to clinch the Production Vehicle driver's championship in this year's Absa Off Road Championship.

Three seconds was the margin Vos and Ralph Pitchford, in a Nissan Navara, had over team-mates Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan to win a pulsating battle on the Toyota Dealer 400 in Mpumalanga over the weekend. It was enough for Vos to shut out reigning champion Grobler to clinch his second overall driver's championship and, at the same time, give Nissan their seventh win in a row in this year's championship.

But while Vos wrapped up the overall driver's championship, the co-driver situation is still undecided. Pitchford has missed two events this year through overseas commitments, and he and Jordaan will fight it out at the last event of the season.

The Ford Carnival City 400 will also see the title issue in the premier Super Production Class settled. A differentiation in points in scoring for overall and class results has kept the SP Class battle alive.

The three second margin between Vos/Pitchford and Grobler/Jordaan, after more than six hours and 400 kilometres of racing, gives an idea of the intensity of the battle between the two Nissan crews. The fact that the two Nissans were 16 minutes ahead of Brandon Harcus and Juan Mohr, in a works Ford Racing Ranger, also tells a story of total Nissan domination.

With the Friday prologue cancelled because of rapidly rising water at a river crossing, start order for the race was based on the national seeding list. This saw Vos/Pitchford start two minutes behind Grobler and Jordaan.

Both teams suffered from punctures, but it was the second of the three loops that made up the event, that decided the outcome. Grobler/Jordaan were quicker than Vos/Pitchford on he first and third loops but, hampered by a steering problem, dropped nearly eight minutes on a wet and slippery middle section.

A tough route and the elements saw to it that only 10 of the 32 Production Vehicle starters were classified as finishers. But the Nissan cup ran over when Mark Corbett and Rudy Balzer (Century Property Developments Nissan Navara) and Ivar Tollefsen and stand in co-driver VZ van Zyl, in a third factory Navara, joined Vos/Pitchford and Grobler/Jordaan in the top five.

"That was as tough a race as you can get," said Vos. "I am obviously delighted with the result, but I am mentally and physically finished."

The Nissan domination was helped along by the early demise of Mark Cronje/Chris Birkin in the Castrol Toyota Hilux, and former champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer in a second factory Ford. The Toyota broke a rear axle and the Ford went out with suspension problems.

An unhappy event for Toyota saw Cronje/Birkin joined later by Bevan Bertholdt/Robin Houghton and Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst in Castrol Toyota Hilux entries. An off road excursion saw Bertholdt/Houghton time barred, with side shaft problems sidelining Visser and Badenhorst.

Brave efforts saw Kobus van Tonder and Riaan Guelpa (Unifreight Ford Ranger) and Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux) trail in at the tail end of the field. Plagued by a myriad of problems the two SP Class crews were, however, around 90 minutes behind the winners.

A win for Henri and Maurice Zermatten (Ryobi Nissan Hardbody), a string of retirements and a hard luck story, have kept the Class D championship alive with four or five crews still in with a chance of taking the title. Title contenders Coetzee Labuscagne/Johan Gerber (Raysonics Nissan Hardbody), Arnold du Plessis/Johan Knox (BB Auto Nissan Hardbody), Jurie du Plessis/Andre du Plessis (BB Auto Nissan Hardbody) and Harold and Tiaan Coen (Land Rover) all fell by the wayside, while Ramon Bezuidenhout/Stefan Lock (Toyota Hilux) missed the time bar cut off by seconds.

The Zermatten's, who took their third win of the season, were followed home by Cliff and Louis Weichelt (Bosal Toyota Hilux D4D) who overcame punctures and a down on power motor to hang in for second. The Class D dogfight at Carnival City is going to be a feature of the last event of the year.

Down in Class E the Castrol Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux pair of Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux clawed their way back into championship contention. Championship leaders Jack Peckham/Lucio Santoro (Ford Racing Ranger) failed to see out the distance for the first time this year, and George and Sharon Barkhuizen (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux) also lost ground. Visser/le Roux were the only Class E finishers and had a clean run. According to the reticent Visser the crew "never had to get out the car."

With title issues still to be settled the Ford Carnival City 400 will hold plenty of interest. Top of the bill, however, will be the Class D battle.

ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP HUTCHISON/BERGMAN DOMINATE TOYOTA DEALER 400

Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann, in a Motorite BAT, completely dominated the Toyota Dealer 400 in Mpumalanga over the weekend to set up a nail biting finish to the Special Vehicle title race in this year's Absa Off Road Championship.

The Toyota Dealer 400 was the penultimate round of the championship and Hutchison and Bergman's third win of the year means the final event -- the Ford Carnival City 400 - will see a straight fight between the Motorite crew and Atlas Copco BAT pair Nick and Ryan Harper in the overall and Class A championships. The Harpers went into the Mpumalanga event with a 15 point lead over Hutchison and Bergmann in the overall championship, but lost valuable ground when they came in third behind the Motorite team and Collin Matthews/Alan Smith in the Century Property Development BAT.

At the same time this weekend's race settled one other championship issue. Veterans Richard Schilling and Chris Davies, with a little help from Rob Wark, wrapped up the Class S title.

This weekend's affair also produced a race that had a little bit of everything. Rapidly rising water at a river crossing forced the cancellation of the pre-race prologue, forcing officials to revert to the national seeding list for a start order, and the elements and a tough route then produced a race of attrition.

Only a third of the Special Vehicle category starters were classified as finishers, and it took the lead crews just over six hours to complete the 400 kilometre course. A route that had plenty of variety and the elements combined to make it a long day at the office Hutchison and Bergmann, however, were in compelling form and pulverised the field. Apart from a couple of punctures, a common malady, they had a clean run and were around four minutes ahead of Matthews and Smith

"We knew it was all or nothing for us, and we just had to win," said Hutchison. "The Century Property Development Team did us a favour by coming in ahead of the Harpers, and now it is all the way to the wire at Carnival City."

Matthews and Smith continued their stunning recent form with their best result to date. An intermittent misfire was their only concern, and they are rapidly earning a reputation as chargers.

Matthews and Smith were five minutes ahead of the Harpers who spent their day fighting against the likes of reigning champions Alfie Cox and Hennie ter Stege, in the second Motorite BAT, the Total Motorsport Porter of Shameer Variawa/Siegfried Rousseau and the Total Jimco of Naeem Moosajee and Rayhaan Bodhanya.

The Total pair were to fall by the wayside and Cox/ter Stege came in fourth. Hit by punctures the outgoing champions were around eight minutes behind the Harpers, but had just over a minute in hand over the steady Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald, in the Regent Racing BAT, who rounded out the top five.

Apart from Variawa/Rousseau and Moosajee/Bodhanya the high attrition rate included the likes of Gary Bertholdt/Geoff Minnitt (Atlas Copco Porter), Nardus Alberts and Henry Kirstein in the Wrapsa BAT and Clint Gibson/Gary Campbell in the Absolute BAT. Apart from mechanical woes, the tough route and punctures saw crews time barred and there were the usual hard luck stories.

In one of the best performance of the day brothers Johann and Etienne Bezuidenhout brought the Adenco BAT home in sixth overall to win Class B. It was a good day for the Bezuidenhout family with father Bez, paired with Johann de Bruyn in a second Adenco BAT, finishing second in class.

For the first time this season Class B champions Hendrik and Jan Kraaij (Regent Racing BAT) failed to see out the distance. They were one of any number of crews to be plagued by punctures, and eventually ran out of wheels.

Another fine performance saw Schilling and Davies, joined by Wark in the Aceco, come home eighth overall. With closest challengers Nic Goslar/Richard Carolin (Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco) among those to be time barred, it wrapped up the Class S title for Schilling and Davies.

With Schilling breaking his wrist a fortnight ago, Wark was brought in . to share driving duties. Schilling fought the pain barrier to drive the. second of the three loops that made up the route, and was more than . happy to hand the car back to Wark for the final driving stint Although. the Class B and Class S title issues have been laid to rest, the season. is set for a pulsating climax at the Ford Carnival City 400. The final . showdown between the Harpers and Hutchison/Bergmann is a race to relish.

-credit: absa/mweb.co.za

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Series Other rally
Drivers Alfie Cox , Ralph Pitchford , Mark Corbett , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst