Darling: Round one summary

DREAM START FOR NISSAN FACTORY TEAM Reigning champions Nissan made a dream start to the Absa Off Road Championship when they scored a one-two in the Production Vehicle category in the Nissan Dealer 400, the opening event of the season, ...

DREAM START FOR NISSAN FACTORY TEAM

Reigning champions Nissan made a dream start to the Absa Off Road Championship when they scored a one-two in the Production Vehicle category in the Nissan Dealer 400, the opening event of the season, in Darling.

Reigning South African drivers champion Duncan Vos and Ralph Pitchford, in a factory Nissan Navara, got their season off to the perfect start when they edged out team-mates Hannes Grobler and new co-driver Juan Mohr to take overall and Class SP honours.

Vos and Pitchford came in 34 seconds ahead of the veteran Grobler and Mohr who spent the latter half of the event conserving the Navara after hitting a ditch at the start of the second of the event's two loops.

The same ditch almost certainly cost Nissan a clean sweep. Norwegian Ivar Tollefsen and Briton Quin Evans were lying third in another works Navara when they hit the ditch and were eventually forced to retire with suspension problems.

"It was the perfect start for us," said Vos. "The vehicle was perfect and once we got past Hannes and Juan all we had to do was keep our heads.

"It was a good but tough route and if the rest of the season goes the same way we'll be more than happy."

Third eventually went to former South African champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer in a factory Ford Racing Ranger.

They came in ahead of Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (Castrol Toyota Hilux) with provisional results giving fifth place to Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin in the factory Castrol Toyota Hilux.

The Toyota factory crew were later excluded from the results for deviating from the route.

The exclusion of the Toyota crew lifted off road legend Alfie Cox and Hennie ter Stege in the Motorite SP into fifth with the pair campaigning in the Production Vehicle category after winning the Special Vehicle championship in 2006.

Vos and Pitchford took the lead when Grobler and Mohr lost time when they stalled the Navara at a hairpin. They could not get the vehicle started and were then slowed by their encounter with the ditch.

Woolridge and Skjoldhammer lost time when they stopped to assist when Special Vehicle crews Evan Hutchison/Achim Bergmann and Naeem Moosajee/Rayhaan Bodhanya were involved in a huge accident. After that they reported a troublefree run as did Visser/Badenhorst who ran into problems on the Friday prologue to determine start positions.

There was also a steady run from Kobus van Tonder and Riaan Guelpa in the Unifreight Ford Ranger along with Harold and Tiaan Coen in the Land Rover who were classified sixth and seventh in the SP Class. The father and son Coen combination also lost a lot of time when they stopped to help a string of competitors stuck in thick sand.

High profile casualties, however, included Bevan Bertholdt/Robin Houghton in the second factory Castrol Toyota Hilux who were sidelined by mechanical problems and Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Micaren Exel Dealer Team Toyota Hilux) who were excluded from the results after wrong slotting and missing marshal points.

The Class D honours went to Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber in the Raysonics Nissan Hardbody. The pair worked on their fitness during the off-season and their only problem was to nurse the vehicle over the last 100 kilometres with the crew worried about rising engine temperatures.

It was plan sailing for the Labuscagne and Gerber after Ramon Bezuidenhout and Stefan Lock, in a Toyota Hilux, suddenly ran out of brakes and hit a tree. Contact with the tree destroyed the radiator and reduced the Delmas based crew to a spectator role.

The Class E honours went to the experienced Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux pair of Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux with the latter the reigning co-drivers champion. They reported a "perfect" run to come home ahead of Thomas Rundle and Brian Roberts in the Barden Tyre Services Nissan Hardbody.

Reigning drivers champion Jack Peckham and Lucio Santoro, in the factory Ford Racing Ranger, had to be content with third after a troubled run. They broke a side shaft and lost 20 minutes at the designated service point while running repairs were carried out.

MARSH/GROENEWALD TAKE NISSAN DEALER 400 HONOURS

Former South African champion Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald, in the Regent Racing BAT, upstaged some more fancied teams to win the Special Vehicle category in a dramatic Nissan Dealer 400 in Darling.

The opening event of the Absa Off Road Championship produced dollops of drama with Marsh and Groenewald, in the Regent Racing BAT, coming home 34 seconds ahead of Free State pair Pieter Ruthven and Dewaal Boshoff in the Ruwacon BAT. It was a first podium finish for the Freestaters with the pair edging out another former SA champion, Karl-Heinz Sullwald, and son Quintin in the Sullwald Transport Zarco.

Sullwald's brother Herman, partnered by Paul Helberg, were fourth in another Sullwald Transport Zarco with local crew Bez Bezuidenhout and Johann de Bruyn completing the top five in the Adenco BAT. A terrific drive, with the pair plagued by gearbox problems saw Bezuidenhout and de Bruyn take the Class B honours.

There was early drama when reigning South African champions Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann, in the Motorite BAT, rolled several times after hitting a ditch. The pair were still in the car when they were hit by the Tyre Rack Jimco driven by Naeem Moosajee and Rayhaan Bodhanya who hit the same ditch and also rolled.

The Motorite car then caught fire and was completely wrecked. All four crew members were thoroughly shaken up with Bergmann slightly concussed and Bodhanya needing medical treatment for neck injuries.

A number of crews in both the Special Vehicle and Production Vehicle categories lost time when they stopped to provide assistance at the accident scene. Some of them reported later that it had taken them time to settle down and regain their rhythm.

With last year's championship runners-up Nick and Ryan Harper (Atlas Copco BAT) crashing out in the Friday prologue to determine start positions for the race, the accident wreaked further havoc on fancied Class A runners. The ultra consistent Marsh and Groenewald, who undertook a stringent fitness campaign in the off-season, took full advantage of the situation.

"We put in a lot of work during the off-season and it paid dividends," said Marsh. "It was a tough event but the road book was great and the route marking top class.

"We could not have asked for a better start to the season, and hopefully we can keep the momentum going."

Ruthven and Boshoff reported a clean run for their best finish to date, with both Sullwald crews having to overcome niggling mechanical problems. Bezuidenhout and de Bruyn suffered from a gearbox problem in the prologue and in the race and finally finished with first and third gear only.

"That was hard work," said Bezuidenhout, "but the end result was worth it. At one stage after the prologue we weren't sure we would start the race."

There were also mechanical problems for former SA champion Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau in the Total Porter, who were sixth overall after power steering and fan belt problems. The pair started from pole position after winning the Friday prologue.

Other high profile crews to fall by the wayside included Brandon Harcus and Richard Leeke (Motorite BAT), Gary Bertholdt and Pierre Arries in the Atlas Copco Porter and Gary Gillingham and VZ van Zyl in their Shell Botswana BAT. They were hit by a variety of problems with Mark Corbett and Rudi Balzer among the non starters in the new Century Racing CR1.

With reigning SA champion Jan Kraaij and new co-driver Tiddo Voogt (Keymax BAT) running into clutch problems second place in Class B went to veteran former champion Giel Nel and Deon de Kock in the LUK Africa Truggy. Third were Alastair Stubbs and Marc de Chalain, in the Stafix Racing Viper.

The new Special Vehicle category in off road racing, Class P, was won first time out by brothers David and Gary White in the Ruwacon BAT. They came in ahead of Nic Goslar and Richard Carolin in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco with favourites Richard Schilling and Chris Davies (Raceco) among those entered in the did not finish column.

-credit: absa/mweb.co.za

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About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Alfie Cox , Ralph Pitchford , Quin Evans , Mark Corbett , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst