CRONJE/BIRKIN WIN EASTERN CAPE 500 FOR TOYOTA Port Elizabeth, Saturday -- Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin turned on the style to score a convincing Production Vehicle category victory for Toyota on the Eastern Cape 500, round two of the Absa Off...
CRONJE/BIRKIN WIN EASTERN CAPE 500 FOR TOYOTA
Port Elizabeth, Saturday -- Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin turned on the style to score a convincing Production Vehicle category victory for Toyota on the Eastern Cape 500, round two of the Absa Off Road Championship, which ended here today.
Cronje and Birkin, in the factory Castrol Toyota Hilux, totally dominated the prologue and the race to storm home just more than 10 minutes ahead of Ford Racing Ranger factory crew Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer. For Cronje and Birkin, former Class E champions, it was their first overall and Class SP win - and came after two near misses last season.
"We owed that one to the team and the technical personnel," said Cronje. "It was a win that could not have come at a better time and Chris and I are delighted.
"It was hard work on a very technical route, but we kept it all together and hopefully this is the breakthrough we needed."
The final place on the podium went to factory Sasol Nissan Navara crew Ivar Tollefsen, from Norway, and Briton Quin Evans who were a further six minutes off the pace. Hannes Grobler and Juan Mohr, in a second factory Nissan Navara, came in fourth with a second Castrol Toyota crew, Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, rounding out the top five.
With the race route running through the tight and undulating Longmore Forests, most of the top crews suffered problems. Cronje was fighting off a heavy bout of flu while Skjoldhammer and Badenhorst were hit by nausea attacks.
The top crews also suffered their fair share of mechanical hassles. Grobler/Mohr lost 10 minutes at the start when the Navara refused to start, Woolridge/Skjoldhammer nursed the Ranger over the final 200 kilometres with a gearbox vibration threatening to sideline them and reigning drivers champion Duncan Vos, partnered by stand in co-driver Louis Weichelt, lost 45 minutes with an ignition problem.
Vos and Weichelt eventually trailed in seventh to finish behind Alfie Cox and Hennie ter Stege in the Motorite SP. A second Ford crew, Mark Ferguson and Craig West, finished eighth.
Among the high profile casualties were Bevan Bertholdt and Robin Houghton who rolled their Castrol Toyota Hilux shortly after the start, and Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn in the Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux. A blown engine put the de Bruyn's out of action while George and Sharon Barkhuizen (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux) retired with a broken clutch.
It was a race, however, that belonged to Cronje and Birkin who, as reigning Class A7 rally champions, revelled in the conditions. They won the prologue and quickly stamped their authority on the race.
There was a terrific battle in Class D where the winning margin, after 500 kilometres of tough racing, was just 25 seconds. Brothers Henri and Maurice Zermatten, in the Ryobi Nissan Hardbody, finally edged out reigning drivers champion Cliff Weichelt and Jimmy Goch in the N4 4x4 Toyota D4D.
Both crews had problems. The Zermatten's lost four-wheel drive early on and also ran into suspension problems while Weichelt and Goch were hit by brake and sideshaft hassles.
With a string of fancied Class E runners failing to see out the distance there was a first time out win for Potchefstroom crew Dewald van Breda and Pieter du Plessis in a Toyota Hilux. Among the drop outs were drivers champion Jack Peckham and Lucio Santoro (Ford Racing Ranger), first race winners Jannie Visser/Joks le Roux (Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux) and Thomas Rundle/Brian Roberts (Barden Tyre Services Nissan Hardbody) who were early accident casualties.
FAMILY AFFAIR AS SULLWALD'S WIN EASTERN CAPE 500
It was a family affair when former South African champion Karl-Heinz Sullwald and son Quintin won the Special Vehicle category on the Eastern Cape 500, round two of the Absa Off Road Championship, which ended in Port Elizabeth.
The Sullwald's, in a Sullwald Racing Zarco, ground down the opposition to finish around three minutes ahead of former SA champion Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald in the Regent Racing BAT. KwaZulu-Natal crew Glen Gibson and Gary Campbell, in the Absolute BAT, were a further minute off the pace in third place.
Marsh and Groenewald won the opening event of the season, the Nissan Dealer 400, and take an early lead in the overall and Class A championship. The father and son combination of Nick and Ryan Harper, in the Atlas Copco BAT, trailed in a further 15 minutes behind Gibson and Campbell with Hermann Sullwald and Paul Helberg rounding out the top five.
The Friday prologue to determine start positions for the race were dominated by Gary Bertholdt and Andre Vermeulen in the Atlas Copco Porter. They finally dropped out with a broken axle and the Sullwald's continued to make steady progress.
The Sullwald's, who last year won the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in Botswana, Marsh/Groenewald and Gibson/Campbell did not produce any heroics on a route that was tight and highly technical. It was not a day for heroics and late afternoon rain in the Longmore Forest region made conditions all the more tricky.
"It was a great race for us," said a delighted Sullwald senior. "Quintin did a fantastic job under trying conditions and it was a tough day."
On a good day for the Sullwald family Herman Sullwald and Paul Helberg, in a second Sullwald Racing Zarco, finished fifth. They edged out, by nine seconds, KwaZulu-Natal pair Don Thompson and Don Blakey in a Zarco who had an eventful weekend.
Thompson and Blakey also won the recently introduced Class P -- after starting from the back of the field. The pair were involved in a road accident in the Transkei on their way to the race, and missed the Friday prologue to determine start positions.
In working their way through the Special Vehicle field they were helped by a number of retirements. David White and Bodo Bertholdt (Ruwacon BAT), the early Class P leaders, were late casualties.
Other Class P casualties included reigning Class S champions Richard Schilling and Chris Davies (Aceco RS), Nic Goslar/Richard Carolin (Mens Health Clinic Raceco) and Johan and Etienne Bezuidenhout in the Adenco BAT.
Class A flyers Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau (Total Porter) and Class B winners Louw de Bruin and Rudi Britz (Ruwacon) were two crews, in higher classes, to finish behind Thompson/Blakey. De Bruin and Britz took Class B ahead of reigning champion Jan Kraaij and Tiddo Voogt in the Keymax BAT.
Thompson and Blakey were eventually the only finishers in the newly introduced Class P. Veteran Giel Nel and Deon de Kock (LUK Africa Zarco Truggy) were third in Class B to continue their good start to the season.