Eastern Cape: Series shakedown report

CRONJE/BIRKIN FASTEST PRODUCTION CAR IN EASTERN CAPE 500 PROLOGUE Port Elizabeth, Friday - The Castrol Toyota Hilux pair of Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin set the fastest time today in the prologue for the Eastern Cape 500, round two of the Absa...

CRONJE/BIRKIN FASTEST PRODUCTION CAR IN EASTERN CAPE 500 PROLOGUE

Port Elizabeth, Friday - The Castrol Toyota Hilux pair of Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin set the fastest time today in the prologue for the Eastern Cape 500, round two of the Absa Off Road Championship, which starts here tomorrow.

Cronje and Birkin finished 26 seconds ahead of former champion Hannes Grobler and Juan Mohr in one of three factory Sasol Nissan Navara entries. The other two works Nissan entries -- in the hands of reigning drivers champion Duncan Vos and stand in co-driver Louis Weichelt, and Norwegian Ivar Tollefsen and Briton Quin Evans -- were in third and fourth places.

Vos and Weichelt were 13 seconds behind Grobler and Mohr with Tollefsen/Evans a further 26 seconds in arrears. Weichelt the reigning Class D co-drivers champion, is deputising for Ralph Pitchford who has an overseas commitment.

"We had a nice, clean run on what was a very technical route," said Cronje. "I think the whole event is going to be like that and it will be interesting."

"First on the road is a bit of a boost for us but the Longmore Forest section is going to be tricky, particularly if we get some rain."

The top five were rounded out by Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn in the Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux. They edged out former champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer (Ford Racing Ranger) and Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst (Castrol Toyota Hilux) with only three seconds separating the trio.

The Zermatten brothers, Henri and Maurice, set the pace in Class D in the Ryobi Nissan Hardbody. They were just over half a minute ahead of reigning drivers champion Cliff Weichelt and Jimmy Goch in the N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux D4D.

Third in Class D were first round winners Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber in the Raysonics Nissan Hardbody. All three crews reported minor problems with a great scrap likely to develop as the race develops.

A good run saw Thomas Rundle and Brian Roberts, in the Barden Tyre Services Nissan Hardbody, upstage Jack Peckham and Lucio Santoro (Ford Racing Ranger) and Jannie Visser/Joks le Roux in the Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux. Peckham is the reigning drivers champion and le Roux the co-drivers champion.

The race starts at Longmore Forest at 07h00 tomorrow with most of the route in the Longmore Forest. There will be a designated service point at King's Beach. The finish will also be at King's Beach with the first cars expected at around 15h00.

BERTHOLDT/VERMEULEN DOMINATE SPECIAL VEHICLE PROLOGUE ON EASTERN CAPE 500

Port Elizabeth, Friday -- Atlas Copco Porter flyers Gary Bertholdt and Andre Vermeulen blitzed the opposition today to set the fastest time in the Special Vehicle category on the prologue for tomorrow's Eastern Cape 500.

The event is round two of the Absa Off Road Championship and Bertholdt, with the reputation as something of a prologue specialist, and Vermeulen were 90 seconds quicker than Brandon Harcus and veteran multiple South African champion Richard Leeke in the Motorite BAT. Third, another 12 seconds in arrears, were Nick and Ryan Harper in the Atlas Copco BAT.

"It was a dream run with no problems and the car was good," said Bertholdt. "Now all we have to do is produce the same sort of performance in the race."

Fourth were former SA champion Karl-Heinz Sullwald and son Quintin (Sullwald Transport Zarco) with KwaZulu-Natal crew Clint Gibson and Gary Campbell in the Absolute BAT. The frontrunners, however, will have their work cut out catching Bertholdt and Vermeulen.

The prologue also produced major casualties in reigning SA champions Evan Hutchison/Achim Bergmann (Motorite BAT) and Rob and Gareth Wark in the Superpave BAT. The Motorite pair, who crashed out of the first event, were sidelined by a broken gearbox with the Warks going out with clutch problems.

Reigning SA champion Jan Kraaij, partnered by Tiddo Voogt in the Keymax BAT, set fastest time in Class B ahead of Louw de Bruin and Rudi Britz in the Ruwacon BAT. Kraaij and Voogt were around two minutes quicker.

Bez Bezuidenhout and Johann de Bruyn (Adenco BAT), who won Class B in the opening round will start from the back of the field. They ran into a mechanical problem on the way to the start of the prologue.

There was compensation for the Bezuidenhout's when Bez's sons, Johann and Etienne, set the fastest time in Class P in another Adenco BAT. They came in ahead of David White and veteran Bodo Bertholdt (Ruwacon BAT) and Glenn and Rob Gibson in the Absolute BAT.

Class P also claimed a high profile casualty in veteran crew Richard Schilling and Chris Davies. The reigning Class S champions rolled the Aceco RS at high speed -- with no damage to crew -- but a broken suspension will see them spectating tomorrow.

The race starts at Longmore Forest at 07h00 tomorrow with the brunt of the route in the Longmore Forests. There will also be a designated service point at King's Beach with the first car expected at the finish --at King's Beach -- at around 15h00.

-credit: absa

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Series Other rally
Drivers David White , Ralph Pitchford , Quin Evans , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst , Rob Gibson