The Lesotho Sun 400, round five of the Absa Off Road Championship, which took place in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho this past weekend, took a heavy toll on competitors and vehicles with only 23 of the 51 starters managing to finish. The...
The Lesotho Sun 400, round five of the Absa Off Road Championship, which took place in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho this past weekend, took a heavy toll on competitors and vehicles with only 23 of the 51 starters managing to finish.
The Proudly South African Nissan team continued on its winning way with former Production Vehicle champion Duncan Vos and Hennie ter Stege scoring a maiden overall win in the Production Vehicle category ahead of team mates Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan in the second of three Class T Nissan Hardbody pick-ups.
Their task was made that much easier by Team Ford Racing's withdrawal of Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer on the morning of the race after Skjoldhammer was rushed to a Bloemfontein hospital in the early hours of Saturday morning with a suspected stroke. Fortunately Skjoldhammer's problem was nothing more than a reaction to medication and he spent the weekend recovering at home in Johannesburg.
Production Vehicle championship leaders Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke's run came to an untimely end 100km into the event when steel braiding on a high pressure power steering hose separated from a union, which forced them into retirement.
Each of the Nissan crews and Special Vehicle category leaders for all but 330km of the 340km race, Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr in the Century Property Developments BAT, took a turn at leading what turned out to be an extremely tough event.
Class D championship leaders Alfie Cox, who has won the Roof of Africa Rally nine times on a motorcycle, and fellow motorcyclist Ralph Pitchford scored their fourth consecutive class win in the Arnold Chatz Cars Nissan Hardbody to give Nissan a 1-2-3 finish.
Reigning Class E champions Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin (Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i) who finished fourth overall and second in Class D had no answer for Cox and Pitchford who led the class from start to finish and had to be content with finishing over an hour behind their arch rivals.
1994 Roof of Africa winners, Cliff Barker and Mike Reddin (MGM Motors Land Rover) came out of retirement on the 10th anniversary of their historic victory and survived a broken shock absorber mounting bolt, which they managed to repair and went on to finish fifth overall and third in Class T.
Apart from one puncture Castrol Toyota's Paolo Piazza-Musso and Rod Hering had a clean, steady run and brought their Hilux 2.7i home seventh overall and third in Class D while Henri Zermatten and Bodo Schwegler in the Master Craft / Playstation Pajero had a nail biting drive to the finish and crossed the line with a mere two seconds to spare before the time bar.
No Class E vehicles were able to complete the Lesotho Sun 400. Rookie Gavin Cronje and Robin Houghton in the Class E leading Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i crashed in Don't Cough Pass, Class E championship leaders Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn in the Toyota Hilux 2.7i broke a CV joint on lap one, Class E winners on the Sun City 400 Hein Moolman and Cecil Fincham in the 4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux KZ-TE suffered suspension failure, husband and wife Neels and Zelda vd Walt (Nissan Hardbody) retired with mechanical problems on lap one and Baphumze Rubuluza and Khulile Vakalisa broke a differential on the Team Ford Racing Ranger.
Special Vehicle championship contenders Corbett and Mohr's BAT suffered fuel pressure problems, which brought their race to a grinding halt six kilometres from the finish and allowed John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jimco to nip through and win their first event since last year's Queen Motor Spares Tarka 400. The winning pair survived a roll down the mountain side to beat Special Vehicle championship leaders Atang Makgekgenene and Buks Carolin (Total Jimco) across the line by 24m 01s.
Terence Marsh and Mike Whitehouse finished third overall and in Class A in the Nashua Mobile Racing Jimco in which Corbett and Mohr won the 2000 Roof and were followed home by KwaZulu Natal based Clint Gibson and Mike Brown in the Class A Praesidium Financial Services BAT.
Another KwaZulu Natal driver, Marcus Taylor and co-driver Marc de Chalain finished fifth overall and were the first Class B crew across the finish line in the JRE with rookies Rudi and Pierre van Graan sixth overall and second Class B in only their fifth race in the Technochair Zarco.
Corbett and Mohr eventually managed to get the Century Property Developments BAT going and finished seventh overall and fifth in Class A to keep their championship hopes alive.
Nardus Alberts and Colin Hunter were the last placed finishers and the Class S winners in the Wrapsa Raceco after a long battle with multiple former Roof of Africa winner Richard Schilling and Chris Davies in the Plastotech Raceco. Suspension failure sidelined Schilling 30km from the end of lap one.
Reigning Special Vehicle co-drivers champion Brandon Harcus and his fiance, Claudia Bevilacqua, had a big scare when they rolled the Car Security and Sound Centre BAT four kilometres into the notorious Don't Cough Pass on lap two. Harcus was uninjured but Bevilacqua suffered concussion and cracked ribs and was hospitalised for observation.
The tough conditions took a heavy toll on the Class B field with many crews getting stuck and others battling to climb numerous rocky mountain passes.
Despite the tortuous conditions and high attrition rate crews were delighted to have been able to return to typical 'Roof' country and were highly complimentary of the Lesotho Off Road Association who organised the Lesotho Sun 400 at short notice.
The next event in the Absa Off Road Championship will be the Oven Fresh Biscuits 500 in the Mmabatho area on September 24 and 25.