Mpumalanga: Series prologue summary

TIGHT FINISH ON ATLAS COPCO SUGARBELT 400 PROLOGUE Eston, Friday - Only 10 seconds separated three Toyota Hilux crews at the end of a highly competitive Donaldson Prologue today to determine grid positions for the Atlas Copco Sugarbelt 400,...

TIGHT FINISH ON ATLAS COPCO SUGARBELT 400 PROLOGUE

Eston, Friday - Only 10 seconds separated three Toyota Hilux crews at the end of a highly competitive Donaldson Prologue today to determine grid positions for the Atlas Copco Sugarbelt 400, round three of the Absa Off Road Championship, here tomorrow.

Adenco 400 winners Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, in the RFS/Visser Transport Toyota Hilux, pipped Team Castrol Toyota factory crew Anthony Taylor and Robin Houghton by a single second after 100 kilometres of tight racing. For their part Taylor/Houghton were only nine seconds ahead of team-mates Duncan Vos, the reigning South African driver's champion, and Rob Howie.

All three crews reported clean runs on what is traditionally one of the toughest events of the season. A wide variety of terrain gradually wears down crews and machinery with the race invariably producing a high rate of attrition.

"Conditions were typical Sugarbelt 400," said Taylor. "It is easy to make mistakes and this is one event where you need to keep to the track.

"Stray off the track and there are a number of pitfalls."

Chasing after the three Toyota crews were off road legend Alfie Cox and German co-driver Jurgen Schroder in the PS Laser Nissan Navara, which was built for last year's Dakar Rally. Cox lives just down the road from Eston and is making his first appearance of the season.

Rounding out the top five were former South African champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer in the Ford Racing Ranger TDCi. Woolridge lives in nearby Pietermaritzburg with the Ford crew making history last time out when they won the Toyota Dealer 400 in Mpumalanga.

It was the first time a diesel powered vehicle had won an Absa Off Road Championship event. The Ford is joined on this event by a diesel RFS BMW, which is being given its national debut by Chris du Plooy and Thinus Janse van Rensburg.

The top eight were rounded out by Gary Bertholdt and Andre Vermeulen, in the Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux, and the Red Star Raceway Toyota Hilux in the hands of husband and wife team Ramon and Maret Bezuidenhout. Bertholdt and Vermeulen drew the number one position on the road, but were hampered by a faulty odometer.

It was also not a happy afternoon for championship leaders Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege in the RFS Toyota Hilux. They will start around 12 minutes behind the leaders after losing time via a flat wheel.

"We bent the rim and could not get the wheel off," said the veteran Grobler. "It was frustrating but on this event anything can happen and we will be looking at picking up valuable championship points."

It was also not the best of days for Thomas Rundle and former SA champion Juan Mohr in the Barden Tyre Services Nissan Navara. They ran into a string of electrical problems and limped home nearly 50 minutes behind the leaders.

Further down the field Pikkie Labuschagne and Rikus Erasmus set the fastest time in Class E in the 4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux. The pair lost the Class E title race by a single point last year, and this is only their second outing of the season while reigning champions Dewald van Breda and Johann du Toit (Northam Toyota Hilux) set the fastest time in Class D.

The race starts at the Beaumont Eston Farmer's Club at 08h00 tomorrow. The designated service point (DSP) and finish are also at the club. The race is spectator friendly with a number of viewing points within easy distance of the start/finish. Public entry to the start/finish, the DSP and spectator viewing points is free of charge.

SULLWALD'S WIN SPECIAL VEHICLE PROLOGUE ON ATLAS COPCO SUGARBELT 400

Eston, Friday - Former South African champions Kallie and Quintin Sullwald bounced back to form today when they won the Special Vehicle category on the Donaldson Prologue to determine grid positions for tomorrow's Atlas Copco Sugarbelt 400 here.

The race is round three of the Absa Off Road Championship and the Sullwald's, in the Sullwald Racing BAT, have made a shaky start to the season. But it all fell into place today for the father and son crew from Phalaborwa and they finished the 100 kilometre prologue 33 seconds ahead of former SA champion Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau in the Total Motorsport Porter.

"We had a nice run and a good result here will do us the world of good," said Sullwald senior. "This race has never been kind to us, but there is always a first time and confidence is high."

Third fastest were reigning South African champions Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann in the Motorite BAT. They reported a clean run and were just over a minute behind Variawa and Rousseau.

Although they also reported a run free of trouble Variawa/Rousseau were wary of the race.

"This is a typical Sugarbelt route and there are about 100 places where you pick up major problems," said Variawa. "Extreme caution is needed and it is going to be another tough race."

The prologue was kind to the Sullwald family with Hermann and son Wichard setting the fourth fastest time in the Sullwald Racing SVR. Their prologue, however, could easily have ended in tears.

"We battled with a fuel pressure problem," said Hermann. "When we got back to the pits we discovered we were about to run out of petrol."

Local crew Lance Trethewey and Richard Horner, in a BAT, rounded out the top five and came in a head of another local team, Clint Gibson and Gary Campbell (Gibson Racing SVR) and overall championship leaders Johan van Staden and James Rossouw (Atlas Copco BAT) who were the quickest of the Class P entries.

Van Staden and Rossouw made history on the recent Toyota Dealer 400 when they became the first Class P crew to win a national event overall. It was a win that also earned them an invitation to join the Atlas Copco fold.

Behind van Staden/Rossouw there was a tight finish between Cape Town brothers Johan and Deon Bezuidenhout (Adenco BAT) and Mark Corbett and Rudi Balzer in the Century racing CR3. Only two seconds separated the Adenco crew and Corbett/Balzer with van Staden/Rossouw enjoying a lead of just over a minute.

The prologue turned into disasters for reigning Class B driver's champion Derick du Toit and Rod Jeffrey (Orange Tree BAT) and Keith and Andrew Makenete in a Zarco. Du Toit and Jeffrey ran into fuel starvation problems and the Makenete's blew a motor four kilometres into the prologue.

That opened the way for Simon Beckett and Steve Harris to set the fastest time in the Century Racing BAT. Local crew Marcus Taylor and Derek Keith, in a JRE, were second fastest among the Class B runners and came in around a minute behind Beckett and Harris.

The start/finish and designated service park (DSP) are all located at the Beaumont Eston Farmer's Club. The race is spectator friendly with numerous viewing points within easy reach of the start/finish.

The race starts at 08h00 with public entrance to the start/finish, DSP and spectator areas free of charge.

-source: saorc

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Series Other rally
Drivers Alfie Cox , Jurgen Schroder , Mark Corbett , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst