Nissan Sugarbelt 400 race report

Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan scored their first and Nissan's second successive win in round three of the 2001 MSA National Off-Road Car Championship when they took the overall honours in the Production Vehicle category of the Nissan ...

Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan scored their first and Nissan's second successive win in round three of the 2001 MSA National Off-Road Car Championship when they took the overall honours in the Production Vehicle category of the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 in Kwazulu Natal at the weekend.

It was a fine maiden victory for the four-times national touring car champion, who is in his first full season of off-road racing at the wheel of the works Nissan Hardbody Double Cab. The V6-engined 4x4 Nissan ran faultlessly throughout the 400-km event, held in the Eston and Mid Illovo areas on Friday and Saturday, finishing some 12 minutes ahead of the works Ford Ranger Super Truck of reigning Production Vehicle champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer.

Third was the sister Nissan Hardbody of Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke, ahead of the works Mitsubishi Pajero of Buks Carolin and Hennie ter Stege, the works Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser of Apie Reyneke and Robin Houghton and the Vacation Vans Jeep Cherokee of Sarel van der Merwe/Stratford Voogt and Scott Abraham.

First Special Vehicle home for the third race in a row and first on the road ahead of the De Villiers/Jordaan Nissan was the Vee Motors class A Chenowth of Franz Czepek senior and junior, winners of the Lichtenburg 400 and the Mitsubishi Barberspan 500.

Greg Harvey and Boy Stone were second in their Castrol Jimco ahead of class A rivals Atang Makgekgenene and Evan Hutchinson (Hellman Worldwide Jimco), who started 74th, and John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt (O'Hagan's Racing Raceco).

It was a tough event in the KZN cane fields and forest roads and only 22 of the more than 90 Production and Special Vehicles that started made it to the finish at the Eston Beaumont Farmers' Club on Saturday afternoon.

Grobler and Leeke, dominant Production Vehicle winners of the previous round at Barberspan, won the 35-km time trial on Friday and led the field from the start on Saturday. A punctured tyre after hitting a tree stump and then a problem with a loose bolt in the steering mechanism before the halfway point dropped the two former off-road champions back, but they finished strongly and were just over two minutes behind Woolridge and Skjoldhammer at the finish.

The reigning Production Vehicle champions were pleased with the performance of their V8-engined Ford Ranger in only its second race this year, the truck coping with the conditions so well that they ran in two-wheel drive throughout the event.

Carolin, the only man to win the Special Vehicle championship both as a driver and co-driver, put in another strong performance in his first season with the ex-Paris Dakar Pajero, recovering well from a roll and two punctures to finish 5th in the Production Vehicle category.

Former Production Vehicle champions Reyneke and Houghton, who rolled their Land Cruiser in Friday's time trial, battled on Saturday and were slowed by a broken suspension bolt. They limped home to finish 6th in the Production Vehicle category.

Motor racing legend Sarel van der Merwe, taking the first driving stint in the Vacation Vans Jeep, led the event at the end of the first of two northern 100-km loops after qualifying third quickest among the Production Vehicles behind the two works Nissan Hardbodies. He then lost 14 minutes when the Jeep would not start after it stalled in a water splash. An high tension lead on the starter had broken and after sorting the problem out he worked his way back to fourth before handing over to Vacation Vans director Stratford Voogt at the halfway point.

Voogt found the 2800 kg Jeep a big handful in the tight and narrow roads in the mountains and suffered overheating problems caused by sugar cane leaves fouling the fan. Further time was lost through fuel starvation problems, but Voogt nursed the crowd-pleasing American off-roader to finish 8th in the Production Vehicle category.

Shumie van Vuuren took his third class D win in succession with another impressive performance in the Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser, finishing fourth overall in the Production Vehicle category with co-driver Fanie Kotze. Second was the N1 4x4 Mitsubishi Pajero of Steve Weichelt and Vic Campher ahead of the Western Cape Nissan Dealers Hardbody of former rallyists Hennie Louw and Jonathan Bright, who were making their off road racing debut.

Nissan works drivers Duncan Vos and Mike Griffiths both showed well before encountering problems. Griffiths rolled his class D Hardbody while running close to Van Vuuren, while former touring car driver Vos, in his first season of off-road racing, was lying second in class when brake failure nearly caused a serious accident.

A tyre came off the rim as Vos struggled to keep the Nissan under control and he and co-driver Jonathan Cramp were relieved the Hardbody didn't roll.

They were delayed for 20 minutes before they could get going again and did very well to climb back to fifth in class at the finish. Vos had earlier impressed with his new-found dirt driving skills by making up 30 places in the first 100 km on Saturday, after starting in 85th place as a result of a time penalty in the Friday time trial.

The works Petronas Syntium Isuzu KB Double Cab of Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr went out with differential problems.

Manfred Schroder and John Peckham were the winners of class E in their works Ford Ranger 2,5 turbo diesel after the brothers Andrew and Chris Birkin dominated the class in their Castrol Toyota Hilux for three-quarters of the event, before dropping out with mechanical problems.

Class E winner in the Mitsubishi Barberspan 500, Coetzee Labuschagne, was second in the Raysonic Toyota Hilux, ahead of the similar vehicle of J Steyn and R Labuschagne.

While the Czepeks strengthened their overall lead in the Special Vehicle Championship and in class A, reigning Class B champion Giel Nel took his first class B win of the season in his single seater Luk Africa Truggy, finishing an excellent fourth overall in the Special Vehicle category.

Prominent retirements in the Special Vehicle category included reigning drivers' champion Shameer Variawa and co-driver Zaheer Badhanya, who retired their class A Corn Bake Jimco on Saturday morning with clutch problems.

Max Mohr crashed his class B Industrial Hardware Mighty Mag single seater in a culvert, injuring his back, and the Du Plessis brothers from the North West Province, Gerhard and Laurence, went out on Saturday morning when they experienced engine problems on their class A Chenowth.

-MSA

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About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Giniel de Villiers , Sarel van der Merwe , Mark Corbett , Duncan Vos