O'Hagan's/Kopanong 500 reviews

Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan (class T Nissan Hardbody V6 Double Cab) scored their second and Nissan's third win in round five of the 2001 MSA National Off-Road Car Championship when they comfortably took the overall honours in the ...

Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan (class T Nissan Hardbody V6 Double Cab) scored their second and Nissan's third win in round five of the 2001 MSA National Off-Road Car Championship when they comfortably took the overall honours in the Production Vehicle category of the O'Hagan's / Kopanong 500 in the Mmabatho area of North West Province at the weekend.

It was an impressive performance by the former South African touring car champion who set the fastest time in Friday's 35 km time trial and led, virtually unchallenged, throughout Saturday's 500 km of racing. The winning margin over second-placed Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr (class D Petronas Isuzu KB Single Cab) was 21 min 45 sec, despite a puncture on the first 250 km loop that cost the Nissan pair about eight minutes and resulted in De Villiers injuring his left hand when the jack slipped and the wheel fell on it.

Corbett and Mohr's giant-killing effort illustrated just how competitive the Production Vehicle category has become this year, with five manufacturers locked in a spectator-pleasing battle with a gaggle of top privateers. Their performance was all the more meritorious considering they completed the second 250 km loop of the race without third gear.

Third overall and second in class T were reigning Production Vehicle champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer (Ford Ranger), who recovered well from a disastrous time trial (they got lost and were time-barred, resulting in their starting at the back of the 60-plus field). Despite losing time with a broken accelerator cable on the second loop and a puncture five kilometres from the finish, they came in 4 min 28 sec behind the Isuzu on three tyres and a bare rim ("We decided we were too tired to stop and change the wheel," said Woolridge).

Shumie van Vuuren regained the lead in the drivers' championship after he and Fanie Kotze finished fourth in their class D Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser, 12 min 01 sec behind the Ford. Third in class D and a fine sixth overall were Henri and Maurice Zermatten (Sony Playstation Mitsubishi Colt) after starting at the back of the field.

Reigning Special Vehicle co-drivers' champion Buks Carolin, who had led the points standings going into round five, was disappointed to finish 12th overall and fifth in class T in his Mitsubishi Pajero after a long, unscheduled stop at the designated service point to replace the rear diff. Co-driver Hennie ter Stege still leads the co-drivers' championship thanks to Van Vuuren's use of more than one co-driver.

Third in class D and a fine sixth overall were Henri and Maurice Zermatten (Sony Playstation Mitsubishi Pajero) after starting at the back of the field. A very pleased and impressive 10th overall and fourth in class D was top circuit racer Gary Formato in his first ever race on a dirt surface. He made a guest appearance in the Valid Value Nissan Hardbody of Mike Griffiths, who occupied the co-driver's seat on this occasion after breaking his hand in a polo accident

Brothers Andrew and Chris Birkin (Castrol Toyota Hilux) were seventh overall and winners of class E. Second in class E and ninth overall were Kassie Coetzee and Ockie Fourie (Toyota Dealer Team Condor) with Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Toyota Hilux) 15th overall and third in class E.

First Special Vehicle home for the fifth round in a row and second on the road behind the De Villiers/Jordaan Nissan was the Vee Motors class A Chenowth of Franz Czepek senior and junior. A typically steady, trouble-free drive by the Czepeks (they share the driving) saw them overcome starting third in their category and lying third at the halfway stage. "We lost around 10 to 15 minutes wrong-slotting, but otherwise we had a clean run," said Franz senior.

Second was the class A Cornbake Foods Jimco of reigning champion Shameer Variawa and Zaheer Bodhanya, 17 min and 07 sec in arrears after several delays. After posting the best time among the Special Vehicles in the time trial, they led the entire field at the halfway stage. On the second 250 km loop they became entangled in a wire fence apparently erected across the road by locals and then lost more time when they wrong-slotted and later got stuck in a river.

Third and scoring their first points of the season were Jakkie and Elmarie Joubert in their class A Volvo-engined JoJo Tanks VW Beetle. Henry Kirstein and Renier Jooste, making their first appearance in class B in their Deeds Drilling Services Sandmaster, were fourth overall and winners of their class. Gavan Gray and Graham Cunningham (JRE) were second in class B and fifth overall, while reigning class B champion Giel Nel (Luk Africa Truggy) was sixth overall and third in class.

The race was held in hot and dusty conditions on a tight and demanding course in the Mmabatho area. The infamous river bed, mostly dry and a mixture of sandy and rocky stretches, once again caught out many unwary drivers. There were 40 finishers from the 61 starters.

A notable non-starter was the class T Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser of multiple Production Vehicle champions Apie Reyneke and Robin Houghton, among the favourites for overall honours. Any hopes of an improvement in fortune (they have uncharacteristically failed to finish in two of the last four events) were dashed when their gearbox failed within 350 metres of the start of Friday's time trial. It was an internal problem and they were not able to fix it before Saturday's race.

A similar fate befell the class T Nissan Hardbody of Mitsubishi Barberspan 500 winners Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke. The experienced pair, both former national rally and off-road champions, were second quickest behind team-mates De Villiers and Jordaan in the time trial and were looking good in second place when their gearbox failed within the first 50 km.

Former Nissan touring car driver Duncan Vos and Jonathan Cramp surprised their class D rivals and many class T teams with third best time on Friday behind team-mates De Villiers and Grobler. But electrical problems with their Valid Value Nissan Hardbody eventually saw them retire only 70 km from the finish when the engine cut out and refused to restart.

Even more unfortunate were team-mates and reigning class D champion Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo (Valid Value Nissan Hardbody), who overcame a poor time trial performance (they started eighth overall and fourth in class D) and had improved to fourth overall and second in class when a sideshaft broke 10 km from the finish. They were able to make it to the finish after a long delay to finish a disappointed 14th overall and seventh in class.

Other notable non-finishers were the class T Vacation Vans Jeep Cherokee of Stratford Voogt and Scott Abraham (steering problems), the class E Ford Ranger of Manfred Schroeder and Jack Peckham (broken leaf spring 50 km from the halfway designated service point), the O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel Jimco of John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt and the M&E Glass Dirtco of Gary and father Bodo Bertholdt, who had been second quickest among the Special Vehicles in the time trial.

Carlos de Abreu and Steve Cooper from Gaborone were an impressive fourth quickest in the time trial in their class D Toyota Land Cruiser but dropped to the back of the field after two punctures and damaging a rear spring in the first 60 km. They then went out in spectacular fashion after losing control on a fast, straight section, hitting an earth mound on the side of the track and rolling heavily.


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Series Other rally
Drivers Gary Formato , Giniel de Villiers , Mark Corbett , Duncan Vos