The 2003 SA Off Road Championship got underway in Darling in the Western Cape this afternoon when 41 special and production vehicle competitors came under starters orders for the 68 kilometre prologue to determine starting positions for tomorrows...
The 2003 SA Off Road Championship got underway in Darling in the Western Cape this afternoon when 41 special and production vehicle competitors came under starters orders for the 68 kilometre prologue to determine starting positions for tomorrows main event.
This is the first time in South African Off Road racing history that a national championship event has been scheduled for the Western Cape, and expectations amongst competitors and spectators were high.
The production vehicle brigade dominated proceedings with Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke in the Class T Nissan Hardbody posting the quickest time. They were followed across the line, 31 seconds later by teams mates Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan in another Class T Nissan Hardbody, which was plagued by over heating problems.
Former multiple champions Apie Reyneke and Robin Houghton posted the third fastest time, four minutes and seven seconds slower than the leaders, in the Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser.
Tosca farmer Piet Haasbroek and Freddie Scheepers the fourth fastest and the Class D leaders in the Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser and were followed across the line by another Class D entry, Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo in the GBS Nissan Hardbody.
Manfred Schroder and Jack Peckham in the Ford Racing Ranger 2.5 Turbo Diesel crossed the line in sixth position and first in Class E a mere two seconds faster than reigning World Max Kart Challenge champion Mark Cronje, who is making his Off Road Racing debut, and veteran co-driver Chris Birkin in the Castrol Toyota Hi Lux.
Richard Carolin and Scott Abraham, who will share the drive in the O'Hagan's Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jeep in tomorrow's main event, were eight fastest and were followed by Marius van Vuuren and Frik Mare in the Alberante Land Rover.
South Africa's most successful off road motorcyclist and Dakar hero, Alfie Cox made his debut on four wheels in the Super Group Nissan Hardbody and acquitted himself well of his task by finishing 10th overall.
Former champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer were forced to contest Class T in a Class E Ford Racing Ranger 2.5 Turbo Diesel due to their Class T vehicle, which was heavily damaged in an accident in the Carnival City Casino 400, not being ready in time for the race and had to be content with 20th overall.
In the Special Vehicle category Gerald Mundell and Billy Bond from Kwa Zulu Natal showed the field a clean pair of heels in their Prolong BAT. They were one minute and 27 seconds faster than Atang Makgekgenene and Mike Stangel in the SAM Racing Jimco. Third overall and the first in Class D was Rob Gurney, also from Kwa Zulu Natal in his JRE Mazda who was followed home by Andrew Birkin in the Class B Wingfoot WPP.
Francois Smit was fourth fastest in his Sandmaster with Capetonians Johan Bezuidenhout and Danie Groenewald fifth in Chenowth.
Class A contenders John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt in the O'Hagan's Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jimco thought their race was run even before the start of the prologue when the electronic management system on their BMW 540 V8 malfunctioned. Toyota Motorsport, who run a similar system on Apie Reyneke's Toyota Land Cruiser kindly made available the services of one of their technicians to solve the problem.
Weir-Smith was able to start the prologue, albeit late, which means he will start way down the order tomorrow. Weir-Smith is no stranger to starting last and winning from behind and only time will tell whether he can put together another giant killing performance.
Crew face a tortuous route consisting of two laps of 124 kilometres each and one lap of 68 kilometres in tomorrows main event.