Sugarbelt 400: Series event summary

NISSAN CLEAN SWEEP ON NISSAN SUGARBELT 400 Nissan Sugarbelt 400 -- Round 3 -- Absa Off Road Championship -- May 15 & 16 Pietermaritzburg, Saturday -- The Nissan Sugarbelt 400, round three of the Absa Off Road Championship, turned into a Nissan...


Nissan Sugarbelt 400 -- Round 3 -- Absa Off Road Championship -- May 15 & 16

Pietermaritzburg, Saturday -- The Nissan Sugarbelt 400, round three of the Absa Off Road Championship, turned into a Nissan benefit today.

Veteran former South African champion Hannes Grobler and Juan Mohr led the factory Donaldson Nissan Navara team to a Production Vehicle clean sweep. For Grobler and Mohr it was their first victory of the season with the Donaldson Nissan team making it three wins in three starts this year.

Second were Norwegian Ivar Tollefsen and his British co-driver Quin Evans, who finished fourth on this year's Dakar Rally. Duncan Vos and Ralph Pitchford made sure the Nissan cup overflowed by taking the final place on the podium.

It was a thoroughly professional performance from Grobler/Mohr and a typically gutsy performance from Tollefsen and Evans. But the drive of the race belonged to reigning SA drivers champion Vos and Pitchford who started 55th on the road in a field that also included cars in the Special Vehicle category.

"I don't believe this result," said a pumped up Vos who was looking for his third win in a row. "We spent the whole race passing other cars, and it was nerve wracking in the dust and on a route where you could not afford mistakes.

"Without co-operation from the car in front overtaking was a risky business, but we kept our heads."

A delighted Grobler, who started fifth on the road, said the win was overdue with the pair having around nine minutes in hand over Tollefsen and Evans. Grobler and Mohr took control of proceedings when the factory Castrol Toyota Hilux, in the hands of Anthony Taylor and Robin Houghton, lost all drive midway through the last of two figure of eight loops that made up the race.

"We needed the win and starting fifth on the road made it a little more difficult," said Grobler. "The car was good and in the end it was a dream result for the team."

Fourth went to the second works Castrol Toyota Hilux of Hein Lategan, in only his third off road race, and Chris Birkin. The pair took no chances in the hot and dusty conditions and led home Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, in the RFS Toyota Hilux, who were 80 seconds in arrears.

High profile casualties included both the factory Ford Racing Ranger TDCI entries. Former champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer broke a steering rack, while Thomas Rundle and Hennie ter Stege failed to start with engine problems after an off road excursion on the Friday prologue to determine start positions.

Also in the wars were Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald in the Regent Racing Nissan Navara who battled to ninth overall in the premier Class SP. They started from the back of the field and a clutch problem plagued them throughout the race.

Class D honours went to the father and son combination of Cliff and Louis Weichelt, who bagged their third win of the season, in the N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux D4D. It was a clean run for the pair who never had to get out of the car.

Heinie Strumpher and Hendrik van der Linde, in the Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux, were the only other finishers in Class D. They were more than an hour behind the Weichelt's.

The Class E honours saw rookies Pikkie Labuschagne and Rikus Erasmus score their maiden national championship win in the 4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux. Labuschagne and Erasmus had more than 20 minutes in hand over Deon Venter and Ian Palmer in a second 4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux.

Venter and Palmer won the first two events of the season and consolidated their position at the top of the Class E championship. Reigning champions Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux, in the RFS Toyota Hilux, again had to dig deep to take third in class.

Circuit racing star Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie battled to fourth place in the factory Ferodo Nissan Hardbody. Included among the casualties were Ford Racing crews Baphumze Rubuluza/Khuliele Vakalisa and Lance Woolridge and Kevin Christie and the Ruwacon Racing pair of Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling in another Ford Ranger.


Nissan Sugarbelt 400 -- Round 3 -- Absa Off Road Championship -- May 15 & 16

Pietermaritzburg, Saturday -- The fairytale continued for former South African champions Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann, in the Motorite Revo1 4x4, when they won the Special Vehicle category on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 today.

For Hutchison and Bergmann it was their third win in three starts in this year's championship. It was also the third win in a row for the 4x4 Revo1 designed and built by Bergmann -- a result that makes a mockery of the old adage that new race cars always fall foul of teething problems.

With reigning champions Kallie and Quintin Sullwald having another disastrous outing family honour was preserved when Herman and Wichard Sullwald, in a Sullwald Racing Zarco, came home in second place. After a steady run the Sullwald's were over four minutes behind Hutchison and Bergmann.

The final place on the podium went to another father and son team in Nick and Ryan Harper in the Atlas Copco BAT. They also had a steady run in sweltering conditions on a tough route that took a heavy toll and crews and machinery.

"That was hard work," said a dehydrated Hutchison who was not feeling well after the race. "We never had any problems but it was a typical Sugarbelt where you had to concentrate every inch of the way."

Hutchison and Bergmann started behind the Century Racing CR1 4x4 of Mark Corbett and Rudi Balzer and the Century Racing BAT of Colin Matthews and Marc de Chalain. The two Century cars soon ran into mechanical problems on the first of two figure of eight loops that made up the race, and Hutchison and Bergmann moved into a lead they were never to relinquish.

The demise of the two Century Racing entries also moved the Sullwald's up a couple of notches. They slotted into a comfortable second but never got close enough to Hutchison and Bergmann to apply any sort of pressure. The Harpers were also steadiness personified as they gradually moved through the field in what was another consistent performance from the pair. Fourth place went to local crew Clint Gibson and Gary Campbell, in the Gibson Racing BAT, who were just over a minute behind the Harpers.

The top five were rounded out by veterans Nardus Alberts and Geoff Minnitt in the Wrapsa BAT. A strong showing brought them home only 26 seconds behind Gibson and Campbell in a battle that raged throughout the race.

A drive shaft problem sidelined fancied crew Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau, in the Total Porter, with Kallie and Quintin Sullwald overcoming a string of problems to battle to sixth place in Class A. It was also an unhappy outing for Naeem Moosajee and Mohamed Moultson, in the Tyre Rack Jimco, who also started from the back of the field and were then hit with a 30 minute penalty that dropped them way down the pecking order.

A litany of problems also dropped Mike Whitehouse, who has finished 17 out of 18 events as a driver, and Mathew Carlson down the order. Their problems included a flat tyre, a lost wheel, getting stuck in a mud hole and a failed wheel bearing and a damaged CV joint.

Rob Spencer and Gareth Mumford, in a Zarco, took the Class B honours. The KZN pair were competing in their first national of the season and took full advantage of local knowledge.

Second place went to Cape crew Derick du Toit and Ian Pienaar in the Orange Tree BAT. It was a good recovery from the pair who started from the back of the field after problems on the prologue to determine grid positions.

Class P honours went to reigning champions Johan and Etienne Bezuidenhout in the Adenco BAT. A fine performance saw the Cape Town based brothers come in sixth overall in the Special Vehicle category.

Second were Johan van Staden and James Rossouw, in another good performance in the KEC BAT, who were 90 seconds behind the Bezuidenhout's. But they had plenty in hand over local crew Don Thompson and Don Blakey with the KZN crew, in a Zarco, battling throughout the race with overheating problems.

Among the Class P casualties were Eastern Cape 400 winners Jan and Hendrik Kraaij, in the Keymax BAT, who damaged a gearbox beyond repair on the prologue. Suspension damage also sidelined Richard Schilling and Chris Davies in the Aceco.


Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Ian Palmer , Ralph Pitchford , Quin Evans , Mark Corbett , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst , Leeroy Poulter