Sugarbelt final summary

Nissan trounces the competition in the Nissan Sugarbelt 400. The Proudly South African Nissan Off Road Team trounced the competition in the Nissan Sugarbelt 400, round two of the SA Off Road Championship - presented by Bankfin, ABSA's specialist...

Nissan trounces the competition in the Nissan Sugarbelt 400.

The Proudly South African Nissan Off Road Team trounced the competition in the Nissan Sugarbelt 400, round two of the SA Off Road Championship - presented by Bankfin, ABSA's specialist vehicle finance division - in the Eston area near Pietermaritzburg on Saturday.

Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke now have a commanding lead in the Production Vehicle championship after also winning the season opening Nissan Dealer 400 in the Western Cape in the Class T Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody.

The veteran pair has won the last five events, equalling the record set in 1986 by Hannes Grobler and Piet Swanepoel, the MSA Off Road Car Racing Commission president, in a Nissan Safari and Nissan Motorsport has also chalked up nine consecutive victories since last years Nissan Sugarbelt 400.

Reigning Production vehicle champions Duncan Vos and Mike Griffith had a dismal start to their weekend when they rolled their Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody in the 50km Prologue. Fortunately the damage was superficial and the pair, with Vos severely affected by motion sickness on Saturday, went on to finish second overall, 27 minutes behind their team-mates.

Early race leader Giniel de Villiers was also affected by motion sickness and was placed on a drip after his Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody retired with steering problems.

Near standard Class E vehicles, which are powered by four-cylinder diesel or normally aspirated engines, again featured on the podium. Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin finished third overall and 1st in Class E in the Western Cape and on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 three Class E crews fought tooth and nail throughout the event.

In a nail-biting finish the Class E win and the final podium position went to former Class E champions and local cane farmers Manfred Schroder and Jack Peckham in the Team Ford Racing Ranger TDi.

Rotax Max World Karting Champion Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin had to settle for 2nd place in the class and 4th overall in the Castrol Toyota Hilux and were followed home by veteran Kassie Coetzee and Ockie Fourie in another Castrol Toyota Hilux KZ-TE.

Only 3 minutes separated the three Class E crews at the finish.

Multiple off road motorcycle and Enduro champion Alfie Cox and Hennie ter Steege clinched Class D in the Arnold Chatz Cars Nissan Hardbody and finished 6th overall 10 minutes ahead of their closest rivals Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo in the Team GBS Nissan Hardbody who finished 9th overall.

The Dakar star was all smiles following the victory, which more than compensated for his disappointment when he retired, while leading Class D, a mere 8km from the finish of the Nissan Dealer 400 in Darling.

Former Nissan Sugarbelt 400 winner Cliff Barker and co-driver Vic Campher finished 7th overall and 3rd in Class T in the trusty Barker Performance Products Land Rover.

Former Production Vehicle champions Neil Woolridge and Ken Skjoldhammer had a troubled day in the newly rebuilt Class T Team Ford Racing Ranger, which is now fitted with a V6 engine. The power steering on the French-built Ranger gave up the ghost 200km into the race and Woolridge had his work cut out keeping it on the road in twisty forestry and sugar cane sections of the route. They soldiered on to finish 8th overall and 4th in Class T.

Two times former Production Vehicle champion Alfred van Vuuren and son Tommy finished 10th overall and 3rd in Class D in a Nissan Hardbody.

Nissan won the Manufacturers Team Award.

The Special Vehicle category was a closely fought affair.

At the start it was anyone's guess as to which of six Class A crews - Nissan Dealer 400 winners Atang Makgekgenene and Mike Stangl in the SAM Racing Jimco, 2002 Nissan Sugarbelt 400 winner John Weir-Smith and co-driver Geoff Minnitt in the O'Hagan's / Kopanong Hotel Jimco, winner of four races in 2002 Gerhard du Plessis and his wife Kobie in the Liebherr Jimco, Greg Daus and Archie Rutherford in the Nashua Mobile Chenowth, Terence Marsh and Trevor Ahier in the Nashua Mobile Jimco and Gerald Mundell and Billy Bond in the Prolong BAT - would cross the line first.

Makgekgenene and Stangl managed to complete 200 meters of the 390km route before being sidelined with electronic problems, the du Plessis pair led for a while until mechanical problems put them out of the running, Weir-Smith and Minnitt also led for a while until they were forced to retire with overheating problems and Marsh and Ahier called it a day when a belt that drives the supercharger on the Mitsubishi engine broke.

In the end it was left to Daus and Rutherford and Mundell and Bond to fight it out to the death.

The two crews swapped the lead a number of times but it was Mundell and Bond who stormed across the finish line with the left rear tyre of the Prolong BAT in shreds with Daus and Rutherford in the Mitsubishi V6 twin turbo powered Nashua Mobile Chenowth virtually nudging them along in an effort to get past.

It was a maiden win for the KZN pair and for the locally designed and built Nissan V6 powered BAT.

Reigning Class B champions Marcus Taylor from KZN and Marc de Chalain in the JRE finished 3rd overall and first in Class B for 2 litre powered Special Vehicles.

Veteran Giel Nel won Class B in the Nissan Dealer 400 but had to be content with 2nd in Class B and 4th overall in the Luk Africa Truggy and was followed across the line by Gerhard and Kobie du Plessis in the Liebherr Jimco.

Nic Goslar and Glen Steyn had a steady run and finished 6th overall and 1st in Class S in the O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel Raceco. John Moore and Fred Werner were 7th overall in the Class A Connix Shell Chenowth in which father and son Franz Czepek Sr. and Jr. won the 2001 Special Vehicle Championship.

Former Production Vehicle driver now turned Special Vehicle driver Andrew Birkin finished 8th overall and 3rd in Class E in the locally built Wingfoot. KZN crew Warren Morton and Andrew Davis were 4th in Class B and 9th overall in the Bushpig.

Western Cape based father and son crew Bez and Deon Bezuidenhout completed the top ten in their Sandmaster.

Only 33 of the 88 entrants managed to complete the tortuous route.

The next round of the SA Off Road Championship - presented by Bankfin, ABSA's specialist vehicle finance division - is the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in Botswana from 13-15 June.


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Series Other rally
Drivers Andrew Davis , Giniel de Villiers , Alfie Cox , John Moore , Duncan Vos