BATTLE TO THE END: Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux make some dust in the Toyota Hilux during the final event of the SA National cross-country championship. Image: Snapshots
Close contests characterised the overall and class championships in the Production Vehicle category in the 2014 South African Cross-Country championship.
The overall and premier Class T titles, as well as the Class S championship, were each decided at the final event of the season on the West Rand. The Gold 450 produced a win for Gary Bertholdt/Siegfried Rousseau in a Ford Ranger to give the factory team overseen by former South African champion Neil Woolridge its third win of the season.
Bertholdt/Rousseau came in ahead of North West youngsters Jason Venter/Vincent van Allemann (Toyota Hilux) and brothers Johan/Werner Horn (Hilux). The top five was completed by Jason’s father, Deon, and Jaco van Aardt (Hilux) and Anthony Taylor/Dennis Murphy in a works Hilux.
Fifth was enough to give Taylor/Murphy back-to-back titles in the overall and premier Class T category for cars over four litres with independent rear suspension. Going into the Gold 450 the Taylor/Murphy and Horn combinations were the only crews in with a chance of winning both titles.
Although the Horns had the satisfaction of finishing ahead of Taylor/Murphy, they were unable to overturn the points advantages the factory crew held going into the season finale. The Bertholdt/Rousseau win, however, had a significant effect on the chase for the lesser overall and Class T placings.
Bertholdt leap-frogged into third in the Drivers' championships to finish a single point ahead of Leeroy Poulter (Hilux). A final non-finish proved costly for Poulter and co-driver Rob Howie.
Manfred Schroder, who deputised for injured Chris Visser in the Ford team for two-thirds of the season, completed the top five among the drivers. Schroder scored one of the Ford wins, the others going to Visser and Bertholdt.
On the co-driver side, Rousseau moved into third behind Japie Badenhorst who, during the course of the season, sat alongside Schroder and Visser. Rousseau edged out Rob Howie, who navigated for Poulter, by one point with only two points separating Badenhorst, Rousseau and Howie.
The finish order was the same in the Class T championship. Here, however, Badenhorst/Rousseau finished level on points - with Badenhorst completing the top three by virtue of a count out with two wins to Rousseau’s lone victory.
The Class S title races, for cars up to four litres with solid axle rear suspension, were equally close. Venter senior and Jaco van Aardt, who took over co-driver duties from Ian Palmer midway through the season, won the final event of 2014.
Second place, however, for former South African champions Jannie Visser/Joks le Roux (Hilux) saw them take the driver and co-driver titles with the pair coming on strongly after missing an event early in the season. Second place went to Venter, on a count out, ahead of Louw de Bruin in a Ford Ranger.
De Bruin’s co-driver, Riaan Greyling, took second place among the co-drivers with Ian Palmer, who shared the Hilux with Venter in the early part of the season, doing enough to finish third. De Bruin/Greyling ended the season with a 100% finish record but consistency was not enough for the Bloemfontein pair who finished the year winless.
There were also desperately close finishes in Class G, or Side by Side, in the category’s inaugural season. Polaris pair Brian Capper and Jaco Swart took the driver and co-driver titles – by one point in each category – ahead of Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer in another Polaris.
A non-finish for Woolridge and Dreyer on the final event was the decisive factor in the Class G title race. The two crews were the stand-out performers in the category, and finished well ahead of the rest.
There was, by contrast, nothing close about the South African Manufacturers Championship in which Toyota took the honours for the umpteenth time 261 points clear of Ford, with Nissan a long way back in third.