Navara win at Sun City 400
Nissan Navara off-road racing bakkie
Author: Colin Windell
Hannes Grobler powered his Sasol Nissan Navara to a relatively comfortable win at the Sun City 400 – round five of the 2008 Absa Off-Road Championship – to bring him within striking distance of team mate Duncan Vos in the Production Vehicle championship log and Ford’s Neil Woolridge, who finished the race in second place.
With 94 cars entered to start, the biggest entry in the history of the race dust was always going to be a factor and a good placing in the Prologe, run on Friday, would go a long way to minimising poor visibility – Grobler and navigator Juan Mohr went out and won this to ensure they would be first on the road for the race proper on Saturday morning.
At the end, after nearly 6,5 hours of racing, Grobler finished 5 min 33 sec ahead of Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer in their Ford Racing Ranger with the Micaren Exel Dealer Team Toyota Hilux of Hugo de Bruyn and Jaap de Bruyn third overall in the Production class – despite the Toyota running most of the event with an engine misfire.
For the Ford pair it was their fifth podium finish in five outings and an overdue win continues to elude the experienced former SA champions.
For the De Bruyn father and son combination it was their best performance of the season with the pair upstaging the Toyota factory entries, which fell by the wayside, of Mark Cronje/Chris Birkin and Anthony Taylor/Robin Houghton – the former with three punctures in the opening loop and the latter with a combination of punctures and a severed brake line.
Fourth place in the class and seventh overall on the day were Ivar Tollefsen and Quin Evans (Nissan Navara) with Duncan Vos and Ralph Pitchford (Nissan Navara) fifth in class after a sterling drive that saw them climb from 52nd place after problems on the Prologue.
“That was a timely win,” said Grobler. “I haven’t won in a while and this was just what Juan and I needed.
“We had a nice clean run today and now we are ready to pick up a few more wins over the rest of the season.”
Vos’s charge bumped Mark Ferguson and Craig West, in the second Ford Racing Ranger, out of the top five. Behind the KwaZulu-Natal crew a steady performance saw George Barkhuizen and stand-in navigator Ockie Fourie seventh overall.
After a disappointing season reigning Class D driver’s champion Cliff Weichelt, partnered by Nico Els on this event, finally came good. The pair, in the N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux D4D, cruised home around six minutes clear of Henri and Maurice Zermatten (Ryobi Nissan Hardbody) with championship leaders Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber (Raysonics Nissan Hardbody) among the race casualties.
Third in Class D went to the husband and wife team of Ramon and Maret Bezuidenhout in a Toyota Hilux. For the Delmas pair it was their best result of the season.
Rookie Dewald van Breda, partnered by Johan du Toit in the Potch Plastics Toyota Hilux, scored his second win of the season in Class E. They came in around four minutes ahead of championship leaders Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux who had to make up a 15 minute penalty for starting late on the prologue.
Drama from the start
Early casualties were reigning drivers champion Jack Peckham and Lucio Santoro in the Ford Racing Ranger. A broken engine mounting saw them in an early role as spectators.
Former South African champion Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau made it two in a row when they won the Special Vehicle category at the Sun City 400.
Variawa and Rousseau, in the Total Motorsport Porter, followed up their recent win on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race with an emphatic victory on one of the toughest events on the off road calendar. According to provisional results Variawa and Rousseau eventually came home just on two minutes ahead of dark horses Colin Matthews and Alan Smith in the Century Racing BAT.
The final position on the podium went to the father and son combination of Nick and Ryan Harper, in the Atlas Copco BAT, who were a further 85 seconds in arrears. The consistent Mike Whitehouse and Mathew Carlson Regent Racing BAT) and Karl-Heinz and Quintin Sullwald, in the Sullwald Racing BAT, who managed to roll on each of the two loops that made up the race, completed the top five after an intriguing race of shifting fortunes.
The shifting fortunes continued when Whitehouse and Carlson were excluded from the results for not stopping at the scene of one of the Sullwald rolls.
Variawa and Rousseau, who started behind prologue winners Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergman, in the Motorite BAT, took control of the race on the second loop. Reigning SA champions Hutchison and Bergmann fell by the wayside on loop two after a string of punctures and their season is in tatters.
“It was a good weekend for us, and the championship is now very interesting,” said Rousseau. “We never had to get out the car all day, and that is the way to win off road races.”
Mathews and Smith, who scored the best result of the careers, started sixth on the grid and gradually closed down the crews who started ahead of them. Among their victims were former SA champion Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald, in a second Regent Racing BAT, Whitehouse/Carlson and the Harpers.
The result, with three rounds of the championship remaining, leaves the overall and Class A title chases interestingly poised. Sullwald and son Quintin, who started the event leading both championships, are now lumped together with Marsh/Groenewald, who were sixth today, Variawa/Rousseau and Whitehouse and Carlson who are turning out to be the revelation of the season.
A fine performance that saw them finish seventh overall gave brothers David and Gary white the Class P win in the Ruwacon BAT. They had a healthy lead over Nic Goslar/Richard Carolin (Men’s Health International Zarco) and brothers Johan and Etienne Bezuidenhout in the Adenco BAT.
It was an eventful outing for the Cape brothers who broke a tie rod end four kilometres after the start. Younger brother Etienne ran back to the pits for a replacement part, ran back to the stranded car and after hasty repairs the brothers continued without further mishap.
In the closest class battle of the race Alistair Stubbs and Pieter de Wit won Class B in the Stafix Racing Viper. The pair fought out a close battle with reigning SA champion Jan Kraaij and Tiddo Voogt, in the Keymax BAT, with only 51 seconds separating the two crews at the finish.
Veteran former champion Giel Nel and Deon de Kock, in the LUK Afrika Zarco Truggy came up with another dogged performance. It saw them into third place and keeps them in touch in the championship.