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2014-06-28 12:34


LOCALS SECOND IN DESERT RACE DAY 1: Atlas Copco Ford Racing's Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau took an early grip on the 2014 Desert Race race-within-a-race that could win them entry on the 2015 Dakar Rally. Image: MotorPics

JWANENG, Botswana - South African crews took a back seat on Friday (June 27 2014) when Brazilian crew Reinaldo Varela and Gustavo Gugelmin (factory Team Castrol Toyota Hilux) won the 100km Production Vehicle qualifying race on the opening day of the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race.

The race is Round 4 of the Donaldson Cross-Country championship with crews chasing double points from the only marathon event on the calendar in which the winners of the Dakar Challenge, run in conjunction with the National race, will also win free entry into the 2015 Dakar Rally in South America.


The qualifying race determined grid positions for the first 450km stint on Saturday June 28) with the race ending with another 450km slog the next day. Although Varela and Gugelmin have Dakar experience nobody knew what to expect from them - but they quickly nailed their colours to the mast.

The Brazilians came home 36sec ahead of South Africans Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren (Ford Ranger) who had their best day of the season so far. The Pretoria pair were followed home by joint championship leaders Manfred Schroder and Japie Badenhorst in the first of the factory Ford Racing Ranger entries.

Schroder/Badenhorst had 29sec in hand over Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie (works Team Castrol Hilux). Brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Hilux) completed the top five and continued their impressive form in their first season in the premier Class T (for vehicles over four litres with solid axle or independent rear suspension) by finishing only 14sec behind the factory car.

Only 1min47 separated the first five crews with all the major championship contenders aware that the Desert Race is never won on the first day – but can easily be lost during the qualifying race.

The top eight was completed by Malcolm Kock/Johann Burger (Hilux) and factory crews Gary Bertholdt/Siegfried Rousseau (Ford Racing Ranger) and reigning champions Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy in another works Hilux followed.


Kock and Burger were brought up in North West and revelled in the conditions. For their part Bertholdt/Rousseau and Taylor/Murphy, who share the overall championship lead with Schroder and Badenhorst, will be happy to start within three minutes of Varela and Gugelmin.

Further down the order were a couple of surprises: Heine Strumpher/Henri Hugo and newcomers Etienne Nienaber/Dewaal Ferreira (each in a Hilux) took top 10 finishes and the first Class S places in Class S (cars up to four litres with solid axle rear suspension).

Strumpher/Hugo and Nienaber/Ferreira were ahead of some Class S heavyweights, among them former SA champions Jannie Visser/Joks le Roux (Hilux). The latter pair finished just over a minute clear of Class S championship leaders Deon Venter/Ian Palmer (yet another Hilux). Hot on their exhaust were Bloemfontein's Louw de Bruin/Riaan Greyling (Ford Ranger) who are only a point behind Venter/Palmer in the Class S title stakes.

The Class D lead went to Dewald/Anton Nienaber (Hilux) with Jan Greef/Dirk Putter (Ranger) leading Class E. Putter is the current Class E Drivers' champion.


Class G (the Side by Side category) made its  Desert Race debut with Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer (Polaris Razor) dominating the 60km prologue. They were 10 minutes clear of championship leaders Brian Capper/Jaco Swart (Polaris) with the big losers title contenders Leander Pienaar/Stephan Marais (Can-Am Maverick) who were non-finishers.

The first 450km racing section will be over two loops of about 225km and started at 8am on Saturday (June 28). There will be a compulsory halt at race HQ at the Jwaneng sports complex at the end of the first lap.
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