The opening round of the 2003 Bankfin Off-Road Championship, the Nissan Dealer 400 in Darling in the Western Cape, will mark the car racing debut of South Africa’s most successful off-road motorcyclist, Alfie Cox.

The 40-year-old hero of the Dakar Rally and winner of nine Roof of Africa rallies will make his long-awaited transition from two wheels to four in a Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody provided by Nissan Motorsport.

Cox is backed by the Supergroup, the quoted retail automotive group, as well as personal sponsors Natro Freight and Red Bull and from the second event, the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 in Kwazulu Natal on May 9 and 10, his class D Hardbody will be entered and prepared by Arnold Chatz Cars, the Nissan dealer in Craighall, Johannesburg.

“I’m very excited but also very nervous,” said an ebullient Cox. “I have not raced a car before and there is a lot to learn. I’m confident I can make the transition successfully. I’m under no pressure to achieve too much in my first year. I have a whole season ahead of me and my objective will be to learn and not break the car.”

Cox, who is contracted to KTM to compete in two more Dakar rallies after finishing fourth in 1998, third in 1999, fifth in 2001 and second in 2002 (he retired from the 2003 event after crashing), will combine his domestic car off-road racing with an international build-up to Dakar 2004 that includes the Australian Safari, the Egyptian Rally and the Dubai Rally, all rounds of the FIM World Off-Road Rally Championship.

“We’re privileged to be associated with a motor sportsman of Alfie’s stature,” said Mike Whitfield, an executive vice president of Nissan South Africa. “We’re thrilled he has chosen to start his four-wheeled off-road career in a Nissan and that he is backed by the progressive Supergroup. We’re also pleased to be the sponsor of the first national championship off-road event to be held in the Western Cape, which is in addition to our annual Nissan Sugarbelt 400, traditionally the second round of the championship.”

William Lane, dealer principal of Arnold Chatz Cars, said it was natural that his dealership, founded by one of South Africa’s most famous and successful motor sportsmen, should be associated with the equally famous and successful Alfie Cox. “The combination of the Supergroup, Nissan and Alfie is sure to be a winning formula. We’re very much looking forward to the season ahead, which will no doubt be demanding yet exciting for all involved.”

Cox’s addition to the Nissan Dealer 400 entry list brings the official Nissan Motorsport entry to four. The winners of the 2002 manufacturers championship as well as the overall production vehicle driver and co-driver championships, Nissan Motorsport are fielding three Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody Double Cab pickups in the premier Class T for modified ‘super trucks’.

They will be crewed by reigning class T champions Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke, 2001 champions Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan and reigning overall production vehicle champions Duncan Vos and Mike Griffith.

De Villiers, who thrilled South African motor sport fans in January with his heroic efforts in his first Dakar Rally, will drive the same vehicle in which he finished a remarkable fifth after 19 days and over 5 000 km of high-speed special stage desert racing against the world’s best off-road racers.

Grobler, who performed his own heroics in the Dakar Rally at the wheel of a Renault truck that provided technical support for the official three-car Nissan team and finished a creditable 18th in the truck category, will be at the wheel of the same 3,5-litre V6-engined Hardbody in which he won five of the eight rounds in 2002.

Vos and Griffith move up from Class D (for near standard six-cylinder production vehicles) after acing the more powerful Class T vehicles last year with remarkable consistency and surprising many by winning the overall championship.

They will campaign the Hardbody driven last year by De Villiers, which is the first racing off-road Nissan built by Nissan Motorsport after the Midrand-based team dominated the Bankfin Touring Car Championship for four years between 1997 and 2000.

Cox and co-driver Hennie ter Steege will be in the Hardbody in which Vos and Griffith won the 2002 championship.

Nissan Motorsport will not be officially represented in Class D or Class E (for near-standard four-cylinder production vehicles), but will support privateer entries by former Class D champion Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo (Class D Hardbody Double Cab) and brothers Andre and Jurie du Plessis (BB Auto petrol-engined Class E Hardbody Single Cab) and husband-and-wife team Neels and Zelda van der Walt (diesel-engined Class E Hardbody Double Cab).

Original article from Car