Nissan Motorsport’s team of three Proudly South African Hardbody racing pickups is the one to beat in round three of the Absa South African Off-Road Championship in Botswana this weekend (June 11, 12 and 13). The Midrand-based team is aiming for a third successive win in the Toyota 1 000 km Desert Race as well as a clean sweep of the first three events of this year’s championship.

Reigning off-road champions Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke will be hoping to repeat their victory in last year’s Desert Race, when they led home team-mates Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan in a dominant Nissan 1-2 in the season’s longest event. Grobler and Leeke also won in Botswana in 2002.

They currently lead the 2004 championship with 77 points after finishing second behind De Villiers and Jordaan in the season-opening Nissan Dealer 400 in the Western Cape and winning the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 in KwaZulu Natal in April. They also lead class T (for modified production vehicles) from De Villiers and Jordaan (69 points) and Ford’s Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer (62 points).

Their biggest competition will come from Proudly South African Nissan team-mates Glyn Hall and Jordaan and Duncan Vos/Hennie ter Stege in their class T Hardbody V6 double cab pickups, as well as 2001 Desert Race winners Woolridge and Skjoldhammer in their Ford Ranger V6.

Hall, manager of Nissan Motorsport and 1990 SA rally champion, makes an unexpected return to active competition after a break of 12 years to fill in for De Villiers, who broke his elbow in a fall while training on his mountain bike.

Both Hall and Woolridge, a former off road champion, can be expected to give Grobler a hard time in the Botswana desert. Vos, who won the 2002 off-road championship in a near-standard six-cylinder class D Nissan Hardbody, is still looking for his first win since moving up to class T in 2003 and finishing second three times with former co-driver Mike Griffith.

Thanks to excellent support from privateers, Nissan leads the manufacturers’ championship with 306 points, well ahead of Toyota’s 183 and Ford’s 138.

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” says Hall. “We’re having a good run, but we continue to work very hard to stay ahead in this ultra competitive form of motor racing. The Toyota Desert Race is particularly tough, twice the length of a normal championship event, and the sandy roads and high-speed sections are a big challenge.”

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” says Hall. “We’re having a good run, but we continue to work very hard to stay ahead in this ultra competitive form of motor racing. The Toyota Desert Race is particularly tough, twice the length of a normal championship event, and the sandy roads and high-speed sections are a big challenge.”

The official factory team will be backed by a big contingent of Nissan privateers. Multiple national off-road and enduro motorcycle champion Alfie Cox continues to perform impressively on four wheels in his Nissan Motorsport-prepared Arnold Chatz Cars Nissan Hardbody in class D.

Two class wins last year with Hennie ter Stege in his first season on four wheels have been backed by a win in the very competitive class D and fifth overall in April’s Nissan Sugarbelt 400 with new partner Ralph Pitchford. They are currently fifth in the class D standings with 31 points behind class leaders Mark Cronje/Chris Birkin (Toyota Hilux) on 46 points.

Reigning class D champions Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo head the three-car Gearbox Services Racing team of gold Nissan Hardbody pickups. The other GBS Racing pairings are husband and wife JP and Linda Augustin and Johan Gerber/ Coetzee Labuschagne. Also contesting class D is the BB Auto pairing of Arnold du Plessis and George Baker.

Nissan Hardbody privateers in class E (for near-standard four-cylinder production vehicles) include husband and wife Neels and Zelda van der Walt and brothers Jurie and Andre du Plessis in their BB Auto-backed entry. The Van der Walts have made an impressive start to the new season in their diesel Hardbody, finishing second in class in the first two events. They are second in the points standings behind class leaders Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Toyota Hilux).

Original article from Car