General manager Glyn Hall and his dedicated team from Nissan Motorsport in Midrand travel to Botswana this weekend (June 3, 4 and 5) for the longest round of the 2005 Absa Off Road Championship, the 1 000-km Toyota 1 000 Desert Race.
Reigning national off road champion Hannes Grobler and co-driver Francois Jordaan, fresh from their comfortable victory in round two of the national championship, in the Nissan Dealer 400 in the Western Cape in April, and off road motorcycle racing legend Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford will be looking for nothing less than a Nissan 1-2 in their familiar red and grey Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody V6 racing pickups, which are supported by Sasol, Ferodo and Champion.
The 50-year-old Grobler, a Nissan dealer from Hermanus, has announced his intention to retire at the end of this year after a distinguished 27-year career in motor sport and will be aiming for his fourth successive Desert Race win. Last year he and Richard Leeke withstood a strong challenge from team-mates Glyn Hall (deputising for an injured Giniel de Villiers) and Francois Jordaan and Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer in the works Ford Ranger V6, with the Ford pair finishing just over half an hour behind the winning Nissan.
“I love the Desert Race and the thousands of spectators who come out to watch this three-day event,” says the ever-friendly Grobler. “The route is long and fast in places, with tricky sections of soft sand and rocky ground, with water crossings and deep dongas. It has everything to challenge the driver and requires a lot of concentration and the ability to read the road ahead and the surrounding land. It will catch you out in a second if you’re not wide awake.
“This will probably be my last Desert Race and it would be nice to go back to South Africa with another victory for me and Nissan,” he says with a big smile. “Nissan and I have travelled a long road together, back to my first rally in 1978 in a Datsun. Apart from a few circuit races in a Fiat Uno, which was built and marketed by Nissan at the time, I have only ever raced a Datsun or a Nissan,” he says with pride. He’s almost certainly the longest-serving Nissan works driver there has ever been.
Cox and Pitchford are the reigning class D champions and took the class honours in last year’s Desert Race after a hard-fought battle with Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin in their works Toyota Hilux. The Nissan pipped the Toyota to the flag by just 13 seconds.
The 43-year-old KTM dealer from Cato Ridge in KwaZulu Natal has adapted to the more powerful and sophisticated class T ‘supertruck’ like the proverbial duck to water. In Cox’s case, it would be more appropriate to say like the terrier to the rabbit chase. He is the heir apparent to King Hannes and is relishing the experience of driving the most successful off-road racer in the past five years.
The never-say-die veteran of seven Dakar rallies positively beams when you ask him about his new Hardbody. All he could say after winning the prologue of the season-opening Nissan Sugarbelt 400 (upstaging even his illustrious team-mate) was: “It’s awesome – just like Play Station!”. In fact, a win in the desert of Botswana would give Nissan its 27th success in 35 races since the Rosslyn-based manufacturer entered off road racing in 2001 after winning the South African touring car championship for four successive years.
But Cox and Pitchford, also a top former racing motorcyclist, have not had an easy start to the season, sidelined by mechanical problems in each of the first two events after very promising performances. “To win you first have to finish, and that is our objective in Botswana,” says Cox. “As always, we’re going to give it our best shot.”
The official Nissan team will once again be backed up by a band of loyal privateers who have helped make Nissan the winning manufacturer over the past five years and all of whom enjoy official support from Nissan Motorsport.
Contesting class D will be the GBS Racing/Raysonics Hardbody in the hands of Coetzee Labuschagne and Johan Gerber, top motoring journalist Deon Schoeman and Jan Sime in their Topcar/Autopage/Du Pont Hardbody, Polokwane Nissan dealer Arnold Arnold du Plessis and Johan Knox in the BB Auto/Coca Cola Hardbody and Arnold’s brothers Jurie and Andre du Plessis in their BB Auto/Coca Cola Hardbody.
Class E contenders are Thomas Rundle and Stavros Yiannakis in the former BB Auto Hardbody, now racing in the colours of Barden Tyre Services.
Original article from Car