The Nissan Sugarbelt 400, opening round of the 2005 ABSA SA Off Road Championship, takes place in the Eston area of KwaZulu Natal on March 18 and 19 and Nissan is hoping to extend its domination of this popular annual event to five consecutive wins.

Since Nissan turned its motor sport attention fulltime to national championship off road racing in 2001, after dominating the national touring car championship for four years, the Midrand-based Nissan Motorsport team has won four successive Nissan Sugarbelt 400 races in its Proudly South African 3,5-litre V6 Nissan Hardbody pickup.

Competing in class T for modified production vehicles, four-times touring car champion Giniel de Villiers and co-driver Francois Jordaan were victorious in 2001 on their way to winning their first national off-road championship. They won the KZN event again in 2002 in their Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody, starting Nissan’s unprecedented 14-race winning streak that ended in the final round of the 2003 season, the Carnival City 400.

Former national off-road champions Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke took the chequered flag in 2003 in a year in which they completely dominated the championship, winning six of the eight rounds on their way to the driver and co-driver titles respectively.

Grobler and Leeke did it again in KZN in 2004 on their way to a second successive championship.

This year Nissan Motorsport fields a new-look team. Grobler is aiming for his third successive Nissan Sugarbelt and championship wins and is paired with Jordaan in a class T Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody for the first two rounds. A new Super Production Class will replace class T for the Toyota Desert Race in June.

Ford and Toyota are expected to join Nissan in this “Super Truck” class, which is for modified vehicles restricted to 4,5-litre V6 or V8 engines.

Duncan Vos, who won the 2002 championship for Nissan in a class D Hardbody and drove the third class T Nissan last year, is leading Nissan’s two-car assault on the Sahara SA Production Car Championship with track star Gary Formato in Sasol Nissan 350Zs.

Last year’s class D champions Alfie Cox (who is becoming as well known for his performances behind the wheel as his well-documented heroics behind the handlebars) and Ralph Pitchford will team up again, but this time in the second class T Hardbody, a fitting reward for their 2004 successes in the Arnold Chatz Cars-supported Hardbody, which included five class wins in the eight rounds raced.

Nissan will again be well represented by a strong contingent of privateers, the backbone of national championship off-road racing. In class D (for near standard six-cylinder production vehicles) the Pietersburg-based BB Auto team will be entering two Hardbody pickups for brothers Andre and Jurie du Plessis and for Arnold du Plessis and new co-driver Johan Knox.

The Gearbox Services Racing Team will start the season with a single class D Hardbody for Coetzee Labuschagne and Johan Gerber. Also contesting class D is the pairing of top motoring journalist Deon Schoeman and Jan Sime in the Topcar Hardbody.

Thomas Rundle will campaign the former BB Auto class E Hardbody, now racing in the colours of Barden Tyre Services after making his debut in this vehicle in the last event of 2004, the Carnival City Casino 400.

Original article from Car