The Proudly South African Nissan and the Castrol Toyota off road racing teams made a clean sweep of the overall and class Production Vehicle Category placings on the Nissan Dealer 400, round one of the 2004 Absa Off Road Championship, in Darling in the Western Cape this past weekend.

Former Production Vehicle champions Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan crossed the finish line first in the Dakar specification Nissan Hardbody, two minutes and two seconds ahead of team-mates and reigning Production Vehicle champions Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke who were slowed by an electrical problem that caused the engine to cut out intermittently.

2003 Carnival City Casino 400 winners Neil Woolridge and Ken Skjoldhammer finished third in the Class T Team Ford Racing Ranger in an event that was characterised by fast sections where the Ford was often flat pout in sixth gear and thick, power-sapping sand. The Ford pair finished almost ten minutes behind the race winners.

Toyota dominated Class D and E and team manager Wammy Haddad was delighted with the results especially as the team had worked round the clock for two months to build their two new Class D Hiluxes and two new Class E versions, one of which was meant to be crewed by rookie Gavin Cronje and Robin Houghton but did not make the start line.

Privateers and former Class E champions Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn made a triumphant return to competition after a yearlong lay off and saved the day for Toyota by finishing fourth overall and first in last year’s Class E championship winning Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i. The father and son pair was followed across the line by new Castrol Toyota team signings Paolo Piazza-Musso and Rod Hering in the Class D Castrol Toyota Hilux who, despite an overheating engine, recorded a maiden class win.

Reigning Class E champions Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin lost 15 minutes in the pits to repair a broken front drive shaft on the Class D Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i and had to be content with sixth overall and second in class.

Husband and wife Neels and Zelda van der Walt brought their diesel powered Nissan Hardbody home second in Class E and seventh overall. Father and son Louis and Cliff Weichelt were in contention for the Class D win until the wheel studs on the left rear wheel sheared and they lost time replacing the entire hub and wheel rim. They were also plagued by shock absorber problems and picked up a puncture on the Bosal / N1 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser but soldiered on to finish eighth overall and third in Class D.

Duncan Vos and Hennie ter Stege (Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody) were third overall at one stage but lost power steering on the first lap and were forced to complete the second 172km lap in two-wheel drive. They finished ninth overall and fourth in Class T, almost two hours behind their race winning team-mates.

The good Samaritan of off road racing, Henry Zermatten, survived a multitude of problems on the Playstation / Mastercraft Pajero including having the steering column come loose at high speed during the Prologue and a tie rod end braking during the main event.

He and co-driver Bodo Schwegler lost so much time that they decided to help many of the crews stuck in the thick sand out of their predicament and still went on to finish 10th overall and fourth in Class D.

Team Ford Racing’s development team, Baphumze Rubuluza and Khulile Vakalisa, endured a baptism by fire in their first off road outing in the Class E Ford Ranger when they had to dig themselves out of the thick sand on at least three occasions but were overjoyed to finish 11th overall and third in Class E.

Another husband and wife crew, JP and Linda Augustin, crossed the line eighth overall and third in Class D in the GBS Racing Nissan Hardbody but were awarded a 60 minute penalty that dropped them down the order to 12th overall and fifth in Class D. Their teammates Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo, the reigning Class D champions, and Johan Gerber and Coetzee Labuschagne failed to finish due to gearbox problems and a blown engine respectively.

Manfred Schroder and Jack Peckham’s debut in the new Class D Team Ford Ranger was one filled with disappointment. After leading on the first lap a CV joint broke on the front prop shaft and they lost four-wheel drive, which made their passage through the thick sand extremely difficult. The former Class E champions had to settle for 13th overall and sixth in Class D.

The last placed finishers in the Production Vehicle Category were Pikkie Labuschagne and Pieter Roos in the Class D 4x4 Mega World Toyota Land Cruiser.

The Nissan Dealer 400 again proved to be the nemesis of crews in the Special Vehicle Category with many of the starters succumbing to the thick sand.

Last year’s winners Atang Makgekgenene and Mike Stangl led from start to finish in the Total Jimco and finished one and a half minutes ahead of 2003 Toyota Dealer 400 winner Mark Corbett and Gavin Kelsey in the Century Property Developments BAT.

They were the only finishers out of eight starters in Class A with the most notable retirements being that of reigning Special Vehicle Co-drivers Champion Brandon Harcus who barrel-rolled the Adrenalise Corporate Entertainment BAT at high speed, John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt (Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jimco) who withdrew after lap one with a major engine oil leak and Clint Gibson and Mike Brown in the Praesidium Financial Services who were forced to retire when the alternator failed 45km from the finish.

Seven of the nine finishers came from Class B with Sun City 400 organisers Adri Roets and Deon de Kock finishing third overall and first in Class B in the Global DAD WPP, one minute and 18 seconds ahead of Glenn Classen and Matthew Ludick in the locally built C.O.R. Entertainment Zarco.

Father and son Bez and Etienne Bezuidenhout (Adenco Sandmaster) finished fifth overall and third in Class B with Ernest Corbett and son-in-law Warwick Goosen (Class B Century Property Developments BAT) sixth, former Class B champion Marcus Taylor and Carl van der Merwe (Rollerbak Racing JRE) seventh, reigning Special Vehicle Champion Giel Nel (Luk / ATE Truggy) eighth.

Reigning Class S Drivers Champion Nic Goslar and Graydon Ilderton finished ninth overall and first in Class S in the Men’s Clinic International / Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco.

The next round of the Absa Off Road Championship, the Nissan Sugarbelt 400, takes place in the Eston area near Pietermaritzburg on April 23 and 24.

Original article from Car