Former Production Vehicle champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer finally broke Nissan’s stranglehold on the Absa Off Road Championship when they won a hotly contested Nissan Sugarbelt 400 in Kwa-Zulu Natal on Saturday.
The Team Ford Racing pair qualified third fastest behind Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody crews Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford and reigning Production Vehicle drivers champion Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan in Friday’s 31km Prologue.
Cox and Pitchford, making their debut in the ex-Giniel de Villiers Class T pickup, led for the first 90km of the race before Grobler and Jordaan slipped by and they would later be relegated to third when they couldn’t get the Nissan started at a de-control because of a faulty battery.
Woolridge and Skjoldhammer piled on the pressure on the leading Nissan crew and eventually grabbed the lead when Grobler and Jordaan had to stop to replace a flat wheel. The Nissan pair threw caution to the wind and set off after the leading Ford but, despite making up all but 17-seconds of the time lost while replacing the punctured wheel, they were unable to pass the leaders in the dust and had to settle for second place.
Cox and Pitchford retired when the rear prop shaft broke and damaged the gearbox cooler pump.
Team Ford Racing had even more cause to celebrate when Manfred Schroder and Alec Harris brought their Ford Ranger home third overall and first in Class D over five minutes ahead of father and son Cliff and Louis Weichelt in the Bosal N1 4x4 Toyota V6.
The Class E win went to Hugo de Bruyn and his father Jaap who are the reigning Class E champions. The talented youngster from Vryburg never put a wheel wrong in the privately entered Toyota Hilux 2.7i and finished 10-minutes ahead of 2004 Milestone Award winners – an award presented to the crew that completes all events in the championship – in the Class D Mastercraft / Ryobi Mitsubishi Pajero.
Durban based Zane Pearce and Peter Chadwick were seventh overall and second in Class E in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i with team mates Gavin Cronje and Robin Houghton eighth overall and fourth in Class D in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i.
Runners-up in the 2004 Class D championship, Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin, were challenging for the Class D lead and a podium finish when an encounter with a tree resulted in the steering idler arm breaking on their Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i, which forced them into retirement. Teammates Paolo Piazza-Musso and Ockie Fourie were also well placed but were sidelined when two spark plug leads chafed through on the Class D Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i.
Father and son Dirk Sr. and Dirk Jr. van Reenen from Harrismith finished ninth overall and third in Class E in the Savannah Ford Ranger while brothers Mark and Stuart Moffat in the Bosal N1 4x4 Land Rover finished tenth overall and fifth in Class D.
Team Ford Racing’s development team of Baphumze Rubuluza and Khulile Vakalisa finished 11th overall and fourth in Class E in the Ford Ranger.
The Special Vehicle category was won by 2004 Mafeking 500 winners Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau in the Advansoft BAT who led from start to finish in a race that decimated the Special Vehicle field.
Off road enduro motorcycle specialists now turned off road car racers, John Moore and Graham Maclachlan, maintained a steady pace to finish second overall in the Connix Chenowth ahead of Kwa-Zulu Natal pair Clint Gibson and Marcelle Trethewey in the Gibson Plant Hire BAT.
Bevan Bertholdt and Nick Selamolela started second in the Itec BAT Spec 1 and were on a mission to beat brother Gary but early into the race they rolled into the sugar cane. They managed to right the vehicle and continue their charge but a puncture slowed them even further and they had to settle for fourth overall after a great comeback drive.
The star act in the Special Vehicle category was former quad champion Evan Hutchison and Trevor Ormerod in the Class B Motorite BAT. The pair had the measure of the rest of the Class B field and initially ran as high as second overall but eventually settled for fifth overall and a well-deserved Class B win.
Terence Marsh and Michael Whitehouse brought the Nashua Mobile Racing BAT Spec 1 home sixth overall and fifth in Class A while reigning Class B champions Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain in the JRE were seventh overall and second in Class B.
David White was eighth overall and third in Class B in the ex-Giel Nel Truggy with brothers Rudi and Pierre van Graan the last placed finishers and fourth in Class B in the Technochair Zarco
Notable retirements included John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt whose race ended when the oil cooler on the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jimco burst, Class S leaders Richard Schilling and Chris Davies who had picked up two punctures on the Plastotech Aceco and only had one spare wheel onboard and father and son Rob and Gareth Wark who ended up spectating when the clutch on the Superpave Chenowth failed.
Only 11 of the 21 Production Vehicle starters and nine of the 54 Special Vehicle starters were able to finish the Nissan Sugarbelt 400, which was described by many as being the toughest event in the Absa Off Road Championship.
The Nissan Dealer 400, round two of the Absa Off Road Championship, takes place in the Darling area in the Western Cape on 22 and 23 April.
Original article from Car