Mooi River, KwaZulu-Natal - The short trip up the N3 to Mooi River proved to be a profitable one for the Pietermaritzburg based Ford Racing Ranger factory team, with a one/two Production Vehicle triumph in the Toyota Dealer 450, round 2 of the SA Cross Country series,
Manfred Schroder and Japie Badenhorst scored a convincing win from pole position, leading home team-mates Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau. A dream result for brothers Johan and Werner Horn saw the pair, in only their second outing in the premier Class T category, take the final podium finish in their ex-works Toyota Hilux.
It was the perfect weekend for Schroder, standing in for the second time for injured regular driver Chris Visser, and Badenhorst. They won the qualifying race, to determine the start order, by 1m38 from works Toyota crew Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy, and were never under threat during the race.
Schroder who, prior to stepping into the breach after Visser underwent neck surgery, last raced at national level six years ago, said at the finish: "We never had a problem throughout the weekend, and Japie did a magnificent job on a race that was tough on navigators."
Schroder qnd Badenhorst finished with a 2m23 over Bertholdt and Rousseau, who started sixth on the road after a disappointing qualifying race. They profited when Taylor and Murphy dropped out with suspension damage after hitting a rock, while Jason Venter and Vince van Allemann rolled their Toyota Hilux.
FORD IN COMMAND
Bertholdt and Rousseau had moved into second by the halfway stage and, from that point on, the two Ford Racing crews were in complete charge of proceedings.
The Horn brothers started behind Bertholdt and Rousseau, and also gradually worked their way up the pecking order to finish ahead of former circuit racer Hennie de Klerk and Johann Smalberger in a BMW X3.
The top five was completed by Deon Venter and Ian Palmer, who also won Cass S for vehicles with an engine capacity of up to four litres and solid axle rear suspension.
"We could not have had a better car," said Venter. "With a better start position we would have been able to run with the V8 cars in Class T."
Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie salvaged some pride for the factory Toyota squad with sixth place - after starting from the back of the field. It was a fighting performance from Poulter and Howie who also ran into suspension problems during the qualifying race.
Poulter and Howie were followed home by a trio of Nissan Navaras, with Mike Whitehouse and George Myburgh comfortably ahead of Terence Marsh and former rugby Springbok AJ Venter, and Archie Rutherford and Gerhard Schutte next up.
Rutherford and Schutte were second in Class S with Ford Ranger crew Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling completing the top 10 and taking third in Class S.
A combination of experience and youthful exuberance produced a stunning Special Vehicles win for veteran Gerhard du Plessis and his 17-year-old son Hardus in a well-used Jimco that was first raced in South Africa in 2000, as the North West pair took complete charge on the second of the two loops that made up the route.
The Du Plessis pair came in an emphatic 29m25 ahead of KwaZulu-Natal BAT crew Daniel Brookes and Gavan Gray - in their best finish yet in a national event. On a challenging route that took its toll on the Special Vehicles there was a gap of about 30 minutes between Brookes and Gray, and third placed Derick du Toit and Craig Gray (BAT) who started from the back of the field after a disastrous qualifying.
Du Plessis senior said afterwards: "It was a difficult route with plenty of places where you could run into trouble. We hit a few rocks with no damage so luck was on our side, and the youngster also did a great job."
The youngster, in only his second race, found himself on the podium for the second consecutive time and was totally casual about it all.
"The GPS worked and we never got lost," he shrugged. "I enjoyed myself while my dad did most of the work."
The Du Plessis family was definitely back in business in Mooi River, as Gerhard's brother - and Hardus' uncle - Laurence, sharing a Zarco with teenager Adriaan Roets, came home fourth, ahead of three Class P runners.
Reigning Class P champions John Thomson and Maurice Zermatten, in a Zarco Magnum, bounced back to win the category after a disappointing fourth in the opening race of the season, ahead of top qualifiers, KwaZulu-Natal pair James Watson and John Thompson (BAT), and Jeremy Wood and Greg Higgins (Aceco) who also started from the back of the field after qualifying woes.
The rest of the 10 Special Vehicle crews classified as finishers were Class A pair Brett Parker and VJ van Zyl, who survived a roll in their Jimco, veteran Nic Goslar and Gerhard Niemandt, and Coetzee and Sandra Labuscagne in their Class P Zarcos.
And that was that - both Sullwald family entries went out with mechanical failures, as did the BAT Viper of reigning South African champions Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen.
It was also a tough day at the office for crews competing in the new Class G, or Side by Side, category, as the tough route saw only three finishers, with legendary stunt rider Brian Capper and Jaco Swart coming, in a Polaris, coming home ahead of Can-Am Maverick crew Leander Pienaar and Stephan Marais in a Can-Am Maverick, with the Polaris of Trevor Ahier and Raul Gomes the final classified finisher.
The next round of the SA Cross Country series will be the Nkomazi 450, in Malalane, Mpumalanga, on 16 and 17 May.