Former champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst have revived their Production Vehicle title hopes with a win on the 4x4 Mega World 400, Round 6 of the SA Off-Road championship, at the weekend.
The Ford Ranger crew came in 2min39 ahead of veterans Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege (BMW X3), to score their second victory of the season. It was a timely win that kept Visser and Badenhorst in the championship frame with unofficial scoring now putting the pair 24.5 points behind championship leaders Duncan Vos and Rob Howie in the works Toyota Hilux, with two races left.
After an early scare when they dumped the Hilux on its side, Vos and Howie recovered to finish fourth behind Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable in the second factory Ranger. It was the second time this season the two Ford crews finished on the podium.
Victory completed a good weekend for Visser and Badenhorst who also won the prologue to determine race grid positions. A trouble-free run saw the Ford crew then lead the race from start to finish with Grobler and ter Stege struggling with power steering and brake problems.
“This has come just at the right time.”
Visser said: “We haven't had much luck in recent events and broke a rear anti-roll bar 10 kilometres into the race.
“It affected the handling but it was good to win and it was a great result for the team to also have Lance and Ward on the podium.”
There was a further bonus for Ford when they took the manufacturers award. The two Ford factory teams combined with privateers Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling in a privateer Ranger to edge out Toyota.
Woolridge and Huxtable also put disappointing recent performances behind them and were about seven minutes ahead of Vos and Howie. The Toyota crew recovered well from their early scare and a late puncture to finish a minute and 21 seconds clear of Mike Whitehouse and Matthew Carlson, who battled a misfire and clutch problem to complete the top five in a Nissan Navara.
Vos and Howie went into the event chasing a fourth win that would virtually have wrapped up the championship. A penalty that dropped them down the pecking order on the recent Sun City 400 could also come back to haunt the Toyota crew.
After two consecutive non-finishes Gary Bertholdt, with Ralph Pitchford alongside him in their Toyota Hilux, bounced back to finish sixth. They were just over a minute ahead of Ford crew de Bruin and Greyling, with South African champions Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux next up in their Toyota Hilux.
A solid ninth place represented a good result for Terence Marsh and George Smalberger who were out for the first time in the V8 powered Nissan Navara. A more conventional Navara crewed by experienced Archie Rutherford and former Springbok rugby player Stefan Terblanche, completed the top 10 with the pair recovering well from a disappointing prologue result.
An ultra-fast route took its toll on some fancied crews. Sun City 400 winners Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren (BMW X3) retired after an early roll while Anthony Taylor and Chris Birkin, in the second works Toyota Hilux, went out with suspension damage after hitting a ditch. The incident dropped Taylor and Birkin to third in the championship behind Visser and Badenhorst and was a major blow for du Plooy and Janse van Vuuren.
A hugely competitive Class D outing eventually saw championship leaders Cliff Weichelt, who commutes between Australia and South Africa for races, and Johann Smalberger (Toyota Land Cruiser) edge out Mpumalanga brothers Johan and Werner Horn in a similar Land Cruiser. In a desperately close finish just four seconds separated Weichelt and Smalberger from the Horns with Dana Vos and Johan Vlok third in a Toyota Hilux.
Winning has become a habit this season for Class E championship leaders Dirk Putter and Koos Claasens (Toyota Hilux) and they were at it again to score their fifth success in six races. The pair were more than 15 minutes clear of Diederik Hattingh and Gary Austin (Toyota Hilux) and have a tight hold on the championship.
Wolmarransstad brothers Laurence and Gerhard du Plessis, driving a Zarco, became the sixth different Special Vehicle winners in six races when they came home with 1min28 to spare over former South African champion Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen in their BAT Venom. There was ample compensation for Hutchison and Stassen who take over the Special Vehicle championship lead from BAT crew Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson.
Hutchison said: “It was a good result for us but the championship is far from over. The last two races of the season are going to be very tense.”
The father and son pair of Nick and Ryan Harper came in third in a second BAT Venom. It was first time out for the new Venom with the Harpers never having to get out of the car on the way to podium finishes in both the prologue and the race.
Victory for Gerhard du Plessis gave him his second Carnival City victory. Du Plessis won in 2009 but on that occasion was doing the drIving with Charl Seegers sitting alongside him.
After recent ups and downs there were also good results for the husband and wife pair of Marius and Jolinda Fourie (Porter) and former SA champions Quintin and Kallie Sullwald in their BAT. They completed the top five with the Fouries eventually two and a half minutes clear of the Sullwalds after both crews ran into mechanical problems.
SALVAGING VALUABLE POINTS
They were followed by KwaZulu-Natal crew Clint Gibson and Gary Campbell (Porter) and Van Staden and Lawrenson who led the Special Vehicle championship going into the race. A roll early in the race set Van Staden and Lawrenson back on their heels, and on a fast and dusty route they had to work hard to salvage seventh place and valuable championship points.
Unofficial scoring sees Hutchison and Stassen now leading Van Staden and Lawrenson, who also ran out of brakes 100km from the end, by seven points. The Du Plessis brothers move into third with a slim mathematical chance of winning the title, and with crews having to drop one event at the end of the season the title chase is delicately poised.
Hardest hit in the championship battle were reigning champions Herman and Wichard Sullwald in the Elegant Fuel Porter. Suspension damage suffered early in the race left them listed among the non-finishers and they are now effectively out of the championship equation.
The top 10 was rounded out by a trio of Class P cars with championship leaders Colin Matthews and Alan Smith (CR3) leading home Richard Fuller and Denis Murphy (BAT) and Sun City winners Coetzee Labuscagne and daughter Sandra in their Zarco. It was a great recovery from Matthews and Smith who overcame a prologue penalty that dropped them to 14th in the Special Vehicles and 30th on the road at the start.
Matthews and Smith eventually finished 1min35 ahead of Fuller and Murphy with the Labuscagnes a further 10 minutes in arrears. Another win also tightens the hold Matthews and Smith, who were hit with a puncture within sight of the finish line and then battled to restart the car after changing the wheel, have on the Class P championship.