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Former South African champion Duncan Vos and Rob Howie scored their second win in a row when they dominated the Production Vehicle category on the Timbertrack 400, Round 3 of the SA Off-Road championship, in the Richmond area of KwaZulu-Natal at the weekend.
Vos and Howie, in a works Toyota Hilux, started behind team mates Anthony Taylor and Chris Birkin who lost a couple of places with an early puncture. That put Vos and Howie into a lead they were never to relinquish, and the win saw them tighten their hold on the overall and premier Class SP championships.
Vos said at the finish: “It was a very difficult race with a tough route and tricky conditions.
“We had no problems and were able to control matters from the front, but on this route you couldn't afford the slightest mistake - it was tight and slippery and the slightest lapse in concentration was going to cost you.”
In cold conditions, with intermittent drizzle and mist making life difficult for competitors, race officials cut out a large portion of the second of the two 175km loops that made up the race.
Clerk of the course Rex Boreham explained: “The drizzle and mist forced us to cut out a section of the route for safety reasons.
“A time factor that affected backmarkers and crews who ran into mechanical difficulties also influenced the decision.”
Vos and Howie finished 22 minutes ahead of Gary Bertholdt and Ralph Pitchford, in a privateer Toyota Hilux, who edged out local favourite Alfie Cox and German co-driver Jurgen Schroder in their Nissan Navara. Cox and Schroder led Bertholdt and Pitchford at the end of the first lap, but were then delayed by a puncture on the second loop.
Taylor and Birkin eventually came home fourth ahead of the BMW X3 of veteran former SA champion Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege. Taylor was not feeling well at the start of the race while Grobler and ter Stege produced another of their workmanlike performances to gather in valuable points.
Grobler and Ter Stege were followed by team mates Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren, edging out reigning South African champions Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux (Toyota Hilux) who scored their first points of the season. Next up were Free Staters Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling, in a Ford Ranger, ahead of former champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst in the Team Ford Ranger.
For the second race in a row the Ford pair had to mount a rearguard action to rescue championship points. Behind them Mike Whitehouse and Mathew Carlson (Nissan Navara) who were having their second outing of the season, rounded out the top 10.
SURPRISES IN CLASSES D AND F
Class D went to Mpumalanga brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Toyota Land Cruiser) who came in ahead of Cliff Weichelt And Johan Smalberger in a similar Land Cruiser.
A spate of punctures hampered Weichelt and Smalberger, who finished nearly an hour behind the Horns. Third were reigning champions Jack and Sarel Oosthuizen (Land Rover), again showing the sort of consistency that took them to last year's Class D title.
Local crew Rowan Lamb and Lyle Parker (Ford Ranger) scored a maiden Class E win ahead of Dirk Putter and Koos Claasens (Toyota Hilux) who went into the race on the back of two wins. Second-loop problems hit the Toyota crew with Johan Griffioen and Willem Marais (Toyota Hilux) scoring their first points of the season.
Colin Matthews and Alan Smith continued their 2012 revival when they cruised to victory in the Special Vehicle category, becoming the first Class P crew to score two overall victories in National Off-Road races. The pair won the Adenco 400 in the Western Cape last season - their only finish in eight events - and the weekend's today's victory was their third Class P success in three outings this season.
A delighted Matthews said: “The tight track and slippery conditions gave us an edge over the more powerful Class A cars. Winning the prologue on Friday and a trouble-free run in the race has made for the perfect weekend.
“The switch in our fortunes compared with last year has been amazing and hopefully we can keep the momentum going over the rest of the season.”
Matthews and Smith came home 3min11 ahead of the husband and wife team of Marius and Jolinda Fourie, in a BAT, who were first in Class A.
FIRST CLASS A WIN
For the Fouries, who are among the select band of Class P crews to have won a national off-road event overall, it was their first Class A win. The pair moved into the premier Class A at the start of the season.
Marius Fourie said: “It was a difficult race for us but the result was good and we enjoyed ourselves.
“The route and the conditions were tough enough but I also suffered from spells of motion sickness.”
The final podium place went to reigning South African champions Hermann and Wichard Sullwald (BAT) who staged a fight-back after starting 10th among the Special Vehicles.
Sullwald senior said afterwards: “It was slippery and there was bad fog at the top of the mountains. We took a no-risk approach and were happy to take the points.”
Fourth place went to Wolmarransstad brothers Laurence and Gerhard du Plessis in a Magnum with local pair Lance Trethewey and Carl Wichmann (BAT) a steady fifth. Team mates Nick and Ryan Harper (Revo 4x4) and Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen (BAT Venom), who started from the back of the grid after prologue problems, were next up with John Telford and Jaco Swart completing the top eight.
Telford and Swart, in a BAT, were second in Class P but were about an hour behind Matthews and Smith. There was another big gap between Telford and Swart and former Blue Bulls rugby player Coetzee Labuscagne and his daughter Sandra in a Zarco.
Championship leaders Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson (BAT) were sandwiched between Telford and Swart, and the Labuscagnes after a troubled second loop. A litany of problems gradually dropped van Staden and Lawrenson down the order but ninth overall and seventh in class rescued valuable championship points.
The next round of the SA Off-Road championship will be the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, the only marathon race on the calendar, in Botswana from 22-24 June.