Dundee, KwaZulu – The Leeroy Poulter steamroller continued unchecked in Round 2 of the SA Cross Country series at the weekend’s Battlefields 400, as the South African champion and navigator Rob Howie took a comfortable win, to remain unbeaten since the 2015 season.
It was a classic winter race, run in treacherous conditions over a wet route in freezing temperatures, as Poulter and Howie again dominated the premier FIA class for Dakar-spec cars, coming in more than three minutes ahead of Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team-mates Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story – ‘The Real Giniel’ rolled the second Hilux in the qualifying race to determine the starting order, and got away more than 20 minutes behind Poulter, making his second-place finish all the more remarkable.
Poulter summed it up in three words at the end: “It was slippery, fast and hairy.” Nevertheless, apart form a single puncture, they never put a wheel wrong.
Third overall, and leading Class T for cars of more than four litres with solid axle rear suspension, were Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable in a Ford Ranger, about seven minutes ahead of younger brother Gareth and Boyd Dreyer in the second Puma Lubricants Ranger. There’s another back story there – had the younger Woolridge not been penalised 10 minutes for not stopping at a road crossing in the qualifying race, there might have been some real sibling rivalry for Class T honours.
Fifth overall and third in Class T went to Hennie de Klerk and former South African champion Achim Bergmann in a Volkswagen Amarok. It was Bergmann’s first outing in a race car for years, and they rattled a few cages by coming in ahead of brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Toyota Hilux) who won the class at the season opener in Lichtenburg.
A misted windscreen saw the Horns beach their Hilux on some rocks, which cost them a couple of minutes, and they were lucky to stay ahead of Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson, out for the first time in a Dakar-spec Renault Duster. Van Staden was pleased with the new car’s potential; they made up a number of places after a tricky qualifying and were going strong at the end.
Not so Gary Bertholdt and Philip Herselman, who nursed their Amarok home over the final 100km with a broken differential, to finish eighth overall, with reigning Class T champions Jason Venter and Vince van Allemann (Toyota Hilux), and Jacques van Tonder and Leander Pienaar in a Ford Ranger rounding out the top 10.
Class S for cars up to four litres with solid rear axles gave Richard Leeke junior and Henry Kohne a maiden national championship victory in their Ford Ranger; despite fuel-pressure problems they came home comfortably ahead of David Huddy and Gerhard Schutte in a Nissan Navara.
SPECIAL VEHICLESThe buggy class was a two-horse race with reigning SA champions Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen in a BAT Viper coming home only seven minutes ahead of Lance Trethewey and Geoff Minnitt in a BAT Venom – and it would have been a lot closer had Trethewey and Minnitt not picked up a five minute penalty.
Nevertheless, they were still almost 11 minutes clear of husband and wife Marius and Jolinda Fourie (BAT), who picked up their second podium finish in two races. The Fouries finished the first half of the race with an intercom problem, but once that was sorted out they put in another workmanlike drive, doing well to come in just 38 seconds ahead of Stefan van Pletzen and Richard Carey in a Chenowth.
Lichtenburg winner Van Pletzen picked up a 10 minute penalty for not stopping at a road crossing in the qualifying race to determine grid positions, and started eighth; then they put foot, eventually coming in ahead of Jimco crew Naeem Moosajee and Rayhaan Bodhanya, who were delighted with a top five finish after adopting a cautious approach because of the conditions.
Schalk Burger and rally champion Elvéne Coetzee completed the first of two loops that made up the race with no back brakes on their Porter, while BAT crew Lourens and Carien Booysen were happy just to finish with no major issues.