Photo: Jannie Visser. Credit: Nadia Jordaan.
The Gold 400, the final round of the 2018 South African Cross Country Series (SACCS) taking place this weekend from Kloof Recreation Club at Glenharvie on the West Rand of Gauteng, kicked off with a 49km Qualifying Race today (Friday, 2 November) to determine the extremely important starting order for the race tomorrow and it was the defending Production Vehicle champion, Giniel de Villiers with navigator Dennis Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux) who showed they mean business by posting the fastest time.
The pressure for the FIA Class championship will be on De Villiers/Murphy who were on a mission to get the best starting position. They posted a time of 35 min 37 sec. This result will be a good morale booster as they failed to finish the last two events, but still have the FIA Class and overall titles in their aim. They were half a minute faster than team-mates, Henk Lategan/Barry White who wrong slotted on the route they described as ‘challenging’. They are also chasing the same titles and with no team-orders, an exciting ding-dong battle can be expected on the goldfields.
Chris Visser/Philip Herselman (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) persevered despite a flat tyre and are third, just under a minute behind the leaders and will also be chasing hard for a second FIA Class victory this season. Hot on their heels were Shameer Variawa/Zaheer Bodhanya (Red-Lined Motorsport Nissan Navara) who posted the same time as Johan van Staden/Mike Lawrenson (Elf Renault DE Duster). These two teams trail Visser/Herselman by 11 seconds and with the FIA Class title as well as the remaining podium positions to go for, one can expect jaw-dropping battles.
Like the FIA Class championship, the Class T title has also gone down to the wire and it will be the Horn brothers, Johan/Werner (Malalane Toyota Hilux) who will start the Gold 400 with a slight advantage as the leading Class T team despite losing time with a malfunctioning GPS. They will be followed by a gaggle of Class T teams while their arch-rivals and the current class leaders, Lance Woolridge/Ward Huxtable (Ford NWM Ranger) will have to face the dust of four vehicles between them.
Gary Bertholdt/Geoff Minnitt (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) and Jacques van Tonder/Sammy Redelinghuys (Ford Ranger) posted the identical time and were only 20 seconds behind the Horn brothers followed by Marcos Baumgart/Kleber Cincea (Ford NWM Ranger) with Woolridge/Huxtable three seconds slower than the European team.
Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer (Ford NWM Ranger) will start sixth in Class T with Theuns Joubert/Sean van Staden (Elf Renault DE Duster) seventh, Richard Leeke/Danie Stassen (Speedglas BMW X3) eighth and Dylan Venter/Donavan Lubbe (4x4 Mega World ARB Toyota Hilux) ninth after they lost time with a puncture.
The battles in Class T will be a visible one as most of the teams have the potential to win. To predict the winner will only be safe if one keeps a close eye on how the race unfolds.
Three more Red-Lined Motorsport teams that included one international team, a team that are newcomers to the Production Vehicle category as well as a team with a celebrity navigator reading the notes, put their Nissan Navaras to the test in the FIA Class. The late Gugu Zulu’s widow, Letshego Zulu sat next to Terence Marsh with the team posting the sixth fastest time in the FIA Class.
Production Vehicle newcomers, Ernest Roberts/Stuart Creevy completed their first qualifying race successfully after moving up from the Side by Side Interprovincial Challenge and were seventh with Thomas Bell/Patrick McMurren from Dubai eighth fastest while putting more kilometres on their vehicle for the upcoming Dakar Rally in South America.
Jannie Visser and his son, Chris (Toyota Hilux) again locked horns in Class S with David Huddy/Gerhard Schutte (Nissan Navara). Huddy/Schutte are the champions, but the Vissers would like to end the season on the top spot of the podium. Another father and son team, Archie and Kent Rutherford (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) will start third in Class S.
In the Special Vehicle category, the Stryker of Talha and Taahir Moosajee will be first off the line, but they will have the winners of the previous round, Lance Trethewey/Adriaan Roets (LT Earthmovers BAT Venom) right behind them. Only 15 seconds separated them after the short qualifying race described by Trethewey as ‘very rocky and rough’. Another Stryker, this one in the hands of Clint Gibson/Clint Brook posted the third fastest time. These three teams can race without any pressure other than the desire to win as they are not fighting for any championship titles.
John Thomson/Maurice Zermatten (Zarco Challenger) will start the race from fourth place in the Special Vehicle category and behind them the title contenders are lined up. Stefan van Pletzen/Jaco Pieterse (Live Lesotho Chenowth) experienced brake problems early in the race and then lost more valuable time due to a flat tyre towards the end. They decided to complete the race on the flat and will start the race tomorrow from fifth position.
The Class A title can only go to one of two teams and it will be Coetzee Labuscagne/Sandra Labuscagne-Jonck (4x4 Mega World ARB Porter) who will leave the start line just before their rivals, John Telford/Victor Ntsekhe (BAT Warbird). The Labuscagne father and daughter team struggled somewhat in the dust and had issues with a malfunctioning alternator, but they are looking forward to the battle with Telford/Ntsekhe who will be doing some overnight finetuning to their BAT’s suspension before taking on the race. It will be a long day in the seat for these two teams who will feel the pressure to claim the overall as well as the Class A championship title.
Werner Kennedy/CJ van Pletzen (Live Lesotho Porter) could not complete the qualifying race and will have to put everything it takes in if they want to fight their team-mates (Van Pletzen/Pieterse) for the final podium position in the Class A championship.
Marius and Yolinda Fourie (BAT) will start their first national race since winning the title in 2017 just behind Telford/Ntsekhe and will be followed by the Class P leader, Andrew Makenete/ Lepsy Mosope with Keith Makenete/Ntaote Berend (BAT) just behind them in Class P after they lost time fixing a cable to the computer box that came loose after they hit a ditch.
In the nibble SxS Interprovincial Challenge battle, todays skirmish was won by Werner Mostert/Rob Green, closely followed by Nico du Rand/Henry Kohne and Leander Pienaar/Charl Swanepoel.
The race will start at 08:00 at the Kloof Recreation Club at Glenharvie where it will also finish. Race headquarters and the designated service park are also situated at the Kloof Club. Spectators can get to meet their favourite teams and have posters signed during the compulsory 30-minute service halt before the national competitors tackle the second of the two loops again at 12:00.
There will be food and refreshments available at the Kloof Club and entry to the spectator points along the route, is free.