With the first six rounds of the 2023 SA Rally-Raid Championship won by three different teams from two manufacturers and with more teams taking turns to finish on the podium, the standings in the Production Vehicle Category are not only extremely close at the front, but as tight further down the order, so much so, there is a mathematical chance of the championship being turned on its head at the final round, the Waterberg 400 in Limpopo on November 10 and 11.
Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dryer (NWM Ford Castrol T1+ Ranger) went to the Renergen 400, the sixth and penultimate round of the SARRC in the Free State, as the leaders in both the Overall Production Vehicle Championship as the FIA T1+ Championship. Bagging their second victory of the season, they strengthened their lead, but although they have opened a marginal gap, they have not yet secured the championship titles and anything can still happen at the final event. The team has accumulated 149 points thus far in the overall standings.
Behind them, things changed dramatically with a similar chance of it changing again after the Waterberg 400 in November. Three times Overall Driver’s Champion, Henk Lategan and his navigator, Brett Cummings (Toyota Gazoo Racing DKR Hilux T1+), who is the defending Overall and FIA T1+ Navigator’s Champion due to a musical chairs situation during 2022, were second behind Woolridge/Dreyer and had hoped for a fourth victory this season. They unfortunately rolled their DKR Hilux T1+ in the Free State with Lategan injuring his shoulder again. This dropped Lategan to the third place in the Overall Driver’s Championship (116 points) while Cummings is still second due to navigators swopping seats during the season.
The situation between the two front-runners resulted in Guy Botterill (Toyota Gazoo Racing DKR Hilux T1+), who claimed the runner-up result in the Free State together with his regular navigator, Simon Vacy-Lyle, moving up in the overall driver’s standings (132 points) from where he will be chasing his first SARRC title. Having missed rounds four and five, Vacy-Lyle dropped to fourth place overall (84 points) amongst the navigators.
Their team-mates, Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy had a torrid outing in the Free State and finished the race outside the points. This resulted in De Villiers, the defending overall and FIA T1+ Drivers’ Champion, dropping to fourth place overall (114 points) while Murphy is third of the navigators with the same number of points. With a fifth title possibly out of the equation for De Villiers, the team can still finish the season on the overall podium.
The fifth place in the overall standings belongs to Eben Basson/Leander Pienaar (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid) (57 points) who are also the defending FIA T1 champions.
Competitors are awarded five points in the various class championships for starting a race. Add that to the scenario where competitors changed seats and interesting situations are created.
In the FIA T1+ Championship, Woolridge/Dreyer (179 points) have opened a sizable gap to their opposition. Behind them, the standings are uneven with teams not necessarily sharing the same position.
Looking at the FIA T1+ Driver’s Championship, Botterill (162 points) is second and trails Woolridge by 17 points while he is 10 points ahead of Lategan with De Villiers (149 points) fourth and in with a chance to finish on the podium depending on Lategan’s recovery and participation. Gary Bertholdt (Toyota Hilux T1+) is fifth (90 points) followed by Gareth’s brother and team-mate, Lance Woolridge (85 points) after a challenging season that included not finishing three events with his navigator, Kenny Gilbert.
Johan Horn (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid) is seventh (70 points) after a difficult start to the season followed by Chris Visser (Red-Lined Motorsport REVO T1+) who missed the recent Renergen 400 (57 points). Wors Prinsloo (Ford Ranger T1+) is ninth (56 points) with Lance Trethewey (King Price Xtreme CR6), who missed two events, rounding off the top 10 (48 points).
At the front of the FIA T1+ Navigators’ Championship, an interesting scenario has also developed. Here Dreyer is being followed by Cummings (152 points) whose points’ situation might not change while third-placed Murphy (149 points) has a very good chance to keep or better his position at the end of the season. He has a substantial gap to Vacy-Lyle (104 points) in fourth. Bertholdt’s regular navigator, Henry Köhne (90 points) has an outside chance of catching Vacy-Lyle while he is again a mere five points ahead of SARRC debutant, Gilbert.
Filling the same position as his brother, Johan, Werner Horn is seventh (70 points) between the navigators followed by Zaheer Bodhanya who filled in for Vacy-Lyle at the two Parys 400 events (58 points); Visser’s navigator, Albertus Venter (57 points) and Prinsloo’s navigator, André Vermeulen round off the top 10 (56 points). Trethewey’s navigator, Adriaan Roets, is 11th (48 points).
It has been an ongoing battle for the FIA T1 title between the defending champions, Basson/Pienaar and Johan de Bruyn/Gerhard Schutte (Red-Lined Motorsport REVO T1) with Basson/Pienaar (171 points), who added the Welkom victory to their list of two more for 2023, still leading albeit only by 11 points from De Bruyn/Schutte who has a victory and three more podium results to their names. The father and son team of Johan and Sean van Staden (Renault Duster) are reasonably safe in third place (112 points).
The German veteran, Jϋrgen Schröder (Nissan Navara) is fourth in the FIA T1 drivers’ standings (90 points) followed by Jayden Els (King Price Xtreme SVR) with 69 points; Nicholas Pienaar (Red-Lined Motorsport REVO) and Fouché Blignaut (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid) – the Blignaut brothers moved to FIA T1+ halfway through the season – both with 68 points; Jϋrgen’s son, Daniel (Nissan Navara) with 55 points; the Dutch driver, Dave Klaassen (Red-Lined Motorsport) with 50 and Gerhard Heinlein 10th with 45 points.
Behind the top three teams, the FIA T1 Navigators’ Championship is also somewhat shuffled with only eight points covering the next five navigators. Carl Swanepoel, who reads the notes for Pienaar, is currently in fourth (68 points) and only one point ahead of Stuart Gregory who usually sits next to Jϋrgen with four points again separating him from Fouché’s brother and navigator, Bertus. Els’s regular navigator, Elvéne Vonk and Ryan Bland, who navigated for both Daniel and his brother Max, have 60 points each followed by Klaassen’s Dutch navigator, Tessa Rooth (50 points) and Wade Harris (23 points) rounding out the top 10.
In Class T, Schalk Burger/Henk Janse van Vuuren (King Price Xtreme VW Amarok) has taken the lead (71 points) after winning in the Free State. They are now seven points ahead of Hendrik and Heinrich du Plessis (Ford Ranger) who missed the most recent event while Bernard and his wife, Minette Johnstone (Neil Woolridge Motorsport Ford Ranger) are third (29 points) after only competing in the Desert Race in Botswana.
Toyota is still leading the Manufacturer’s Championship (566 points) ahead of Ford (257 points) and Nissan (171 points) while Century Racing (67 points) is fourth; Renault (33 points) fills fifth place followed by SVR (18 points) and Volkswagen (6 points).
Competitors have one final chance to score maximum points towards the 2023 SA Rally-Raid Championship when they take on the Waterberg 400 on 10 and 11 November at Koedoeskop Laerskool in Limpopo.
Published by: SA National Cross Country Series – Charmaine Fortune
Photography by: Plan C Productions
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