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Giniel de Villiers and his new navigator, Elvéne Vonk (Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux IMT EVO) made the perfect entry to the 2024 SA Rally-Raid Championship when they claimed the overall victory at the #TeamHiluxRally-Raid Nkomazi that took place on Friday and Saturday, 19 and 20 April on the outskirts of Malalane in Mpumalanga.

Competing in FIA Ultimate T1+, De Villiers/Vonk started the second day of the #TeamHiluxRally-Raid Nkomazi from eighth place, trailing the leaders, team-mates and the 2023 winners of this event, Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings in a similar vehicle, by a mere 79 seconds after the Castrol Qualifying Race and 50 kilometre first stage. After posting the quickest combined times on the first day, Lategan/Cummings opened the road on the second and final day with two stages of 168 kilometres each on the menu for the day.

The team were still leading going into the final stage before disaster struck when they collided with a spectator vehicle that was on the race route. There were only minor injuries, but the team was unfortunately forced to retire. Their team-mates, Saood Variawa/Francois Cazalet were also aiming for a podium result, but had a close call on the mountain with De Villiers/Vonk coming to their rescue although losing some time in the process.

De Villiers/Vonk, who experienced problems with their navigational system, posted a total time of 06:21:12 that was eventually only 45 seconds faster than the TGR Hilux IMT EVO of Guy Botterill/Dennis Murphy. The runners-up started the day in 12th place after losing time on the first day with a flat tyre. They then suffered yet another puncture on the final day, but had a much better day despite having to battle their way through the dust, and contributed to the 1-2 result for Toyota Gazoo Racing. Variawa/Cazalet (06:36:33) were seventh overall in the FIA Ultimate T1+ Class.

It was a good weekend for young Jayden Els/Henry Köhne who won the qualifying race on Friday with the new King Price Xtreme SVR. They were the fourth team off the start line on Saturday and overcome dusty conditions to claim their first podium result, a minute and 28 seconds behind Botterill/Murphy.

The two pairs of #TeamHiluxRally-Raid siblings, local Malalane businessmen, Johan and Werner Horn and their team-mates, Fouché and Bertus Blignaut rounded off the top five. The Horns were plagued with brake issues, but persevered to finish 86 seconds behind Els/Köhne while they were six minutes and 49 seconds ahead of their team-mates.

Having started the final day in 11th place, Chris Visser/Albertus Venter (Red-Lined Motorsport) had to face the dust of competitors in front of them, but the team brought their new REVO T1+ GTR home in sixth place (06:35:17). Behind the leading six teams in the Ultimate T1+ Class, the German driver, Daniel Schröder and Ryan Bland (Nissan Navara VK50) were the victors of the Adventurer T1 Class with the team finishing in a total time of 06:39:32. They were eighth overall.

Johan de Bruyn/Adriaan Roets (Red-Lined REVO T1) put in an enormous effort to finish second in the Adventurer T1 Class after starting the final day in 24th place. They fought their way open to ninth place overall and had just over two minutes in hand over their team-mates, Gerhard and Rudi Heinlein (Red-Lined VK56) who claimed the final podium position in the Adventurer T1 Class.

Two more teams managed to complete the race in this class of which Schröder Sr, Jϋrgen and his navigator, Stuart Gregory (Nissan Navara VK50) finished fourth (06:59:49) – they were 12th overall – with Philip Botha/Roelof Janse van Vuren (Red-Lined VK56) fifth (07:05:15) while they also scored points finishing 15th overall.

Just outside the top 10, Wors Prinsloo/André Vermeulen were the best of the three Neil Woolridge Motorsport Ford Ranger T1+ teams finishing in 11th place overall (06:56:14). There was huge disappointment for their team-mates and the reigning champions, Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer who were forced to retirement after starting the final day just 35 seconds behind the leaders in fifth place. The team were fighting for a second-place finish, but had to call it a day due to a water pump failure.

And after starting Stage Two in sixth place, a rear driveshaft broke 43 kilometres into the stage on the NWM Ford Ranger T1+ of Lance Woolridge/Kenny Gilbert, which then damaged a brake pipe. Emergency repairs cost the team 45 minutes and they had to complete the rest of the stage with front-wheel drive only. They completed a trouble-free final stage to finish 16th overall while they were 11th in the FIA Ultimate T1+ Class.

Two more Red-Lined Motorsport teams, both Dutch visitors, completed the #TeamHiluxRally-Raid Nkomazi successfully. The young driver, Pim Klaassen and his South African navigator, Rikus Hattingh (REVO T1+) made up 10 places from starting 23rd on Saturday to be 13th overall – they were ninth in the Ultimate T1+ Class in a total time of 07:01:01 while Dave Klaassen/Tessa Rooth were 17th overall (12th in Ultimate T1+) with their new REVO T1+ GTR.

Eugene Bierman/Marius Lombard managed to bring their 4×2 Farmers Meat CR6 home in 14th place, two minutes 42 seconds behind Klaassen/Hattingh while Geoff Minnitt/Rodney Burke (Hydro Power Equipment Can-Am Maverick) won the SSV Class despite having their share of problems and finishing 18th overall.

Between the teams who could not receive the chequered flag, were Eben Basson/Leander Pienaar (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid); Johan and Sean van Staden (Renault Duster); Schalk Burger/Armand du Toit (King Price Xtreme VW Amarok); Simon Murray/Danie Stassen (Toyota DKR Hilux T1+) as well as Century Racing teams, Brian Baragwanath/Leonard Cremer (CR7 Twin Turbo); Mark and Luke Corbett (CR6 Turbo) and Lood du Preez/Juandre Kruger (Farmers Meat CR6).

The #TeamHiluxRally-Raid Nkomazi was once again enjoyed by competitors who were full of compliments about the organization as well as the enjoyable and well-marked route. They now have five weeks to prepare for the Vryheid 400 that takes place on 24 and 25 May.

Published by SA National Cross Country Series – Charmaine Fortune

Photography by: Dave Ledbitter

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