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An extremely tough TGR 1000 Kalahari Botswana Desert Race produced new winners in the 2023 SA National Rally-Raid Championship and after the dust had settled and the championship points updated, the Production Vehicle Category shows new overall leaders. And with the halfway mark of the season in sight and with only small margins of points separating the teams from each other, an exciting second half of the championship is on the cards.

Ford made history when Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer (Ford NWM Castrol Ranger T1+) won the marathon desert race in Botswana and after a disappointing outing for Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota DKR Hilux T1+), who went into the event as the Production Vehicle Category and FIA T1+ leaders, Woolridge/Dreyer pipped them to the post to become the new championship leaders.

Woolridge/Dreyer (86 points) lead Lategan/Cummings (71 points) by 15 points with Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (Toyota DKR Hilux T1+) keeping their third spot on the overall podium (68 points), trailing their team-mates by a mere three points. A third TGRSA team, Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy-Lyle (61 points) sticks to their fourth spot with only seven points separating them from their team-mates.

After a rocky start to the season, the runner-up result in Botswana for the second Ford NWM Castrol Ranger T1+ team of Lance Woolridge/Kenny Gilbert resulted in them jumping from 15th to fifth place overall (41 points). They are, however, only three points ahead of the new FIA T1 leaders, the defending champions Eben Basson/Leander Pienaar (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid) who fill the sixth spot overall.

Basson/Pienaar are followed by two more T1 teams level pegging on points (26) with Johan de Bruyn/Gerhard Schutte (Red-Lined Motorsport REVO) moving up in the top 10 while Johan and Sean van Staden (Renault Duster) are now also in the top 10.

Johan and Werner Horn (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid T1+) are still ninth and round off the top 10. They have the same number of points (24) as Jayden Els (King Price Xtreme SVR) who are 10th overall. Els made use of two navigators at the Sugarbelt 400 with his regular navigator, Elvéne Vonk as well as her stand-in navigator in KZN, Henry Köhne, who usually reads the notes for Gary Bertholdt and Albertus Venter, who sits next to Chris Visser (Red-Lined REVO T1+) all with 21 points behind their names. Venter is 10th; Köhne is 11th and Vonk 12th overall of the navigators.

Looking at the class championships where competitors are rewarded with five points for starting an event, Gareth Woolridge/Dreyer have also taken the FIA T1+ lead (101 points). They are followed by three TGRSA teams with Lategan/Cummings (92 points) second; De Villiers/Murphy (83 points) third and Botterill/Vacy-Lyle (76 points) fourth, while Lance Woolridge/Gilbert jumped to fifth place (60 points). Bertholdt/Köhne are sixth (43 points) with the same amount of points as Dewald van Breda/Stompie Mynhardt (CR6) who missed the Sugarbelt 400 but finished in the top 10 in Botswana.

The Horn brothers fill the eighth spot (40 points) after an up and down season so far with Visser/Venter, who dropped from fifth to 11th place in the overall standings after not scoring points in Botswana, also dropping down in the FIA T1+ championship where they are ninth (37 points). Lance Trethewey/Adriaan Roets (King Price Xtreme Century Racing CR6) missed the desert race and are 10th (29 points).

The lead in the FIA T1 championship has changed for a third time after the first three events of the season with the defending champions, Basson/Pienaar (101 points) the new leaders. They have opened a 20 point gap over De Bruyn/Schutte (81 points) with Nic Pienaar/Carl Swanepoel (Red-Lined Motorsport REVO), who could not earn points in Botswana, dropping from the lead to the third place on the T1 podium (68 points). Minimal points separate the four sets of competitors behind the two leading teams with the Van Staden father and son duo in fourth (67 points), only a single point further behind.

The musical chairs situation resulted in the standings behind them looking somewhat different. Els kept his fifth place in the T1 Drivers’ Championship (64 points), one point ahead of Fouché Blignaut (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid). Also in the top 10 are SARRC newcomer, Gerhard Heinlein (Red-Lined Motorsport VK56) in seventh (28 points); the German driver, Daniel Schröder (Nissan Navara) is in eighth place (27 points) after only scoring points at the season opener; the Dutch teenager, Pim Klasssen (Red-Lined Motorsport VK50) in ninth (25 points) after his first outing on African soil and finishing the desert race and Jurgen Schröder (Nissan Navara), who missed the Botswana event, in 10th place (22 points).

In the T1 Navigator’s Championship, Bertus Blignaut, who sits next to his brother, Fouché, rounds off the top five (63 points) trailing Van Staden by only four points. Vonk lost out on points completing only half of the Sugarbelt 400 due to ill health and is currently sixth (55 points) followed by Rudi Heinlein (28 points) in seventh place; Ryan Bland, who reads the notes for Daniel, in eighth (27 points); Wade Harris. who guided young Klasssen to the finish in Botswana and earned 25 points and Stuart Gregory in 10th after earning 22 points navigating for Jurgen.

The Du Plessis father and son team of Hendrik and Heinrich (Ford Ranger) kept their lead in the Class T championship after also winning the class in Botswana. They have 54 points and have opened a gap of 25 points to the Johnstone couple, Bernard and Minette (Neil Woolridge Motorsport Ford Ranger) who have only competed in the TGR 1000 Desert Race so far this season. Schalk Burger/Henk Janse van Vuuren (King Price Xtreme VW Amarok), who won the class in KZN, round off the podium (22 points).

Toyota is the leading Manufacturers Championship (301 points) followed by Ford (164 points) and Nissan (83 points) with Century (38 points) in fourth; Renault (26 points); SVR (18 points) and Volkswagen (three points).

If the first three rounds of the 2023 SA National Rally-Raid season are anything to go by, the remaining four rounds will produce more nail-biting action. The fourth and fifth rounds in Parys takes place on 18 and 19 August and one can be sure that the horses will be let loose with strong bits between their teeth and an outcome that cannot be predicted.

Published by: SA National Cross Country Series – Charmaine Fortune

Photography by: Plan C Productions

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