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The first points in the 2024 SA Rally-Raid Championship are on the scoreboards after a testing opening round to the season, the #TeamHiluxRally-Raid Nkomazi that took place in the scenic Malalane area of Mpumalanga, and while the early overall and class leaders can build on their foundation, those who will have to make up for lost points, will be under pressure during the upcoming events.

With only one overall SARRC championship, all competitors score towards the title with national
championship titles also up for grabs in the Ultimate FIA T1+, the Adventurer FIA T1 and SSV Classes.

Having claimed the first victory of the season, the former multiple drivers’ champion, Giniel de Villiers and his new navigator, Elvéne Vonk (Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux IMT EVO) took the lead in the overall standings (30 points) followed by their team-mates, Guy Botterill and his new navigator, Dennis Murphy (23 points). The young Jayden Els showed that he can keep up with the frontrunners and opened his title chase by rounding off the overall podium together with his new navigator, Henry Köhne (King Price Xtreme). The team accumulated 18 points in their SVR and find themselves sandwiched by four Toyota Hilux teams with all the teams competing in the FIA Ultimate T1+ Class.

The two brother pairings of Johan/Werner Horn and Fouché and Bertus Blignaut, both from #TeamHiluxRally-Raid, are respectively fourth (15 points) and fifth (12 points) after solid starts to their season in the Hilux DKR. Two more Ultimate T1+ teams also finished in the overall top 10. Chris Visser/Albertus Venter (Red-Lined Motorsport REVO GTR) are sixth and trailing the leaders by 20 points while Saood Variawa and his French navigator, Francois Cazalet (TGR Hilux IMT EVO), who were also amongst the leaders at Malalane until disaster struck causing them to be recovered by De Villiers/Vonk, have nine points.

The rest of the top 10 consists of the leading three teams in the Adventurer T1 Class Championship. The German driver, Daniel Schröder and navigator Ryan Bland (Nissan Navara) are eighth (eight points) followed by the two Red-Lined Motorsport participants of Johan de Bruyn/Adriaan Roets (seven points) and Gerhard and his father, Rudi Heinlein (six points).

Between the title chasers who will have to claw their way back with zero points on the overall leader board after the season opener due to not being able to complete the Nkomazi event or finishing outside the top 15, are the defending champions, Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer (Neil Woolridge Motorsport Ford Ranger T1+) who were forced to retire due to mechanical issues as well as their team-mates, Lance Woolridge/Kenny Gilbert who finished just outside the top 15 in 16th place due to mechanical gremlins.

The race for the 2023 Nkomazi winners, Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (TGR Hilux IMT EVO) also came to an abrupt halt due to an unfortunate incident with a spectator vehicle while they were leading the race.

The defending T1 champions, Eben Basson/Leander Pienaar (#TeamHiluxRally-Raid Toyota) could also not see out the distances, while problems for the reigning SSV champion, Geoff Minnitt and his navigator, Rodney Burke (Hydro Power Equipment Can-Am Maverick), eventually finishing the race on three wheels, also resulted in the team not scoring points in the overall standings.

In the various class championships, competitors receive five points for getting out of the starting blocks and this results in the gaps looking slightly different.

Here De Villiers/Vonk lead the Ultimate T1+ Class standings (35 points) followed by Botterill/Murphy (28 points) while Els/Köhne (23 points) trail the leaders by 12 points. The Horns (20 points) are not too far behind in fourth place followed closely by the Fouché brothers (17 points) in fifth.

The rest of the top 10 is made up of Visser/Venter (15 points) who are sixth with a single point the difference between Variawa/Cazalet in seventh (14 points); Wors Prinsloo/André Vermeulen (Neil Woolridge Motorsport Ford Ranger T1+) in eighth (13 points); the young Dutch driver, Pim Klaassen and Rikus Hattingh (Red-Lined Motorsport REVO T1+) in ninth place (12 points) and Eugene Bierman/Marius Lombard (Farmers Meat CR6) the best of the 4×2 Century Racing teams. Perseverance paid off for Lance Woolridge/Gilbert in the Ultimate T1+ Class Championship where their 11th place means they got their battle for the class championship title off the ground earning 10 points.

The Dutch pair of Dave Klaassen/Tessa Rooth (Red-Lined Motorsport REVO GTR) were the final pair who scored points (nine) by finishing 12th in the class. The rest of the competitors will have to build on their five points for starting the race.

In the Adventurer Class, De Bruyn, who won the T1 Class in Mpumalanga last year and ended the season as the runner-up in the T1 Championship after a season-long battle with the podium finishers, fared the best of these three teams at the Nkomazi event this year. He was second alongside his new navigator (Roets) with the two other teams (Basson/Pienaar and the Van Stadens) not receiving the chequered flag and therefore only scoring five points.

De Bruyn/Roets opened their challenge with 28 points, seven points behind the early class leaders, Schroder/Bland (35 points) while they are only five points ahead of the Heinleins (23 points). Schroder Sr, Jϋrgen together with Stuart Gregory (Nissan Navara) were fourth in the class and have 20 points with Philip Botha/Roelof Janse van Vuren (Red-Lined Motorsport VK56) fifth (17 points).

In the SSV Class, Minnitt/Burke were the only finishers and earned 20 points for their efforts.

Competitors are now preparing for round two of the championship, the PS Laser/Promac Vryheid 400 that takes place on 24 and 25 May in the Vryheid area in KwaZulu-Natal.

Published by: SA National Cross Country Series – Charmaine Fortune

Photography by: Dave Ledbitter

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