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The record books of the South African Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC) as well as the iconic Sugarbelt 400 with its history that spans over three decades, will be updated after the most recent event, as one of the toughest to date, not only in the 2023 season, but also in recent years.

The second round of the SARRC saw competitors take on a shortened 20km Pirelli Qualifying Race on Friday, 12 March followed by two 160km loops on Saturday, 13 March from the Beaumont Farmer’s Club at Eston in KwaZulu-Natal and after the dust had settled, new category and class winners appeared.

Trace Price Moor, who missed the season opener, and navigator, Gareth Aiston (BAT Venom) started the main race on Saturday in second place behind the pace setters and Special Vehicle Championship leaders, Tim Howes/Gary Campbell (Timdrew Property Developers BAT Spec 4). Tight corners, challenging navigation and testing routes typical of the event, as well as a 40 minute penalty did not stand in the way of the team taking their first category and Class A victory with a total time of 06:09:38.

The defending champions, Howes/Campbell, suffered various mechanical issues including racing without a clutch and with a broken rear shock absorber, but still finished in style as the category and Class A runners-up, 2 minutes and 11 seconds behind the winners.

Both podiums were rounded off by Eugene Bierman/Pieter Visser (BAT Spec 2) who finished in a time of 06:20:34. After taking a break from racing, veterans John Thomson and Maurice Zermatten (Zarco Challenger) were back in action and finished just off the podiums, but with their first points on the scoreboard. Their time (06:37:58) also included a 40 minute penalty and they were sixth in the Special Vehicle Category.

New winners also emerged in Class G after a tumultuous 350 kilometres with Ewald van Rensburg/Johan Scheepers (Can-Am Maverick) the victors after 06:33:42. They also posted the fastest time after the short Pirelli Qualifying race and stuck to their guns to finish a mere 80 seconds ahead of Geoff Minnitt/Gerhard Snyman (Hydro Power Equipment Can-Am Maverick). Minnitt/Snyman could not finish the qualifier and had to start the main race towards the back of the field, but the team showed why they were Dakar Rally 2023 finishers and earned their silverware as they rounded off the Special Vehicle Category top five.

If youngster Ian Mostert hoped to be able to tell his friends a few stories after the Sugarbelt 400, he could not have wished for a better event. Taking on his first ever Sugarbelt event, and doing so behind the wheel of the Moto-Netix Racing Can-Am Maverick with dad Werner reading the notes, it all started with the team not being able to post a qualifying time due to the race being shortened after a fire on the route.

Starting in the very last position, the team battled the dust and overtaking competitors between the sugarcane and to top it all, Werner suffered severe motion sickness. But the father and son duo made it stick and earned points with their third place in Class G that will see them keeping their lead in the Class G standings on their mission to defend their title.

Their team-mates, Glen Theron/Craig Galvin in a similar Can-Am finished fourth in the class and were eighth overall (07:34:57) with Francois and Neil de Wit the very last finishers. They were fifth in Class G. The team broke down and took a 10 hour penalty to be able to continue – and they made it to the finish.

In their first event of the season, Gqeberha based Grant Watkins/Mark Irvine brought their Zarco home winning Class P and finishing ninth in the Special Vehicle Category.

There was disappointment for Class A competitors, Lood du Preez/Nick van Zyl (Farmers Meat Stryker) and the Makenete brothers, Keith and Andrew (BAT Makmobile) who could not finish while Theo Erasmus/Edward Odendaal (Can-Am Maverick) had an enjoyable race until they broke a CV joint, wheel bearings and suffered a broken hub.

Competitors will now prepare for the only marathon event on the calendar, the Toyota Gazoo Racing Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race that will see them return to Jwaneng in Botswana for the race on 23, 24 and 25 June.

Published by: Charmaine Fortune

Photography by: Plan C Productions

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