If the first 73 kilometres of the Renergen 400, the sixth and penultimate round of the South African Rally-Raid Championship that kicked off on Friday, 6 October at Phakisa Raceway outside Welkom in the Free State, are anything to go by, there will be no margin for error on the remaining 328 kilometres of racing on Saturday with mere seconds separating teams chasing the titles.
It is, however, not only tight at the top between the frontrunners as the battles continue between those fighting for the best positions in the overall and class championships in both the Production and Special Vehicle Categories. With a route described by many drivers as fast and tricky, navigators had to be wide awake while calling the shots in extremely hot conditions, and day one of the Renergen 400 has set the scene for more action-packed racing before receiving the final chequered flag and a total of just over 400 kilometres of racing.
The hot weather conditions in the Free State compares well with the heated battle at the front of the Production Vehicle Championship as only 10 points separate the top four teams who are in with a chance for the title. And leading the pack after the 15 kilometre Pirelli Qualifying race and the first loop of 58 kilometres on the first day, Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota Gazoo Racing DKR Hilux T1+) will feel the heat as only 36 seconds separate them from Lance Woolridge/Kenny Gilbert (NWM Ford Castrol T1+ Ranger), who are just outside the title chase. Lategan/Cummings completed the two sections in a total time of 43 min. 19s.
Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer in the second NWM Ford Castrol T1+ Ranger, who went to the Free State as the overall championship leaders, are happy with their third place after the first day. They had a clean race and trail their team-mates by 42 seconds, and a slender 12 seconds ahead of another title contender, Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing DKR Hilux T1+) who lost some time with a wrong slot. De Villiers/Murphy are followed by their team-mates, Saood Variawa/Danie Stassen who had a few navigational issues and are 20 seconds further behind with Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy-Lyle, who lost time as they opened the road after the qualifier, in sixth place, 31 seconds further adrift.
The first 10 teams are all competing in FIA T1+. After not competing for a while, Brian Baragwanath/Leonard Cremer (Century Racing) are back with their all-new four-wheel drive CR7 Twin-Turbo with the team posting the seventh fastest time (45 min. 51s.) despite overheating problems. The Blignaut brothers, Fouché and Bertus (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid DKR T1+) had a good run having moved up from FIA T1 earlier in the season to finish eighth (46min. 09s.). They lead Gary Bertholdt/Henry Köhne (Toyota Hilux T1+) by 14 seconds while Wors Prinsloo/André Vermeulen (Ford Ranger T1+) rounded off the top 10, only 65 seconds slower after a conservative approach to the first day.
The leading FIA T1 teams claimed the next three positions with the visiting Dutch driver, Rients Hofstra completing his first successful racing kilometres in South Africa together with navigator, Wade Harris (Red-Lined Motorsport VK50) and posting the best time in the class (47 min. 40s.) although only 23 seconds separated the team from the defending T1 champions, Eben Basson/Leander Pienaar (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid) who survived a frustrating first day with initial navigational issues costing them valuable time.
Basson/Pienaar have locked horns with Johan de Bruyn/Gerhard Schutte (Red-Lined REVO T1) for the T1 title with this battle continuing on Saturday as only 31 seconds separate these two teams in second and third positions. Behind them the German driver, Jϋrgen Schröder and Achim Bergman (Nissan Navara VK50) are fourth in T1 (49 min. 25s.) with three more T1 teams rounding out the top 20 in the Production Vehicle Category.
Johan and Sean van Staden (Renault Duster) are 18th (50 min. 32s.) followed 26 seconds later by Schröder’s son, Max who has teamed up with Ryan Bland in the second Nissan Navara VK50 with the Heinlein brothers, Gerhard and Nickus (Red-Lined VK56) 35 seconds further adrift.
Also in the top 20 are two two-wheel drive T1+ teams. Former Special Vehicle Category competitor, Lood du Preez and Junior Vardy (Farmers Meat Abattoirs CR6) made a good start to the Production Vehicle Category by posting the 15th fastest time (49 min. 46s.) while Simon Murray and Elvéne Vonk (WCT HT2 Toyota) are 17th. The Horn brothers, Johan and Werner (#TeamHilux DKR T1+) are sandwiched between the two teams after a frustrating day filled with navigational issues.
The lonely Class T King Price Xtreme team of Schalk Burger/Henk Janse van Vuuren (VW Amarok) are 21st (51 min.59s.) followed by the regular Dutch visitors, Dave Klaassen/Tessa Rooth (Red-Lined REVO T1+); Eugene Bierman/Marius Lombard (Farmers Meat Abattoirs CR6) who also switched categories and are now competing in FIA T1+ with Mark Corbett and his son, Luke (Century Racing CR6T Audi Twin-Turbo) the fourth 4×2 vehicle home in FIA T1+.
In the Special Vehicle Category, the title is within reach of the defending overall and Class A champions, Tim Howes/Gary Campbell (BAT Spec 4) who kept their noses clean and posted the fastest combined time of 49 min. 08s. Second in the category and leading Class G, were Geoff Minnitt/Rodney Burke (Hydro Power Equipment Can-Am Maverick) who trail the leaders by 4 minutes and 7 seconds, but are only 16 seconds ahead of their title rivals, Ian Mostert and his father, Werner (Moto-Netix Racing Can-Am Maverick) in third despite struggling with a faulty intercom system during the qualifying race. This title battle will reach epic proportions with Minnitt/Burke aiming for their first Class G championship while the Mostert’s would like nothing more than to keep the title in the family.
Keith and Andrew Makenete (BAT Makmobile) finished fourth in the category and second in Class A, 77 seconds behind the Mostert’s and 50 seconds ahead of Glen Theron/Craig Galvin in the second Moto-Netix Racing Can-Am Maverick. They were followed by the fourth Class G team, Ewald van Rensburg/Johan Scheepers (56 min. 49s.). Quintin Lessing/Patrick Dodon (Century CRT) lead Class P (1h 06 min. 21s.) with Grant Watkins/Mark Irvine (Zarco) in the second Class P vehicle rounding off the standings.
Two loops of 164 kilometres await competitors on Saturday with the action starting at 08:00 when the leading vehicle opens the road from Phakisa Raceway. Teams will stop for 30 minutes at the Designated Service Point at the raceway before taking on the second and final loop with the finish and the podium ceremonies also taking place at the raceway.
The Renergen 400 can be followed on the RallySafe App available for download, at no charge, from the iStore and Google PlayStore or on Facebook: saccsauto; Instagram: saccs_auto and Twitter: @SACCS.Auto
Published by: Charmaine Fortune – SA National Cross Country Series
Photography by: Plan C Productions
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