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History was made at the Waterberg 400, the seventh and final round of the 2023 SA Rally-Raid Championship that took place on 10 and 11 November in the Waterberg area in Limpopo when Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dryer made Ford history by clinching the Overall Production Vehicle Championship and the FIA T1+ Championship with their NWM Ford Castrol Ranger T1+. It was also the pairs third race win in an intense season that produced exhilarating battles from start to finish.

The scorching weather conditions of the weekend were on par with extremely hot racing action while the route was praised by all as tough and challenging, but exceptionally enjoyable. With the results of the Pirelli Qualifying Race on Friday determining the starting grid for the first of the two 178 kilometre loops on Saturday, Woolridge/Dreyer had their work cut out for them as they were the eighth vehicle off the line due to losing time with a flat tyre during the short qualifier.

Their title rivals, Guy Botterill, who aimed for his first SARRC title and navigator, Brett Cummings (Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux DKR T1+) posted the fastest time on Friday, and as the leading 10 teams draw and select their starting positions, team-mates, Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy, elected to open the road on Saturday morning followed by Botterill/Cummings with Woolridge/Dryer off in eighth place. Botterill/Cummings kept their lead during the first of the two loops albeit leading the Ford team by just 50 seconds at the halfway mark.

The Toyota Gazoo Racing team ran into mechanical trouble early after the start of the second loop while Woolridge/Dreyer kept their noses clean and, shadowed by their team-mates, Lance Woolridge/Kenny Gilbert, who had a clean run barring a flat tyre early in the day, it was a Ford one-two at the finish with the titles safely in the NWM Ford Castrol camp. Botterill/Cummings had to settle for 18th place overall and finished 13th in FIA T1+.

With a total time of 05h 25min 21s, Woolridge/Dreyer finished 3min 17s ahead of their team-mates (05h 28min 37s) with the Overall Production Vehicle Category and FIA T1+ podiums rounded off by Gary Bertholdt/Henry Köhne (Toyota Hilux T1+), who started the main race in third place, in a total time of 05h 30min 26s after a trouble free race, with only a flat tyre costing them time.

Berthold/Köhne, however, finished only 31 seconds ahead of De Villiers/Murphy who not only raced to secure a podium result in the championship, but also supported Botterill/Cummings in their title chase. It was close racing until the end with the next three teams finishing within a minute and 52 seconds of each other. Lance Trethewey/Adriaan Roets (King Price Xtreme CR6) rounded off the top five (05h 35min 02s) after a hot race due to a faulty air-conditioner that had them sweating in the car.

Fifteen seconds behind them, the first of two of the #TeamHilux Rally-Raid teams claimed sixth place. Fouché and Bertus Blignaut (Hilux DKR T1+) finished their season on a high note in sixth in FIA T1+ with reigning champions Eben Basson/Leander Pienaar seventh overall (05h 36min 54s), and first in FIA T1 to secure the title for the second consecutive year.

The title battle between the team and their rivals, Johan de Bruyn/Gerhard Schutte (Red-Lined REVO T1) fizzled out somewhat with De Bruyn/Schutte having to fight their way from the back of the field after crashing into a tree during the Pirelli Qualifying Race. They returned, guns blazing, to claim the third spot on the FIA T1 podium and were 11th overall.

Also in the top 10 were Brian Baragwanath/Leonard Cremer (Century Racing CR7 Twin-Turbo) who were eighth overall (05h 39min 07s) and seventh in FIA T1+. Johan and Sean van Staden experienced problems with the front differential of their Renault Duster during the final 30 kilometres of the race, but still finished second in FIA T1 and were ninth overall followed by the Dutch team of Dave Klaassen/Tessa Rooth (Red-Lined REVO T1+) rounding out the top 10 (06h 00min 41s), pushing De Bruyn/Schutte into 11th place by only 15 seconds.

A Class T victory for Schalk Burger/Henk Janse van Vuuren (King Price Xtreme VW Amarok) put a cherry on top of their championship title with the team finishing 12th overall.

The battles did not only happen at the front of the race. A blanket of only two minutes and 35 seconds covered the teams from 10th to 15th place overall. The Horn brothers, Johan and Werner (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid DKR T1+) also had to claw their way open from the back of the field due to the team not starting the qualifying race. They finished 13th overall and ninth in FIA T1+, 53 seconds ahead of the Australian team of Adam Kaplan/Dale Moscatt (Red-Lined REVO T1+) found the tight and tricky race in mountainous terrain, an all-new experience.

The two Farmers Meat Abattoirs CR6 teams of Lood du Preez/Junior Vardy and Eugene Bierman/Marius Lombard both received the chequered flag after an event where competitors were full of compliments for the route and the race in general, while the scenery was appreciated by all. Du Preez/Vardy were 15th with their team-mates finishing 17th overall, sandwiching the Red-Lined Motorsport team of Philip Botha/Roedolf Janse van Vuren (VK56) who were fourth in FIA T1.

Gerhard/Rudi Heinlein (Red-Lined VK56) were 19th followed by Jurgen Schröder/Ryan Bland (Nissan Navara).

Youngster Saood Variawa and French navigator, Francois Cazalet (Toyota Gazoo Racing DKR Hilux T1+), in their first outing together, had a great event in the early part of the race with a possible podium in their sights, but were forced into retirement after crashing during the first loop on Saturday.

In the Special Vehicle Category, the three-way fight for the Class G title continued, and in the end it was veteran competitor, Geoff Minnitt and his navigator, Rodney Burke (Hydro Power Equipment Can-Am Maverick) who brought home the spoils (06h 03min 16s) with an overall category victory while also claiming the Class G win and championship title. They had opened quite a gap to their title rivals, the two Moto-Netix Racing Can-Am Maverick teams of Glen Theron/Craig Galvin and Ian and Werner Mostert who finished in third and fifth respectively overall and in Class G, with the Mostert’s title chase hampered by clutch issues while they also lost time with a flat tyre.

Francois and Neil de Wit (Can-Am Maverick) were second overall and in Class G (06h 26min 47s) with the winners of Class A, Keith and Andrew Makenete (BAT Makmobile) in fourth place overall. The 2023 overall and Class A champions, Tim Howes/Gary Campbell (BAT Spec 4) retired for the first time this season after an altercation with a fence. The Class P win belonged to Quintin Lessing/Noel Acton (CR6) who finished sixth overall in the category.

The 2023 SA Rally-Raid season ended on a high with a highly praised new event, which appears to have ticked all the boxes, while new champions were crowned after exciting and tough competition throughout the season.

Published by: SA National Cross Country Series – Charmaine Fortune

Photography by: Dave Ledbitter

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