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The Parys 400, Round 4 of the 2023 South African Rally-Raid Championship, took place in the area to the south of the Free State town on Friday, August 18. The first race in a double-header weekend saw the cream rise to the top, despite dry and dusty conditions that hampered visibility, especially early in the day.

With two full national races run over the weekend, Round 4 of the season comprised a Pirelli Qualifying Race of 22 kilometres, which started at 07:30 in the morning. This was followed by the main race, which got under way at 09:30 from the Parys Afridome, before taking on two race loops of 165 kilometres each, over terrain that included rocky traverses, mielie fields and one particularly vicious patch of mud.

In Class T1+, it was the NWM Ford Castrol Team’s Gareth Woolridge who arrived at the Designated Service Park (DSP) as the championship leader. As the man with a target on his back, Woolridge and co-driver, Boyd Dreyer, were under pressure to perform from the get-go. But windless early-morning conditions conspired against them, as their main championship rivals, Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Henk Lategan and co-driver, Brett Cummings, made the most of their position as the first car into the Pirelli Qualifier to bag a relatively easy pole position.

With no wind to move the dust kicked up by Lategan/Cummings, all the teams behind them were condemned to fight their way through the choking dust, forced to fight for positions as the-best-of-the-rest. In the end, it was TGRSA’s Saood Variawa and co-driver, Danie Stassen, who posted the second-fastest time, albeit nearly a minute behind the flying Lategan/Cummings. They had Gareth Woolridge and Boyed Dreyer (NWM Ford Castrol Team T1+ Ranger) behind them in third; while their teammates, Lance Woolridge and Kenny Gilbert, went fourth-fastest. Rally-Raid veteran, Giniel de Villiers, partnered with Dennis Murphy (Toyota DKR Hilux T1+) rounded out the top five.

During the main race, Lategan/Cummings fully capitalised on their road position, and showed the competition a clean pair of heels despite opening the road. They hardly put a foot wrong all day, and despite losing three minutes at a tricky water crossing, recorded an otherwise clean run to seal a valuable win on Round 4, bringing their championship back on track. At the same time, teammates and defending champions, Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy, followed Lategan/Cummings home in a second Toyota DKR Hilux T1+; while Guy Botterill, racing with stand-in navigator, Zaheer Bodhanya, finished in third place – a clean sweep for the boys in red.

Woolridge/Dreyer were hampered by a rear CV problem on the opening loop, which turned into two-wheel-drive during the second loop. This dropped them down to seventh overall, but the men from ‘Maritzburg fought back gamely to seal fourth place on the day. They had the Toyota Hilux crew of Gary Bertholdt and Henry Köhne for company in fifth place. Variawa/Stassen fell foul to the same muddy water crossing that nearly foiled Lategan/Cummings, and spent the afternoon waiting for assistance to extricate their stricken Toyota Hilux. They were running in 2nd place overall at the time of the incident.

In Class T1, youngster Jayden Els, partnered with Elvéne Vonk in a King Price Xtreme SVR set the quickest qualifying time of the class. They had a healthy buffer over Eben Basson and Leander Pienaar (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid Toyota) in second; who were, in turn, kept honest by Johan de Bruyn and Gerhard Schutte, in their Red-Lined REVO.

But during the main race, it was defending champions, Basson/Pienaar, who continued their relentless march to the title. The pair brought their #TeamHilux Hilux home first-in-class, but had De Bruyn/Schutte just three minutes behind them; while German regular, Daniel Schröder, partnered with Ryan Bland, brought his Nissan Navara VK50 home in third place. Johan and Sean van Staden (Renault Duster) and Jürgen Schröder, with Stuart Greggory reading his notes, rounded out the Class T1 top five in their Nissan Navara VK50. As for pole-sitters, Els/Vonk, their day disintegrated together with the front differential on their car, forcing them out of not only Round 4, but Round 5 as well – a bitter blow for the fast-paced youngster.

Class T saw Schalk Burger and co-driver, Henk Janse van Vuuren, complete a flag-to-flag win in their King Price Xtreme Volkswagen Amarok. Their only competition, championship leaders Hendrik and Heinrich du Plessis, were sidelined early in the day, when they rolled their Ford Ranger, and were forced to withdraw from Round 4. They were hopeful about their prospects of repairing their car, however, and were aiming to enter Round 5, which follows directly after Round 4.

On the Special Vehicle side of the action, there was a bit of an upset during the Pirelli Qualifying Race when LC de Jager and Rikus Hattingh (Porter) upset the applecart by capturing pole position. Second place went to John Thomson and Maurice Zermatten (Zarco Challenger), while defending champions and championship leaders, Tim Howes and Gary Campbell, were relegated to third place on the starting grid, following a tough qualifier. The pair had no specific problems, though Howes drove with a knee brace, following recent surgery.

The qualifying order was somewhat shaken up during the race, however, when the champions showed their class to come back for a fighting win. Howes/Campbell (BAT Spec 4) had to keep an eye on their rear-view mirrors, as De Jager/Hattingh finished less than six minutes adrift. Thomson and Zermatten rounded out the Class A podium.

Finally, the crews in Class G were embroiled in yet another tight battle. The Pirelli Qualifying Race saw championship leader Glen Theron, partnered with Craig Galvin in the Moto-Netix Racing Can-Am Maverick, go fastest of the bunch. The gap to Francois and Neil de Wit, racing in a similar machine, was just 15 seconds for second place; while Geoff Minnitt and Rodney Burke brought their HPE Can-Am Maverick home in third place, a further 7 seconds adrift. With only 22 seconds separating the top three in Class G, a mighty battle was clearly on the cards.

But the main event shuffled the order somewhat, with Minnitt/Burke going fastest of the bunch. The Hydro Power Equipment pairing finished the day in a total time of 4hr 36min 52sec – more than 10 minutes clear of Ian and Werner Mostert, who achieved the second spot on the podium, in their Moto-Netix Racing Can-Am Maverick. Theron/Galvin rounded out the podium, while the De Wits narrowly missed out on the third step, settling for fourth in the end. Ewald van Rensburg and Johan Scheepers were the fifth and final Class G crew to complete the Parys 400.

Next up is Round 5 of the 2023 SARRC, which takes place on Saturday, 19 August as the second round of the weekend’s double-header. As before, the Pirelli Qualifying Race will start at 07:30, with the main race following at 09:30. An entirely new route will be used for Round 5, and competitors will have to complete two full race loops in addition to the qualifying race, all on one day.

Published by: SA Cross Country Series – Charmaine Fortune

Photography by: Plan C Productions

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