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The Sugarbelt 400, the second round of the 2023 SA Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC) that takes place on 12 and 13 May in the Eston / Mid-Illovo areas in KwaZulu-Natal, promises traditional Rally-Raid racing between the sugarcane fields and plantations, and while previous winners would like to add another victory to their list of Sugarbelt 400 wins, they will be up against a gaggle of teams who have the potential to dethrone them.

Add that to the fact that the first points towards the SARRC are on the scoreboard, and teams returning from the drawing board after a disappointing opening round, the stage is set for an exciting Sugarbelt 400 that will be run for the umpteenth time from the Beaumont Eston Farmer’s Club.

The event has a rich history spanning three decades and the outcome of the 2023 Sugarbelt 400 will be added to its serious set of record books.  Keep in mind, this event was cancelled in 2022 with a gap of six years prior to its return to the national championship in 2021, making the Eston/Mid-Illovo race a fairly new event for many competitors.

Looking at the Production Vehicle Category, one name has already made it into the event’s record books – Giniel de Villiers. De Villiers claimed the victory in 2021 together with his navigator, Dennis Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing SA) and this was a special occasion as he previously won the Sugarbelt 400 20 years earlier in 2001.

De Villiers/Murphy finished third at the season opener earlier this year, and the battle between the three Toyota Gazoo Racing SA DKR Hilux T1+ teams will continue with the championship leaders, Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings aiming for a second consecutive victory while Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy-Lyle kicked the season off in the top five.

The local Pietermaritzburg outfit, the two NWM Ford Castrol Ranger T1+ teams in the hands of Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer and Lance Woolridge/Kenny Gilbert, will hope to better their 2021 results in front of their home crowd. Woolridge/Dreyer are currently second in the standings while Lance/Gilbert will be chasing their first points as they were side-lined by mechanical issues at the Nkomazi 400.

And while two more Toyota Hilux T1+ teams, Johan and Werner Horn (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid DKR Hilux T1+) who withdrew from the Nkomazi 400 and Gary Bertholdt/Henry Köhne, who fought their way into the results from the back of the field, as well as the two-wheel drive turbo-charged WCT HT2 Toyota of Simon Murray/Achim Bergmann will also be in the FIA T1+ line-up, another Ford Ranger T1+ in the hands of Wors Prinsloo/André Vermeulen, will bolster the Ford camp.

Chris Visser/Albertus Venter put the new Red-Lined REVO T1+ on the map from the start of the 2023 season scoring a top five result in Mpumalanga and the team can cause havoc when implementing Visser’s extensive Sugarbelt 400 experience.

Three more teams have entered in FIA T1+ with 2×4 Century Racing vehicles including another local KZN champion, Lance Trethewey who won the Special Vehicle Category of this event in 2021. Trethewey and Adriaan Roets (King Price Xtreme CR6) are familiar with the type of terrain and will go for gold as will Brian Baragwanath/Leonard Cremer (Century Racing CR6) who will be looking for their first points of the season with Ernest Roberts/Jaco van Aardt (CR6) also returning to the action.

The Century Racing team are highly ecstatic after winning the recent Morocco Desert Challenge overall with the international pairing of Mathieu Serradori/Loic Minaudier claiming victory after all eight the stages under gruelling racing conditions.

In FIA T1, the championship leaders will have to fight to keep their positions as the rest of the teams will hound them down. Red-Lined Motorsport, who also returned from the Morocco Desert Challenge with good results, are leading FIA T1 with Johan de Bruyn/Gerhard Schutte and Nic Pienaar/Carl Swanepoel respectively first and second with their Red-Lined REVO’s. They will be backed by another Red-Lined Motorsport team, the Dubai-born female driver, Aliyyah Koloc together with experienced South African navigator, Riaan Greyling in the VK50 as well as the Heinlein father and son duo of Rudi and Gerhard who will take on their first national SARRC in the VK56.

The defending champions, Eben Basson/Leander Pienaar and their #TeamHilux Rally-Raid team-mates, Fouché and Bertus Blignaut, will be part of the chasing pack as will the two visiting Germans in the WCT Engineering prepared Nissan Navaras, pairing up with their South African navigators, Daniel Schröder and Ryan Bland and Jürgen Schröder and Stuart Gregory.

Former Class T competitors, Johan and Sean van Staden (Renault Duster) and Jayden Els/Elvéne Vonk (King Price Xtreme SVR) will also be in action, with the latter aiming for their first points of the season. It will be young Els’s maiden Sugarbelt race.

In Class T, the current leaders, the father and son team of, Hendrik and Heinrich Du Plessis (Ford Ranger) will be back for more of the action as will brothers Nico and Juandré Nienaber (Renault Duster) while Schalk Burger/Henk Janse van Vuuren will be in action in a King Price Xtreme VW Amarok.

Five teams have entered in Class A of the Special Vehicle Category. The defending champions and winners of the season opener, local KZN competitors, Tim Howes/Gary Campbell (Tim Drew Property Developments BAT Spec 4) will not only be looking for another win, but also to better their previous Sugarbelt 400 result. Another set of good points and less mechanical issues will be perfect for Lood du Preez, with navigator still to be announced, in the Farmer’s Meat Stryker while Eugene Bierman/Pieter Visser (BAT Spec 2) would hope for a first finish this year.

It will be a first outing this season for Special Vehicle Category regulars, Trace Price Moor/Shaun Braithwaite (BAT Venom) as well as the Makenete brothers, Keith and Andrew (BAT Makmobile) who have moved up from Class P.  Veteran competitors Grant Watkins and Mark Irvine (Zarco) have entered in Class P.

The Class G Championship has undergone somewhat of a change since the Nkomazi 400 with Geoff Minnitt/Gerhard Snyman (Hydro Power Equipment Can-Am Maverick) again competing in this class after taking on the season opener in FIA T1 while Theo Erasmus/Edward Odendaal (Can-Am Maverick) will be back in action after sitting out the 2022 season. It will be the first Sugarbelt 400 for teenager Ian Mostert behind the wheel of the Moto-Netix Can-Am Maverick who will count on the knowledge of his experienced dad, Werner, in the hot seat with the defending Class G champions aiming for a second victory this season.

While their team-mates, Glen Theron and Craig Galvin can build on their second place at the Nkomazi 400, Ewald van Rensburg/Johan Scheepers will also have their eyes on another podium result with brothers Francois and Neil de Wit, all in similar Can-Am Maverick vehicles, aiming for their first set of good points.

The Sugarbelt 400 will also be the second and third rounds of the KZN Regional Championship.

The action will start on Friday at 12:30 when teams will take on the 52km Pirelli Qualifying Race that will determine the starting order for the race on Saturday. The leading 10 teams will draw their starting positions for the first of two 160km loops with the start at 08:00 at the Beaumont Eston Farmer’s Club.

Teams will stop for a compulsory 30 minute service break at the Designated Service Point (DSP) after the first two 80km laps before taking on the second and final racing section. The Race Headquarters, Start/Finish and DSP will be situated at the Beaumont Eston Farmer’s Club where food and refreshments will be on sale.

All the action can be viewed from various vantage points along the route. The Sugarbelt 400 can also be followed on the RallySafe App, available as a free download from the Google PlayStore and the iStore while updated information will be available on Facebook: saccsauto; Instagram: saccs_auto and Twitter: @SACCS.Auto

Published by:  Charmaine Fortune

Photography by:  Plan C Productions

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