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Very hot and humid conditions at Malalane combined with a race route described by competitors as extremely tricky, tough and challenging and lots of dust made teams work hard for their first points of the 2023 SA Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC) and after a long, hard day in the seat at the Nkomazi 400, it was Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings (Toyota Gazoo Racing DKR Hilux T1+) who walked away as the overall winners.

The Nkomazi 400, the opening round of the 2023 SARRC that took place this weekend, 24 and 25 March,  over two days and a total of just over 400 kilometres, welcomed teams in the Production and Special Vehicle Championships back after a hiatus of six years, and made sure the event will be remembered for a long time.

In the end Lategan/Cummings, on their first Nkomazi 400 experience, posted the fastest time after the 65km Pirelli Qualifying Race on Friday and chose to be the leading vehicle on the road on Saturday. The team did not expect the race to be that tricky, but they did not relinquish their position albeit finding it difficult to open the road.

Lategan/Cumming took overall gold in the Production Vehicle Category as well as in FIA T1+ with a total time of 06:41:59 that gave them a little breather over second placed Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer (NWM Ford Castrol T1+ Ranger) who made up for lost time during the qualifying race with a trouble-free event.

Woolridge/Dreyer (06:48:32) fought a tight battle with Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing DKR Hilux T1+) who finished 83 seconds behind them and rounded off the overall and FIA T1+ podiums.

The FIA T1+ championship is packed this season, and the first six teams on the results all competed for the best possible result in this class. The third Toyota Gazoo Racing DKR Hilux T1+ in the hands of Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy-Lyle (06:52:07) finished closely behind their team-mates in fourth place and were just off the podium. They were chased by a hard-charging Chris Visser/Albertus Venter (06:56:52), who started the main race outside the top 10, but finished fifth to give the new Red-Lined REVO T1+ a perfect result at its debut event.

Lance Trethewey/Adriaan Roets (07:13:11) scored their first points in T1+ with the 2×4 King Price Xtreme CR6 with the team finishing sixth overall.

Behind the six frontrunners, an epic battle for the FIA T1 podium ensued with two Red-Lined Motorsport teams coming up tops with their REVO’s. Johan de Bruyn/Gerhard Schutte took the class victory (07:19:29), a mere 71 seconds ahead of team-mates Nic Pienaar/Carl Swanepoel who had a faultless, albeit hot run due to a faulty air-conditioner. An electronic glitch eight kilometres before the finish resulted in them having to nurse the REVO home in second place in T1.

Both teams gave the defending T1 champions, Eben Basson/Leander Pienaar (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid Toyota) a tyre during the first loop when they suffered four punctures. A clean second loop saw them rounding off the T1 podium (07:24:17) and finishing ninth in the Production Vehicle Category.

The overall top 10 was rounded off by the father and son team, Johan and Sean van Staden (KEC Racing Renault Duster) who scored their first points in FIA T1 after moving up from the Class T championship. The team also found it tricky to stay fast on the challenging route, but made it home safe (07:24:34) despite losing fifth and sixth gear and 4-wheel drive towards the end of the first loop. They were followed by Daniël Schröder/Ryan Bland (Nissan Navara) who finished fifth in FIA T1 (07:30:23) and were 11th overall.

Four more FIA T1+ teams survived the conditions and testing terrain to start their season with points in the championship bag. Dewald van Breda/Stompie Mynhardt (CR6) finished seventh (07:34:49) and were followed by Gary Bertholdt/Henry Köhne (Toyota Hilux T1+) – 07:39:00 – who had their work cut out for them as they started the main race at the back of the field due to not being able to complete the Pirelli Qualifying Race on Friday.

Wors Prinsloo/André Vermeulen (Ford Ranger T1+) also moved up from Class T and earned their ninth place with the Namibian driver, Loic Bathfield surviving his baptism by fire to finish his debut SARRC event with Rodney Burke (Century Racing CR6) 10th in the extremely competitive T1+.

The FIA T1 championship saw three more teams reaching the finish line of the Nkomazi 400 with the Dutch pairing of Dave Klaassen/Tessa Rooth (Red-Lined VK50) finishing sixth (07:48:28) while the Blignaut brothers, Fouché and Bertus (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid Toyota) were seventh after also starting the main race towards the back of the field, due to them not completing the Pirelli Qualifying Race on Friday. Philip Botha and his brother, Nicolaas (Red-Lined VK56) were eighth.

Hendrik and Heinrich du Plessis (Ford Ranger) won Class T (07:41:07) and were the lonely finishers in this class. They had two flat tyres and had a scare when a fire broke out in the engine compartment, but the team made it home safe and opened their scorebook with valuable points towards the championship.

There were early problems during the main race for Brian Baragwanath/Leonard Cremer (Century Racing CR6) who retired with engine issues while a fire in the engine also forced Lance Woolridge/Kenny Gilbert (NWM Ford Castrol T1+ Ranger), who posted the second fastest time on Friday, to retire. Jayden Els/Elvéne Vonk (King Price Xtreme SVR); Geoff Minnitt/Gerhard Snyman (Hydro Power Equipment WCT Toyota Hilux) as well as Simon Murray/Achim Bergman (WCT HT2 Toyota), who landed in a canal, were among the retirements.

In the Special Vehicle Category, 2022 champions, Tim Howes/Gary Campbell (BAT Spec 4) had an excellent run to claim the first overall and Class A win on their way to defend their title. They finished in a time of 07:17:09 with their closest rival, Lood du Preez/Rikus Hatting (Farmers Meat Stryker) second in Class A, and the last team at the finish, after losing lots of time with gearbox problems.

Two flat tyres and a steep learning curve did not stop the current Class G champions, Ian Mostert behind the wheel and dad Werner in the hot-seat of the Moto-Netix Racing Can-Am Maverick, to take the class victory.

They finished second overall in the Special Vehicle Category (08:17:05) with only 70 seconds the difference between them and their team-mates, Glen Theron/Craig Galvin who rounded off the overall podium. Ewald van Rensburg/Johan Scheepers (08:32:55) were third in Class G after losing time getting their Can-Am Maverick stuck during the first loop.

The Nkomazi 400 started the 2023 SARRC off on a very high note and teams who scored their first points as well as those who will be looking for their first finish of the season, can look forward to more racing in the sugarcane fields when they take on the Sugarbelt 400 on 12 and 13 May in the Eston Mid-Illovo areas in KZN.

Published by:  SA National Cross Country Series

Photography by:  Plan C Productions

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