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Following the aftermath at the recent Parys 400, rounds four and five of the SA Rally-Raid Championship, which was run in temperate winter conditions in the environs of the Free State town of Parys, sees the 2023 Championship delicately poised on a knife edge.

Only ten points separate the top four in the Overall Production Vehicle Championship with a slender 13 points the barrier between the defending quartet in Class FIA T1+.

Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer (Ford NWM T1+ Ford Ranger) clinched the overall and class lead with an empathic win on the iconic Toyota Gazoo Racing Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert race, putting them nine class points and 15 overall points clear of their closest rivals Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (TGRSA Toyota DKR Hilux T1+), with two victories in the early 2023 season.

From the opening salvos of the Parys 400 double-header, it was evident the mindset in the NWM Ford Castrol and TGRSA camps were almost identical – do your best, score valuable points, and let victory be the bonus.

When the final flag dropped after round five on Saturday, 19 August, it was Woolridge/Dryer, who held onto the Overall Championship lead by a slender three points with a tally of 119. The pair experienced a mechanical problem in loop one of the main race on Friday, 18 August, relegating them to fourth, however, a gutsy performance on Saturday rewarded them with a third in class and overall, pushing them down to second in class with 144 points – the same slender three points in arrears of Lategan/Cummings.

Lategan/Cummings in a faultless run, scored their third victory of the season to win round four on Friday, however, a malfunctioning transmission sensor, which incurred a five minute time penalty for being late into the race line-up, immediately put them on the back-foot. In true spirit of their unwavering commitment, they bravely fought back to finish round five in fourth, notching up 116 points in the Overall Production Vehicle Category and 147 points in the Class Championship.

Defending champion Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy again displayed their dependability and put in a stellar performance to finish round four and five in second place with 114 points towards the Overall Championship and 139 points in class.

Guy Botterill and stand-in navigator Zaheer Bodhanya were well rewarded with their third position in round four and a well-earned first podium of the season in round five and trail their team-mates de Villiers/Murphy by five points in the respective championships.

Further down the field in the Overall championship matters are a little more fluid with 21 points separating the next five with Lance Wooldridge/Kenny Gilbert on 51 points in fifth spot, Eben Basson/Leander Pienaar (47), Johan de Bruyn/Gerhard Schutte (39), Gary Bertholdt/Henry Köhne (38), Chris Visser/Albertus Venter (31) and Johan and Sean van Staden (30), rounding out the top ten. However, the quest for excellence and the fiercely competitive nature of the SA Rally-Raid Championship is guaranteed to deliver plenty of exhilarating action.

In Class T1 the scrap between two feisty rivals, defending champions Eben Basson and Leander Pienaar (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid Toyota) with 136 points and Johan de Bruyn and Gerhard Schutte (Red-Lined REVO T1 ) on 132 points is palpable, with only four points separating the duelling duo. They are trailed by Johan and Sean van Staden in the ageing Renault Duster with 92 points.

Jayden Els and Elvéne Vonk (King Price Xtreme SVR) on 69 points could not see out the distance in round four and were unable to start round five, are followed by Nic Pienaar/Carl Swanepoel (Red-Lined REVO T1) who missed out on the double-header at Parys, on a tally of 68 points.

Not too far off the pace are Jurgen Schröder and Stuart Gregory with 67 points, followed by son Daniel Schröder and Ryan Bland on 55 (Nissan Navara’s), Dave Klaassen and Tessa Rooth (Red-Lined VK 50) on 50 with Gerhard and Rudi Heinlein 28 points rounding off the top ten.

Class T competitors Schalk Burger and Henk Janse van Vuuren recorded their third victory of the season as the lone finishers in the class and trail Hendrik and Heinrich du Plessis by, who could not finish the Parys 400 double-header by eight points.

With only two more rounds and 60 points in the Overall Championship and 70 points in the class championships available, it would be foolhardy to predict a clear winner.

Round Six of the SA Rally-Raid Championship, an all new event on the calendar, takes place from the Phakisa Raceway in the Welkom and Odendaalsrus area on Friday and Saturday 6 and 7 October.

Published by: SA National Cross Country Series – Charmaine Fortune

Photography by: Plan C Productions

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