The long-awaited Sugarbelt 400, the second round of the SA Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC) and the event that was scheduled to take place in 2022, but unfortunately cancelled due to the flooding in KwaZulu-Natal, is again on the cards, and will take place on the weekend of 12 and 13 May. Like so many times in the past, competitors will travel to Eston in the Mid-Illovo area in KwaZulu-Natal to compete in this iconic event that has a rich history in South African racing.
The Sugarbelt 400 will form the second round of the 2023 SARRC while it will also be the second and third rounds of the KZN Regional Championship. This event has always been a challenging, but enjoyable race on the national and regional KZN racing calendar and many competitors cherish fond memories of racing between the sugarcane fields and taking on the off-camber routes with spectacular scenery and friendly locals rounding off the adventure. The local community and landowners always welcome the teams, supporters and spectators with open arms and this year will be no different.
Competitors will, however, be mistaken if they think they know what is to come. Prior to 2021, this event was last run in the area in 2015 and returning to the Eston area, will therefore be the first or second experience for many teams. To add to the sting in the tail the route will be run in reverse making it a totally different race.
The Sugarbelt 400 will be a Standard Event and will consist of a 52km Pirelli Qualifying Race starting at 12:30 on Friday, 12 May from the Beaumont Eston Farmer’s Club. The results will determine the starting order for the race on Saturday, 13 May when the flag will drop for the leading vehicle at 08:00.
The race on Saturday will consist of a Southern and a Northern Loop that will each be approximately 80 kilometres in distance. Starting on the technical southern lap, teams in the Production and Special Vehicle Categories will primarily encounter valleys and small river crossings before turning northbound along the old twisty railway track, sugarcane fields and Bluegum plantations in mountainous terrain.
Then, following the edge of a grassy valley into sugarcane fields back to the club, it will be tricky with a lot of technical sections in the sugarcane fields and a few more open fast sections before ending at the club.
Competitors will stop for a compulsory 30 minute service halt at the DSP after completing the first loop, where teams and crews can attend to technical matters, replenish fuel and nutritional needs and rectify any mechanical issues. The combined total race distance over the two days, will be approximately 374 kilometres.
The Sugarbelt 400 also forms rounds two and three of the KZN Regional Championship and regional competitors will have to complete both the Southern and Northern Loops twice on Saturday to score points towards the championship.
The Eston/Mid Illovo area has always produced the goods regarding the unique race route, and competitors will be able to add the 2023 event to their list of memorable Sugarbelt races. According to the long term weather forecast at this stage, good weather conditions are expected and competitors will no doubt welcome a dry event albeit with limited dust.
Be it as it may – the combination of a typical challenging race route between the sugarcane fields and plantations as well as the teams and vehicles who showed up for the first round of the season the tough Nkomazi 400 in Mpumalanga, will result in the Sugarbelt 400 being another one for the books. Spectators are welcome at the Beaumont Eston Farmer’s Club, which promises to be a hive of activity, where Race Headquarters, the Designated Service Point (DSP) and the Start/Finish will be situated.
The event will be spectator friendly with various vantage points along the route. These vantage points are easily accessible from the Start/Finish at the club where a variety of treats and beverages will be on offer during the weekend. Public access is free of charge.
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Published by: SA National Cross Country Series – Charmaine Fortune
Picture Caption: Howes – Campbell
Photography by: Plan C Productions
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