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The Sugarbelt 400, the second round of the SA Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC) got underway in the Eston / Mid-Illovo area in KwaZulu-Natal yesterday with the 52 kilometre Pirelli Qualifying Race determining the starting order for the rest of the race on, Saturday, 13 May.

After a seven week break, teams were eager to scramble for the second set of points towards the Production and Special Vehicle Championships and the popular Sugarbelt 400 promised to produce the usual exciting racing it became known for over almost three decades.

The first dust was in the air just after 12:30 as teams took on the 52 kilometre racing section. The route was described by competitors afterwards as tricky, but enjoyable with lots of off-camber sections and erosion adding to its technicality. Unfortunately a fire broke out on the route and while two-thirds of the combined field completed the full race distance, the rest of the teams were re-routed and the qualifying race was stopped.

This resulted in the times being adapted to the standings at the 20.29 kilometre mark and while it favoured a few teams, it was not ideal for others.

In the end it was the local Pietermaritzburg team of Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer (NWM Ford Castrol T1+ Ranger) who posted the fastest time overall and in the Production Vehicle Category although the gap to second-placed Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing DKR Hilux T1+) shrunk to a mere four seconds. Only three minutes and 55 seconds separated the first 30 teams with De Villiers/Murphy sandwiched between the two Woolridge brothers as Lance/Kenneth Gilbert rounded off the overall Production Vehicle and FIA T1+ podiums.

Lance Woolridge/Gilbert wrong slotted in the second half of the race and lost time, but had a clean run during the first section. Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota Gazoo Racing DKR Hilux T1+) finished fourth with their team-mates, Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy-Lyle seventh, just behind the #TeamHilux Rally-Raid DKR T1+ of the Horn brothers, Johan and Werner who experienced power-steering problems in the race. Brian Baragwanath/Leonard Cremer were fifth in the 2×4 Century Racing CR6.

The rest of the top 10, with mere seconds separating the teams, consisted of Gary Bertholdt/Henry Köhne (Renergen Toyota Hilux T1+) in eighth place followed by Jayden Els/Elvéne Vonk (King Price Xtreme SVR) the leading FIA T1 team in ninth place after being stuck behind slower competitors. The defending FIA T1 champions, Eben Basson/Leander Pienaar (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid) were 10th, just ahead of the German driver, Daniël Schröder and Ryan Bland (Nissan Navara) who rounded off the FIA T1 podium.

The dice rolled wrong for Chris Visser/Albertus Venter (Red-Lined REVO) who will have their work cut out for them on the second part of the Sugarbelt 400 on Saturday. The team lost heaps of time due to a puncture early in the race and with not enough time and kilometres to make up for lost time, they finished 21st in the Production Vehicle Category.

The rest of the Red-Lined Motorsport teams all brought their vehicles home safe and sound with Nic Pienaar/Carl Swanepoel (REVO) finishing 12th in the category and fourth in FIA T1 while Johan de Bruyn/Gerhard Schutte (REVO), who won FIA T1 at the season opener, were sixth in the class and 15th overall. New comers, Gerhard and Rudi Heinlein were ninth in FIA T1 in their Red-Lined VK56 with the 18 year-old lady driver from Dubai, Aliyyah Koloc, making her debut in South Africa together with experienced navigator, Riaan Greyling. The team completed the required distance in the Red-Lined VK50 and were 22nd (10th in FIA T1).

There were also solid results in the Production Vehicle Category for Johan and Sean van Staden (Renault Duster) who rounded off the top five in FIA T1 while two more King Price Xtreme teams also got off to a good start. Lance Trethewey/Adriaan Roets (CR6) were the second 2×4 vehicle home and finished 13th (ninth in FIA T1+) despite brake issues while Schalk Burger/Henk Janse van Vuuren (VW Amarok) were the leading Class T team.

Burger/Van Vuuren finished just behind Jürgen Schröder/Stuart Gregory (Nissan Navara) who were eighth in FIA T1 while they were just ahead of the father and son team of Hendrik and Heinrich du Plessis in the Class T Ford Ranger.

There were problems for Ernest Roberts/Jaco van Aardt (CR6) who lost time when they got stuck after overshooting while Simon Murray/Achim Bergmann rolled their WCT HT2 Toyota.

In the Special Vehicle Category, the defending overall and Class A champions, Tim Howes/Gary Campbell (BAT Spec 4) celebrated racing on home soil again by posting the fastest time. They were followed by Lood du Preez/Nick van Zyl (Farmers Meat Stryker) who got lost during the latter part of the race. Trace Price Moor/Gareth Aiston (BAT Venom) were third overall and in Class A, just ahead of John Thomson/Maurice Zermatten (Zarco Challenger) who made a welcome comeback after taking a sabbatical.

Eugene Bierman/Pieter Visser (BAT Spec 2) were fourth in Class A while the Makenete brothers, Keith and Andrew (BAT Makmobile) did not finish.

Ewald van Rensburg/Johan Scheepers (Can-Am Maverick) are leading Class G and finished fifth in the Special Vehicle Category. They were followed closely by Theo Erasmus/Edward Odendaal who were second and third-placed Glen Theron/Craig Galvin who were sixth and seventh respectively in the category. Francois and Neil de Wit were fourth.

It will be an uphill battle for the defending champions, Ian and Werner Mostert (Moto-Netix Racing Can-Am Maverick) who experienced mechanical issues early in the race. Geoff Minnitt/Gerhard Snyman are taking on the Sugarbelt 400 with their Class G Can-Am Maverick, but a broken propshaft forced them to call it a day.
Grant Watkins/Mark Irvine (Zarco) got back into rhythm and finished as the lonely Class P entrants.

With the 10 leading teams drawing for their starting positions for Saturday, Botterill/Vacy Lyle will open the road followed by Woolridge/Gilbert, Lategan/Cummings and the Pirelli Qualifying race winners, Gareth Woolridge/Dreyer will start fourth. De Villiers/Murphy will start in fifth place. Basson/Pienaar will be sixth with Baragwanath/Cremer seventh; Els/Vonk in eighth; the Horn brothers in ninth place and Bertholdt/Köhne in 10th place.

Teams will take on the two 160km loops at 8:00 from the Beaumont Farmers Club at Eston where the Designated Service Point (DSP) as well as Race Headquarters will be situated.

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: SA National Cross Country Series (Charmaine Fortune)

Photography by: Plan C Productions

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