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The 40 kilometre Pirelli Qualifying Race of the Waterberg 400, the seventh and final round of the SA Rally-Raid Championship that takes place this weekend, 10 and 11 November in the Thabazimbi area in Limpopo Province, set the scene for an intriguing race that will settle the 2023 titles. A new venue levels the playing field and adds to the suspense in both the Production Vehicle Championship and the Special Vehicle Championship.

The Waterberg 400 consists of the qualifier on Friday that determines the starting order for the first of the two 178 km loops on Saturday with all the action happening from the Koedoeskop Laerskool. And it all happened quite quickly.

The overall and FIA T1+ leaders in the Production Vehicle Championship, Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer (NWM Ford Castrol Ranger T1+) were the first team to open the road and enjoyed the tight and technical route albeit in blistering conditions until a flat tyre 10 kilometres before the finish cost them valuable time.

Woolridge/Dreyer had to settle for the ninth place in the overall standings and eight in FIA T1+, a minute and 33 seconds behind the fastest team, Guy Botterill and Brett Cummings (Toyota Gazoo Racing DKR T1+) with Botterill in with a chance on the Overall and FIA T1+ Driver’s Championship title. It is the first race for together for Botterill/Cummings with Cummings, who is second in the Navigator’s championships, a free agent as his driver, Henk Lategan, is still recuperating after his shoulder operation due to a previous injury and injuries after crashing at the penultimate event. The team overshot twice, but that did not put a damper on their performance and Botterill’s aim for a second overall victory and the title.

Saood Variawa has teamed up with French navigator, Francois Cazalet with the team qualifying second fastest, 28 seconds behind their Toyota Gazoo Racing DKR Hilux T1+ teammates. Cazalet was in awe of the SARRC and enjoyed the professional level of the race. They were followed by the second NWM Ford Castrol T1+ Ranger of Lance Woolridge/Kenny Gilbert, a mere 11 seconds behind. Gary Bertholdt/Henry Köhne (Toyota Hilux T1+) were fourth in a time of 27 minutes 32 seconds with Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy in the third Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux DKR T1+ rounding off the top five (27 min. 46 s).

The Blignaut brothers, Fouche and Bertus (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid Toyota DKR T1+) finished just outside the top five, five seconds behind De Villiers/Murphy and were followed by the first 2×4 team in FIA T1+, Lance Trethewey/Adriaan Roets (King Price Xtreme Century Racing CR6) who finished in a time of 28 min 11 s despite losing time overshooting.

Eben Basson/Leander Pienaar (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid) started their final onslaught to defend their FIA T1 championship successfully by finishing the qualifying race in the lead in FIA T1. They were eighth overall in the Production Vehicle Category. There was some bad luck for their closest rivals, Johan de Bruyn/Gerhardt Schutte (Red-Lined Motorsport REVO T1) who crashed into a tree and will have their work cut out for them as they will have to start towards the back of the field due to them not being able to complete the qualifier. Their team-mates, Gerhard and Rudi Heinlein (Red-Lined VK56) were second fastest in FIA T1 and rounded off the overall top 10 with another Red-Lined Motorsport team, Philip Botha/Roedolf Janse van Vuren (VK56) 12th overall and rounding off the FIA T1 podium.

Also in the top 15 were Schalk Burger/Henk Janse van Vuuren (King Price Xtreme VW Amarok) who were 11th and leading Class T. Two international teams also got their Waterberg 400 off to a good start. The Spaniards, Daniel Alonso/Alejandro Lopez brought their NWM Ford Ranger T1+ home in 13th place overall – they were ninth in FIA T1+ with the Dutch regulars of Dave Klaassen/Tessa Rooth (Red-Lined Motorsport VK56) 15th and 10th in FIA T1+. Johan and his son, Sean van Staden (Renault Duster) posted the fourth fastest time in FIA T1 and finished 14th overall.

The top 20 in the overall Production Vehicle Category was rounded out by Lood du Preez/Junior Vardy (Farmers Meat Abattoirs CR6) in 16th place followed by Brian Baragwanath/Leonard Cremer who are still in the process of developing the Century Racing CR7 Twin-Turbo in 17th place. The German driver, Jurgen Schröder and Ryan Bland (Nissan Navara) finished 18th; the Australians, Adam Kaplan/Dale Moscatt (Red-Lined REVO T1+) completed their SA debut in 19th place followed by the second Farmers Meat Abattoirs CR6 team of Eugene Bierman/Marius Lombard.

In the Special Vehicle Category, it was once again the defending overall and Class A champions, Tim Howes/Gary Campbell (BAT Spec 4) who will start in the lead after posting the quickest time (29min 24s). The team has already secured their titles but aim to finish their season on a high with another victory.
Behind them the Class G title battle got off to a gruelling start with class leaders and title contenders,

Geoff Minnitt/Rodney Burke (Hydro Power Equipment Can-Am Maverick) posting the second fastest overall time in the category while also leading Class G. They got their title onslaught off to a good start by posting the fastest time (31 min 03s), albeit a mere 12 seconds faster than their title rivals, Ian and Werner Mostert (Moto-Netix Racing Can-Am Maverick).

The Mostert father and son team are in a tight spot as their team-mates, Glen Theron/Craig Galvin, are not only giving them a run for their money in their aim for the title, but if they miss out on the title, they are still in with a chance for the runner-up result. This three-way battle will keep all three the teams on their toes and will keep their supporters on the edge of their seats until the end.

Francois and Neil de Witt were fourth fastest in Class G (32 min 52s) with Ewald van Rensburg/Johan Scheepers bringing up the rears (41 min 44s).

On Saturday, teams have two loops of 178 kilometres each to go for gold with national championship titles, podium results and the best possible standings the ultimate goal.

The racing action starts at 08:00 from the Koedoeskop Laerskool where the Designated Service Point as well as Race Headquarters will be situated while the Finish and the podium ceremonies will also be taking place there.

The Waterberg 400 can be followed on the RallySafe App available for download, at no charge, from the iStore and Google PlayStore or 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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