Tarlton, Saturday – Ford Racing scored a stunning double in the Production Vehicle category at the RFS Magalies 400, round one of the Absa Off Road Championship, which ended here today.
Former South African champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst scored a comfortable victory ahead of team-mates Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable with both crews out in factory Ford Ranger TDCi entries. In hot and dusty conditions on a tough route Visser and Badenhorst never put a wheel wrong to come home seven minutes ahead of Woolridge and Huxtable.
It was an historic result for Ford Racing who picked up their first one/two result in the Absa series. It was the perfect start to the season for Ford who were also the first manufacturer to win a South African national event using diesel power when team principal Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer won the Toyota Dealer 400 three seasons ago..
“We were excited about the car in pre season testing and we had a great race,” said Visser. “It was hot, dusty with a very tight and tricky route and the key was not to make mistakes.
“It’s always nice to win but this was a great team effort and Lance and Ward, along with the technical crew, did a great job. We could not have asked for a better start to the year.”
Both Ford Ranger teams had solid Donaldson Prologues which on Friday decided grid positions for the race. Visser/Badenhorst were second with Woolridge/Huxtable fifth, and by the end of the second of the three loops that made up the race the two crews were firmly in control of matters.
Prologue winners Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau were early casualties in the Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux, and Visser and Badenhorst were quickly into a lead they were never to relinquish. Pikkie Labuschagne/Rikus Erasmus (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux) and Malcolm Kock/Johan Burger (Kock and Son Toyota Hilux) also ran into problems and that moved Woolridge and Huxtable up the race order.
A typically steady performance saw Terence Marsh and George Smalberger, in the Regent Racing Nissan Navara, take the other podium place on offer. The conditions negated heroics and by the start of the final loop Marsh and Smalberger were well placed to get their season off to a solid start.
There was also a good result for Pretoria pair Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren who were fourth in the RFS BMW X3. A strangely subdued Duncan Vos and Rob Howie (Castrol Toyota Hilux), fresh from Dakar Rally heroics, rounded out the top five and came home only 19 seconds behind the RFS BMW.
Last year’s winners Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege, in the second RFS BMW X3, were sixth and a steady drive took Hugo de Bruyn and Henri Hugo into seventh place in the Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux. Only 20 seconds behind them were Cliff Weichelt, who now lives in Perth, and Johann Smalberger who rounded out the top eight and took Class D honours in the N1 4×4 Toyota Land Cruiser.
Graham and Trevor Leith brought the first factory Ford Ranger ever built home in ninth place, and a brave effort saw Anthony Taylor and Chris Birkin sneak into the top 10 in the second Castrol Toyota Hilux. After a disastrous Donaldson Prologue to determine grid positions, Taylor and Birkin were forced to set off in the mass start at the back of the field after ripping off a wheel after a confrontation with a large rock.
Class D champions Jack and Sarel Oosthuizen (Land Rover) missed the prologue but recovered to finish second in Class D.
Class E honours went to Dirk Putter and Koos Claasens in the Sizwe Toyota Hilux with the pair coming home ahead of the Transcor Toyota Hilux of Diederik Hattingh and Buks Cilliers. Third were Rowan Lamb and Lyle Parker who were having their first national championship outing in a Ford Ranger. While champagne flowed for Visser and Badenhorst, there was disappointment for Visser’s brother Jannie and Joks le Roux in the International Truck Toyota Hilux.
Visser and le Roux, the reigning SA champions, were early casualties with steering rack problems forcing them out of action. Other high profile casualties were Mike Whitehouse and Mathew Carlson in the second Regent Racing Nissan Navara, and Labuschagne and Erasmus in the Ruwacon Toyota Hilux.