Glenharvie, Friday – Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux crew Gary Bertholdt and Ralph Pitchford today upstaged two factory teams fighting it out for championships when they won the Donaldson Prologue on the Gold 400, final round of the Absa Off Road Championship, here today.
The prologue decided grid positions for tomorrow’s race with Bertholdt and Pitchford coming home 12 seconds ahead of former South African champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst in the works Ford Racing Ranger. The former champions were 36 seconds ahead of Team Castrol Toyota Hilux pair Duncan Vos and Rob Howie with the two teams fighting over the premier SP Class championship.
Unofficial scoring has given the overall Production Car title to Vos and Howie who led home team-mates Anthony Taylor and Chris Birkin, Lance Woolridge/Ward Huxtable in the second Ford Racing Ranger and veteran former SA champions Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege in the RFS BMW X3. Only 29 seconds covered the four crews with the event a sentimental journey for Grobler and ter Stege who will retire after this weekend’s race.
“That was our best prologue of the season, and hopefully the race will go just as well,” said Pitchford afterwards. “We had fun and the route was interesting and well marked.”
The Gold 400 is the third new event on the Absa calendar this season and provided crews with a level playing field. The 60 kilometre route provided for some interesting contrasts with some crews adopting a conservative approach.
“We opted for a cautious run particularly over the rocky patches,” said Vos. “It was a nice and challenging route but it is going to be a difficult race.”
Behind the top six there were a number of other close battles. There was little to choose between Sun City 400 winners Christiaan du Plooy/Henk Janse van Vuuren, in the second RFS BMW, and Free State crews Louw de Bruin/Riaan Greyling (Ruwacon Ford Ranger) and Kobus van Tonder/Freddie Kriel in the UniFreight Ford Ranger.
It was in the next group, however, that things got interesting. Here only three seconds separated Terence Marsh/George Smalberger (Regent Racing Nissan Navara), reigning SA champions Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux (International Toyota Hilux) and Archie Rutherford and cricket legend Jonty Rhodes in the SA Warranties Nissan Navara.
Both the Class D and Class E championships have already been wrapped up. Class D champions Cliff Weichelt and Johann Smalberger (N1 4×4 Toyota Land Cruiser) are sitting this race out with youngsters Jason Venter and Vincent van Alleman (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) producing their best result of the season to lead home outgoing champions Jack and Sarel Oosthuizen in the LMC Land Rover.
There was no surprise in Class E with champions Dirk Putter and Koos Claasens (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) setting the fastest time ahead of team-mate Michael Fine and Dewald Hattingh. Third were KwaZulu-Natal pair Rowan Lamb and Lyle Parker in a Ford Ranger.
Tomorrow’s race starts at 8:30am at the Kloof Country Club in Glenharvie on the West Rand. The route is spectator friendly with race headquarters and the designated service point all located at Kloof Country Club with public entry to these areas free of charge.