Brakpan, Saturday – Former champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst today revived their Production Vehicle title hopes when they won the 4×4 Mega World 400, round six of the Absa Off Road Championship, which ended here today.
The Ford Racing Ranger crew came in two minutes and 39 seconds ahead of veterans Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege, in the RFS BMW X3, to score their second victory of the season. It was a timely win that kept Visser/Badenhorst in the championship frame with unofficial scoring now putting the pair 24, 5 points behind championship leaders Duncan Vos and Rob Howie, in the Team Castrol Toyota Hilux, with two races left.
After an early scare when they dumped the Castrol Toyota Hilux on its side, Vos and Howie recovered to finish fourth behind Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable in the second factory Ford Racing Ranger. It was the second time this season the two Ford Racing crews finished on the podium.
Victory completed a good weekend for Visser and Badenhorst who also won the Donaldson Prologue to determine race grid positions. A trouble free run saw the Ford crew then lead the race from start to finish with Grobler/ter Stege struggling with power steering and brake problems.
“This has come just at the right time,” said Visser. “We have not had much luck in recent events and broke a rear anti roll bar 10 kilometres into the race.
“It affected the handling but it was good to win and it was a great result for the team to also have Lance and Ward on the podium.”
There was a further bonus for Ford when they took the manufacturers award. The two Ford Racing factory teams combined with privateers Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling in the Ruwacon Racing Ford Ranger to edge out Toyota.
Woolridge and Huxtable also put disappointing recent performances behind them and were around seven minutes ahead of Vos and Howie. The Team Castrol Toyota crew recovered well from their early scare and a late puncture to finish a minute and 21 seconds clear of Mike Whitehouse and Matthew Carlson, who battled a misfire and clutch problem to complete the top five in the Regent Racing Nissan Navara.
Vos and Howie went into the event chasing a fourth win that would virtually have wrapped up the championship. A penalty that dropped them down the pecking order on the recent Sun City 400 could also come back to haunt the Toyota crew.
After two non finishes in a row Gary Bertholdt, with Ralph Pitchford alongside him in the Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux, bounced back to finish sixth. They were just over a minute ahead of Ruwacon crew de Bruin and Greyling, with South African champions Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux next up in the International Truck Toyota Hilux.
A solid ninth place represented a good result for Terence Marsh and George Smalberger who were out for the first time in the V8 powered Regent Racing Nissan Navara. The SA Warranties Nissan Navara, crewed by experienced Archie Rutherford and former Springbok rugby player Stefan Terblanche, completed the top 10 with the pair recovering well from a disappointing prologue result.
An ultra fast route took its toll on some fancied crews. Sun City 400 winners Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren (RFS BMW X3) retired after an early roll while Anthony Taylor and Chris Birkin, in the second Team Castrol Toyota Hilux, went out with suspension damage after hitting a ditch. The incident dropped Taylor/Birkin to third in the championship behind Visser and Badenhorst and was a major blow for du Plooy and Janse van Vuuren.
A hugely competitive Class D outing eventually saw championship leaders Cliff Weichelt, who commutes between Australia and South Africa for races, and Johann Smalberger (N1 4×4 Toyota Land Cruiser) edge out Mpumalanga brothers Johan and Werner Horn in the Malalane Toyota Land Cruiser. In a desperately close finish just four seconds separated Weichelt/Smalberger and the Horns with Dana Vos and Johan Vlok third in the Vossie Toyota Hilux.
Winning has become a habit this season for Class E championship leaders Dirk Putter and Koos Claasens (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) and they were at it again to score their fifth success in six races. The pair were more than 15 minutes clear of Diederik Hattingh and Gary Austin (Transcor Toyota Hilux) and have a tight hold on the championship.
Perseverance paid off for the Force Fuel Toyota Hilux pair Johan Griffioen and Willem Marais with the Northern Region championship graduates taking a hard earned third place.