PROUDLY SOUTH AFRICAN NISSANS DOMINATE NISSAN SUGARBELT 400 OFF-ROAD RACE
Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke, driving their Proudly South African class T Nissan Hardbody, won the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 national championship off-road race near Pietermaritzburg on Saturday in a time of 6h 22m 47s. They were followed home in the 400-km event SA off-road championship, by team-mates and reigning Production Vehicle champions, Duncan Vos and Mike Griffith, in their 3-litre V6 Double Cab in 6h 50m 05s.
Third was the class E Ford Ranger of Manfred Schroder and Jack Peckham, who finished 34 minutes behind the winners.
It was Nissan’s ninth successive national championship off-road victory, stretching back to last year’s Nissan Sugarbelt 400 when the sponsor’s also enjoyed a 1-2 win. Grobler and Leeke extended their winning streak in South Africa’s increasingly popular form of motor sport to five events, following their victory in the season-opening Nissan Dealer 400 in the Western Cape in March.
In the process Grobler, one of SA’s most enduring and popular motor sportsmen, equalled his own record of consecutive wins, achieved with Piet Swanepoel in a Nissan Safari pickup in 1986.
The Nissan Sugarbelt 400 was round two of the 2003 SA Off-Road Championship, which is presented by Bankfin, the specialist vehicle finance division of Absa, and Ford, Nissan and Toyota.
The traditionally tough event, held in he canefields and forests of the Beaumont/Eston area of KwaZulu Natal, took its usual toll of vehicles, with 33 of the 79 starters completing Saturday’s race. With three in the top 10, Nissan also won the manufacturers’ team prize.
While Grobler and Leeke had a relatively trouble-free run – they were slowed by an irregular but persistent misfire – Nissan Motorsport team-mates and winners of the 2002 Nissan Sugarbelt 400, Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan, retired with a steering problem 60 km from the finish while lying a comfortable second. They had earlier led the race from the 08:00 start, but de Villiers, South African hero of the 2003 Dakar international rally in which he finished fifth in a Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody at his first attempt, uncharacteristically suffered severe car sickness and was unable to race at full pace. He was put on a drip after his retirement.
Vos also suffered car sickness, which forced him to stop several times for relief, and was also put on a drip after he completed the event.
Nissan privateers made a valuable contribution to Nissan’s efforts to retain the manufacturers’ championship they won in 2002. Off-road motorcycle legend Alfie Cox, in only his second event in a Production Vehicle, was a very popular sixth overall and first in class D in his Arnold Chatz Cars Nissan Hardbody, co-driven by Hennie ter Stege.
Former class D champion Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo were ninth overall and second in class D in their Gearbox Services Nissan Hardbody. GBS team-mates Coetzee Labuschagne and Johan Gerber and MC Coetzee and Marius Liebenberg finished 16th and 18th respectively in the Production Vehicle category and sixth and seventh in class D.
The fourth GBS Nissan Hardbody, crewed by husband and wife team JP and Linda Augustin, retired with suspension problems. Neels and wife Zelda van der Walt were 17th overall and sixth in class E after losing time with shock absorber and steering problems on their Nissan Hardbody.
Brothers Jurie and Andre du Plessis retired their BB Auto Nissan Hardbody with radiator problems.
Grobler and Leeke now lead the championship for Production Vehicles with 70 points. They also lead class T. Nissan extended its lead over Toyota in the Manufacturers’ Championship to 161 points. Ford is third.
The next round of the championship is the Toyota 1000 Desert Race on June 13, 14 and 15.
Highlights of the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 will be shown on Supersport’s High-Octane TV programme on May 20 at 20:30.
Provisional results (top 10):
H Grobler/R Leeke (class T Nissan Hardbody) 6h 22m 47s
D Vos/M Griffith (class T Nissan Hardbody) 6h 50m 05s
M Schroder/J Peckham (class E Ford Ranger) 7h 00m 35s
M Cronje/C Birkin (class E Toyota Hilux) 7h 00m 45s
K Coetzee/O Fourie (class E Toyota Hilux) 7h 03m 40s
A Cox/H ter Stege (class D Nissan Hardbody) 7h 10m 01s
C Barker/V Campher (class T Land Rover) 7h 10m 17s
N Woolridge/K Skjoldhammer (class T Ford Ranger) 7h 14m 09s
H Grobler/G Prinsloo (class D Nissan Hardbody) 7h 20m 27s
A van Vuuren/T van Vuuren (class E Nissan Hardbody) 7h 41m 24s