Veteran North West privateers Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux shook the establishment when they won the South African Production Vehicle championship at the RFS Magalies 400, the final race of the Absa Off Road Championship, at Tarlton International Raceway today.
You could have named your own odds at the start of the season against Visser and le Roux winning the championship but second place was enough to clinch the title for the pair, in the International Toyota Hilux, who limped across the finish line with two flat wheels. Visser and le Roux failed to win a race during the season but solid finishes with three podiums saw them home.
The pair were passed four kilometres from the finish by another veteran crew, Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege, who gave the RFS BMW team a dream win first time out in a car now fitted with a V8 petrol engine. Grobler and ter Stege won the opening event of the season in the Western Cape, and ended the year on the same high note.
The final podium place went to Wolmaransstad crew Pikkie Labuschagne and Rikus Erasmus, in the Ruwacon Racing Toyota Hilux, who won the Donaldson Prologue to determine grid positions. The first three cars were covered by just under six minutes.
Visser and le Roux were one of seven teams who started the day with a mathematical chance of lifting the championship. Included among them were Visser’s brother Chris and Japie Badenhorst, the reigning champions, in the Team Ford Ranger.
The Ford crew were the first of the title challengers to fall away with a blown engine on the first of the two loops that made up the race. One by one the other title contenders also fell behind but the two flat wheels, one 10 kilometres out and the other four kilometres from the finish, gave Visser and le Roux a late scare.
“We would love to have won this race, but we’ll take the championship as compensation,” joked a delighted Visser afterwards. “We knew that if we put together a solid run we had a chance of keeping the championship in the Visser family.
“When we were leading at the halfway mark there was a little extra pressure, and the punctures gave us a late scare.”
Grobler and ter Stege reported a clean run but in hot and dusty conditions only got past Visser and le Roux four kilometres from the finish. The RFS BMW was only completed the day before the race with a ‘test session’ turning into a convincing win.
The drive of the day, however, belonged to former champion Duncan Vos and Rob Howie who brought one of the two Team Castrol Toyota Hilux entries home in fourth place. After a disappointing prologue Vos and Howie, who will compete in the Dakar Rally next year, started 11th among the Production Vehicles and 26th on the road.
They were also part of the championship mix at the start of the day, but the leeway proved too much for the pair from a title point of view. Mike Whitehouse/Mathew Carlson (Regent Racing Nissan Navara), Thomas Rundle/Juan Mohr (Barden Racing Nissan Navara), Terence Marsh/George Smalberger (Regent Racing Nissan Navara) and Malcolm Kock/Johann Burger (Kock and Sons Toyota Hilux) also gradually dropped out of title contention.
The top five was completed by outgoing Class D champions Deon Venter and Ian Palmer, in the 4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux, who came in ahead of Louis Weichelt and Francis Boersma in the N1 4×4 Toyota Land Cruiser.
Cliff Weichelt and Johan Smalberger, in a second N1 4×4 Toyota Land Cruiser, were third in Class D ahead of champions Jack and Sarel Oosthuizen in the LMC Land Rover. The Oosthuizens finished every race this season.
The Class E honours went to Dirk Putter and Koos Claassens (Zizwe Toyota Hilux) ahead of Diederik Hattingh/Buks Cilliers, in the Transcor Toyota Hilux, and teenagers Jason Venter and Vincent van Alleman in the 4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux. Unofficial scoring gives the drivers’ championship to Hattingh and the co-driver title to Claassens.