NISSAN WINS NISSAN SUGAR BELT 400
SOUTH AFRICA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP
KwaZulu Natal, SOUTH AFRICA - April 25, 2004
Nissan won the Nissan Sugar belt 400 in KwaZulu Natal on Saturday when veteran off-road racers Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke, driving their Proudly South African class T Nissan Hardbody V6, finished the 400-km event in a time of 6h 22m 47s.
The event, round two of the Absa Off Road Championship, was marred by the tragic death of Mike Stangl, co-driver of Atang Makgekgenene, whose Jimco crashed while competing in the Special Vehicle category. Nissan expresses its deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Mike Stangl.
The reigning national production vehicle off road champions finished 2m 10s ahead of the Ford Ranger V8 of Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer, who in turn were just 26s ahead of the Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody of Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan.
The first four across the finish line at the Beaumont Eston Farmers Club were all class T contenders (for modified production vehicles) with Nissan's third Proudly South African Hardbody in the hands of Duncan Vos and co-driver Hennie ter Stege fourth, 14m 7s behind De Villiers and Jordaan.
Multiple national off-road motor cycle champion and Dakar specialist Alfie Cox and co-driver Ralph Pitchford were fifth overall and first in class D (for near standard six-cylinder production vehicles) in their Nissan Motorsport-prepared Arnold Chatz Cars Hardbody, 8m 47s ahead of the next class D contender, the Ford Ranger of Manfred Schroder and Jack Peckham. They had been quickest among the class D contenders in Friday's 35-km prologue and led the main event from start to finish.
With three in the top four, Nissan also won the manufacturers' team prize for the day, for the second event in succession.
Grobler and Leeke now lead the championship for Production Vehicles with 77 points after two rounds with De Villiers and Jordaan second on 69 points. They also lead class T.
De Villiers and Jordaan, winners of the Nissan Dealer 400 in March, started first after winning the prologue, but lost the lead after about 40 km when a wheel-rim split after they hit a stone in the road. They were later delayed by a puncture and again when they stopped to assist team-mates Vos and ter Stege, who were stuck in a donga.
Grobler and Leeke started 11 seconds behind De Villiers and Jordaan, but dropped back several places when they took a wrong turn early on. They regained the lead after passing team-mates Vos and De Villiers and the Ford of Woolridge and Skjoldhammer by about the 50 km mark and were not headed again.
Nissan privateers made a valuable contribution to Nissan's efforts to retain the manufacturers' championship they won in 2002 and 2003.
Husband and wife team Neels and Zelda van der Walt finished second in class E for the second event in a row and were ninth overall in their Nissan Hardbody.
Johan Gerber and Coetzee Labuschagne finished 13th overall and fourth in class D in their Nissan Hardbody despite losing four wheel drive early in the event.
Reigning class D champion Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo completed the event in their GBS Racing Nissan Hardbody, but were time-barred after being delayed for nearly two hours when they got stuck in a river. They had been in a strong second place in class when they started the last lap, but lost four wheel drive before getting stuck.
Husband-and-wife team JP and Linda Augustin (GBS Racing Nissan Hardbody) stopped to tow their stricken team-mates out of the river and destroyed their clutch in the process, retiring on the spot.
Arnold du Plessis and George Baker were forced out when they broke a wishbone on their BB Auto Nissan Hardbody, while brothers Jurie and Andre du Plessis were also non-finishers in their BB Auto Hardbody after experiencing brake problems on the final section.
The next round of the championship is the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in Botswana on June 11, 12 and 13.