The Atlas Copco 400, round four of the South African National Cross Country Series (SACCS) that took place this weekend at a dry and dusty Bronkhorstspruit will be remembered by the event sponsors as an extremely successful event as both their teams finished on the podium of the Production Vehicle category. It will also be remembered by many as a race where the navigators had to pull out all the stops for teams to get the best result possible.
It was also a memorable occasion for Henk Lategan/Barry White (Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux) who scored their first victory in a round of the series although they tasted victory in the first heat of the recent Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race.
Lategan/White started the race in second position after the 40 kilometre qualifying dash on Friday but suffered a flat tyre early in the day. The same fate befell race leaders, Chris Visser/Philip Herselman (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) before the halfway mark resulting in Lategan/White overtaking them to take the overall laurels while they also claimed the FIA Class victory.
Visser/Herselman trailed the winners by 3 min. 22 sec. and were happy to share the podium with their team-mates, Gary Bertholdt/Geoff Minnitt who walked away with the Class T victory despite having problems with their GPS during the first of the two 170km loops. Atlas Copco also claimed the Team Award while Visser/Herselman were the highest placed privateer team in the Production Vehicle category.
Bertholdt/Minnitt had a close battle with the NWM Ford Ranger team of Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer who started the race from third place. The Ford team suffered two punctures during the first half of the race and finished a mere 53 seconds behind Bertholdt/Minnitt to claim the runner up spot in Class T.
It was a nerve wrecking event for the Horn brothers, Werner and Johan, who started the qualifying race from the back of the field after suffering engine failure during an early morning test session on Friday and had to replace the engine of their Malalane Toyota Hilux. On Saturday they experienced alternator problems and lost time repairing at the service point. Their perseverance paid off and they were rewarded with a podium position in Class T and a fifth place overall. They were extremely lucky as a mere second separated them from Johan van Staden/Mike Lawrenson (Elf Renault DE Team Duster) after a total of 380 kilometres of tough cross country racing.
The Renault team claimed the final podium position in the FIA Class and were sixth overall. While Van Staden/Lawrenson finished only a second behind the Horn brothers, they were chased by the second NWM Ford Ranger of Lance Woolridge/Ward Huxtable who also lost time with a flat tyre early in the race. The pair had to settle for seventh place overall and fourth in Class T, only 17 seconds behind the Elf Renault team.
There was also a top 10 finish for Terence Marsh and celebrity navigator and Dakar Rally hero, Joey Evans (Red-Lined Motorsport Nissan Navara) who swopped two wheels for four and adapted well to reading the notes and not being in control behind the handle bars of his motorcycle. It was an incredible experience for Evans who was paralyzed just over 10 years ago after an accident during a motorcycle race and had to learn to walk again and then fulfilled his dream by finishing the Dakar Rally last year. He admitted that he was lifted out of his comfort zone, but the team did well to finish fourth in the FIA Class while they were eighth overall.
The Brazilian Cross Country champions, Marcos Baumgart/Kleber Cincea (Ford NWM Ranger) scored another good result in South Africa, they lost time during the qualifying race as they got lost, but that did not stop them and they finished fifth in Class T and were ninth overall. Jacques van Tonder/Sammy Redelinghuys (Ford Ranger) rounded off the top 10 and scored valuable points in Class T.
There were disappointments for the overall and FIA Class leader, Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux) who started the race in seventh place after losing time with a flat tyre during the qualifying event. De Villiers admitted the race was tougher than expected and a puncture during the first half of the race cost them valuable time. They had no luck during the second part of the race when they had to call it a day due to an alternator belt that came off.
There was also bad luck for Brian Baragwanath/Leonard Cremer (CR 5) who were running at the front at one stage, but the team had to retire after damaging their vehicle in a racing incident. Mark Corbett/Juan Möhr (CR 6) lost all instrumentation during the first half of the race and retired with overheating problems.
The Class S winners, David Huddy/Gerhard Schutte (Nissan Navara) were delighted with their class victory. They finished just outside the top 10 with the rest of the Class S podium consisting of Jannie and Chris Visser (Toyota Hilux) who could not complete qualifying but were happy to finish the race. Rory Eland, who participated in his first cross country race, rounded off the Class S podium with navigator, Robbie Coetzee (Ford Ranger).
A broken left front drive shaft forced Richard Leeke/Danie Stassen (BMW X3) to limp home after qualifying, but they persevered and received the chequered flag as the seventh team in Class T while they finished 12th overall. They were followed by the Red-Lined Motorsport Nissan Navara of George Smalberger/Chris Brand.
Toyota won the coveted Manufacturer’s Award.
The fifth round of the SACCS takes place at the Eeram Farmers Complex on the outskirts of Harrismith on 14 and 15 September.