WINTERTON, KwaZulu-Natal – A qualifying route, described by many of the competitors in the Berg 400, Round 2 of the 2019 South African Cross Country Series (SACCS) as “brutally tough”, marked the start of the race weekend’s proceedings. While the aim of the qualifying race is to determine the starting positions for the main race on the Saturday of each race weekend, the route near the KwaZulu-Natal Town of Winterton served as a stern test in its own right and will long be remembered as one of the most difficult on record.
Despite a number of overshoots and struggling to find the route in the long grass, Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Giniel de Villiers and navigator Dennis Murphy (Class FIA Toyota Hilux) emerged victorious at the end of the 57 km-long qualifier. The pair posted a time of 38:36 beating teammates Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings by 14 seconds.
“It was really tough out there today, but I’m sure it was the same for everyone,” said defending SACCS champion, De Villiers, after returning to the DSP. “We couldn’t see the route very well, nearly got stuck in a mud hole and caught one of the Special Vehicles near the end. But overall, we can’t complain about the result.”
The Class FIA podium was rounded out by Atlas Copco’s Chris Visser and Phillip Herselman in their Toyota Hilux. They went fourth-fastest overall, after suffering power steering problems mid-way through the qualifier, pushing them wide on the tighter corners.
Behind the top three came a gaggle of Class FIA competitors, all reporting difficulties finding the route and coping with the often-challenging conditions. Shameer Variawa/Juan Möhr (Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux) set a blistering pace early on but got stuck in the dust of slower competitors mid-way through the stage, ending up fourth in class as a result. Behind the Toyota crew, Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson recorded a clean run in their Elf Renault Duster; while Namibians Jaco van Dyk and Michel Rust (Red-Lined Motorsport Nissan Navara) seemed to find it difficult to get to grips with the conditions in Winterton.
The Class FIA scoreboard was completed by Schalk Burger/Elvene Vonk; Terence Marsh and celebrity navigator Letshego Zulu in their Red-Lined Motorsport Nissan Navara; and Dubai Thomas Bell and navigator Patrick McMurren in a similar car.
Spare a thought for Red-Lined Motorsport’s Ernest Roberts and Riaan Greyling, who failed to complete the qualifying race after hitting a gate post with interest, ripping the front wheel off their Nissan Navara in the process. They’ll start the race from the back of the field.
In Class T, it was the Ford Castrol Cross Country Team’s Lance Woolridge and navigator Ward Huxtable who set the pace in their Ford Ranger. The Natalians posted a time of 39:20, placing them not only third in the overall standings, but also 1:30 ahead of archrivals Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Hilux).
“As with the other crews, we found it tricky to pick up the route in places,” said Woolridge after the qualifier. “But we enjoyed the balance between the different terrain types, and we had a clean run.”
Third in Class T was Atlas Copco’s Gary Bertholdt and navigator Geoff Minnitt, who might have posted a faster time, had the fire extinguisher in their Toyota Hilux not triggered by itself. Veteran racer Bertholdt, who has now competed in excess of 100 cross country races, managed to retain control of the car, and ended the qualifier half a minute down on the Horn brothers ahead of them.
Brazilians Marcos Baumgart and Kleber Cincea, in a second Ford Castrol Cross-Country Ranger, beat Jacques van Tonder and Sammy Redelinghuys to the flag, after the latter pairing got lost on the route, and hemorrhaged time as a result. Richard Leeke and Danie Stassen also lost time after the wipers on their ATS Ford Ranger failed mid-way through the stage, forcing the pair to stop four times to clean their windscreen. The final runner in Class T was Wors Prinsloo and Kenneth Venter (Ford Ranger), competing in their first national event.
Representation in Class S was restricted to a single car in the form of David Huddy and Gerhard Schutte in their Nissan Navara. The pair completed the qualifier in a time of 49:30, placing them 20th in the overall standings.
Championship points leaders Lance Trethewey and Adriaan Roets continued their good form by dominating the qualifying race for Special Vehicles. The big man was happy with his result, reveling in the tough conditions and building an advantage of just under two minutes over the Total Agri Porter of the husband and wife pairing of Jaco and Sandra Jonck. The ever-cheerful Sandra, who took over driving duties after her father, Coetzee, retired from racing at the end of 2018, enjoyed the fast sections of the route, but was frustrated by the challenging navigation.
Third in Class A was the BAT Warbird of John Telford and Victor Ntsekhe, who suffered an intercom failure on the start line. The pair had to rely on their own sign language, which they’ve developed over the many years racing together, and managed to stay in the fight as a result. They’ll start 35 seconds behind the Joncks, but more than three minutes ahead of the Voigt brothers, Ralph and André, who reported a great run until a left rear puncture cost them six minutes near the end of the stage.
Podium finishers from Round 1, Taahir and Talha Moosajee, had a good start to their qualifier, but then their Stryker developed brake problems before suffering electrical failure, forcing them to retire. This may not bode well for their race, but a similar situation at the Mpumalanga 400 saw them take second place despite starting from the back of the field.
Class P saw Nic Goslar and Andrew Massey SA Clinics Zarco Magnum pip Keith Makenete and Ntaote Bereng in their BAT to the finish line in a time of 50:27.
The side-by-side category saw Ashley Bradbury and Henry Kohne triumph in their Can-Am Maverick, posting a time that sees them three and a half minutes clear of Dakar hopeful Gerry van Byl and navigator Andrew Katay.
The G66 Can-Am Maverick of Peter Walter and Shaun de Villiers were a further 21 second adrift, in third place – beating class stalwarts, Werner and Leon Mostert, by eight minutes, after the latter pairing struggled to find the start of the qualifying race.
The main race will take place over two loops of 163 km, with the action set to start at 08:00 on Saturday, 18 May. The race HQ and DSP are set at the Waffle Hut, on the R600 south of Winterton.