With the start of the 2019 South African Cross Country Series (SACCS) just weeks away, Dullstroom, the fly-fishing capital of the country, is gearing up for round one of the season. The tranquil town and its surroundings will play host to world class racing action on 15 and 16 March, when South Africa’s premiere motorsport championship rolls into town.
The SACCS championship is widely regarded as one of the most professional and competitive cross country series in the world. As a matter of fact, the series has served as a breeding ground for many international successes.
Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s recent victory in South America was historic for many reasons – it was the first time that a petrol-powered car has won the Dakar Rally since it moved to the continent in 2009; it was the first time that a South African-built car has won the grueling event; and possibly most importantly, it proved that South African motorsport can compete with the best and biggest budgets in the world.
“Winning the Dakar is never easy,” said Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall, of their victory. “There are a lot of people trying, and sometimes it is lady luck that has the biggest say. With that said, we firmly believe in Gary Player’s approach – the more we practice, the luckier we get.”
For Toyota Gazoo Racing, this means honing the Toyota Hilux by running regular tests, but also taking part in the South African Cross Country championship. Hall has praised the series on many occasions, highlighting the diversity of terrain, tough weather conditions and stern competition as some of the key factors in their preparation for the Dakar Rally.
“Don’t get me wrong: We don’t race in the SACCS simply to develop our car for Dakar. We race to win, wherever we go – but the SACCS serves as an amazing platform for us and were it not for the quality of our local championship, we’d stand no chance internationally,” continued Hall.
Over the last eight years, the Toyota Hilux has proved itself on the global stage. Winning Dakar 2019, in the hands of Nasser Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel, may have been the crowning glory. But don’t forget the Hallspeed outfit also builds a significant number of cars for export, with the result there were more Toyota Hilux taking part in Dakar 2019 than any other brand.
“We partner with Overdrive Racing in Europe, in order to supply and service our South African-built Hilux wherever their customers race. This includes races as far afield as Russia, China, Qatar and many other locations.”
A total of thirteen South African-built Toyota Hilux race vehicles lined up for this year’s Dakar Rally, three of them racing under the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA banner. But they certainly weren’t the only South African-built cars taking part in the race.
Red-Lined Motorsport had three of their locally built and developed Nissan Navaras competing at Dakar 2019. Former South African Cross Country champion Shameer Variawa campaigned one; while Thomas Bell took charge of another. The third car was entered and run by Jurgen Schröder, who, just like Bell and Variawa, is no stranger to the South African Cross Country Series.
“To us the SACCS has offered the opportunity not only to develop our cars, but also to expose international competitors, such as Thomas Bell and Jurgen Schröder to the local series. We have been fortunate to be able to take our cars racing across the globe, including South America for the Dakar, and have the SACCS to thank for that,” said Red-Lined Motorsport’s Terence Marsh of their recent exploits. “We have twenty cars taking part in races globally at present.”
Century Racing also had a horse in the Dakar Rally, in the form of the Aldo Racing CR6 – built and developed right here in South Africa. Canadian entrepreneur, David Bensadoun and co-driver Patrick Beaulé had their sights set on victory in Class T1.3 for amateurs racing two-wheel-drive cars, but sadly they only completed two stages of the grueling marathon.
In the end nearly half the Toyota Hilux race vehicles that started Dakar 2019 completed the event – including the one that made it to the very top step of the podium. But beyond the locally built cars, Dakar 2019 also saw a wealth of South Africans working and competing at the rally.
“Our crews hone their skills here at home, working tirelessly to build the machines that go racing overseas,” continued Marsh. “But they also work at each of the SACCS events, getting to know the cars intimately, preparing for those times when the going gets tough. I dare say the South African crews are among the very finest in the world.”
Ford, through Neil Woolridge Motorsport, has also had a stake in international races for a number of years. Dakar 2019 saw only a single South African-built Ford race, in the hands of Nicolas Fuchs, the car finished in a highly respectable 16th position. Ford NWM has 15 Fords competing internationally at present.
Lance Woolridge, defending Class T champion, also worked as team manager for the Brazilian Team X-Rally at Dakar 2019, helping the team to achieve a 6th and 9th place in the highly competitive SxS category.
“There is no doubt the magnificent performance by the Toyota Gazoo SA team on the Dakar Rally will provide the SACCS series with a major boost this year,” said SACCS CEO Archie Rutherford.
Rutherford added that the Dakar and other international cross country exploits by South African teams and constructors once again underlined the competitive nature of the championship. The domestic series has long been regarded as the toughest championship of its kind in the world, and the numerous international results reflect this fact.
“The Dakar proved when it comes to cross country racing, we have the technology, the personnel and the professionalism to take on anyone in the world,” Rutherford said. “There is also no doubt whatsoever the SACCS series provides the platform for performances of which we are all extremely proud.
The Mpumalanga 400 gets underway with a 45 kilometre qualifying race to determine grid positions on Friday, 15 March at 13:30. The main race on Saturday, 16 March will be run over a 180 kilometre loop that will be repeated twice.
There will be a compulsory 30 minute service break and regroup after the first loop. The second loop will start at 12.00.
Race headquarters and the designated service park (DSP) will be located at the Village Green Cricket Oval. Public entrance to these areas and vantage points along the route is free of charge, while various community organisations in Dullstroom will offer a variety of food and beverages.