The 2019 South African Cross Country Series (SACCS) started on a high note for all the teams who managed to finish the Mpumalanga 400, the opening round that took place at Dullstroom this weekend. Competitors not only scored their first points of the season, but five bonus points were added to their tally the moment they took on the challenging event that was voted the best event on the 2018 calendar.
The season started on a high note for Toyota Gazoo Racing SA who continued their winning streak of 2018 and their recent historic Dakar Rally win earlier this year when they claimed the first two podium positions in the Production Vehicle category at the Dullstroom event. It was, however, the defending champion, Giniel de Villiers, who ticked off his second consecutive Mpumalanga 400 victory when he and navigator, Dennis Murphy, posted the fastest time with their Toyota Hilux.
De Villiers/Murphy started the race behind their Class FIA team-mates, Henk Lategan and new navigator, Brett Cummings and both teams lost some time with punctures. Lategan/Cummings opened the road and the two teams posted the same time after the first of the two 160 kilometre loops, but a few schoolboy errors and working together for the very first time, cost the Lategan/Cummings combination some time and they had to settle for the runner-up position, 34 seconds off the winners’ time.
Smoke inside the cabin of the Ford Castrol Cross Country Racing Ranger of Lance Woolridge/Ward Huxtable that appeared to be from the air conditioning unit, did not stop the Class T defending champions from opening their scorecard with a class victory while they also finished on the third step of the overall Production Vehicle category podium. As in in the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA camp, it was also a good day in the office for the Ford Castrol Cross Country Racing team who claimed the first two spots in the Class T championship with Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer, finishing one minute and seven seconds behind their team-mates.
Slower traffic during the first loop and a flat tyre in the second half of the race, were part of Woolridge/Dreyer’s challenges while they caught their team-mates and followed them in the dust to the finish line.
Gary Bertholdt/Geoff Minnitt (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) had a problematic first loop and lost time with a flat tyre but found their mojo during the second part of the race to finish third in Class T, three minutes and 17 seconds behind the Ford Ranger team. They were fifth overall.
The Horn brothers, Johan and Werner (Malelane Toyota Hilux) were the leading Class T vehicle after the Qualifying race on Friday, but issues with their GPS system during the first loop, resulted in them wrong-slotting and losing valuable time. During the compulsory 30 minute break after the first loop, the GPS aerial was repositioned, and the brothers could find their way. A flat tyre cost them more time and only 27 seconds eventually separated them from Bertholdt/Minnitt, but a fourth place in Class T meant the first points of the season are on the scoreboard.
Ernest Roberts, who participated in only his second SACCS event and navigator, Riaan Greyling, were the first of the Red-Lined Motorsport Nissan Navara teams at the finish and they claimed their first silverware with a third place in the FIA Class.
They were followed by the Class S winners, David Huddy/Gerhard Schutte (Nissan Navara) who finished eighth overall, a mere eight seconds ahead of the second Class FIA Red-Lined Motorsport Nissan Navara in the hands of the Namibian rally driver, Jaco van Dyk and navigator Michael Rust. It was Van Dyk/Rust’s first SACCS event and their learning curve included five punctures during the two loops.
It might not have been the perfect way for Chris Visser/Philip Herselman (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) to start their season as they would have preferred to finish higher up, but a fifth place in the FIA Class meant the first points in the bag.
It was the first time in the Production Vehicle category for Schalk Burger and Elvené Vonk (Nissan Navara) and their efforts resulted in a sixth place in the FIA Class despite a total of four punctures during the race and finishing with no brakes.
Terence Marsh/André Vermeulen (Red-Lined Motorsport Nissan Navara) tackled the race on Saturday from the back as a gear linkage that came loose during the Qualifying race, kept them from posting a qualifying time. They made up for it by completing their new vehicle’s first event and were seventh in the FIA Class.
Jacques van Tonder/Sammy Redelinghuys (Ford Ranger) finished fifth in Class T.
Major race casualties included Johan van Staden/Mike Lawrenson (Elf Renault DE Duster); Richard Leeke/Danie Stassen (ATS Ford Ranger) and Shameer Variawa/Juan Möhr (Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux) who got stuck in a mud hole 98kms from the finish.
In the Special Vehicle category Lance Trethewey/Adriaan Roets (LT Earthmovers BAT Venom) scored a hat-trick of SACCS victories when they took the Mpumalanga 400 win to add to their two victories at the end of the 2018 season. The team had two punctures within the first 30 kilometres of the first loop and had to tread lightly as they had no spare wheels left. They made up for it with a clean second loop to take the overall and Class A win.
Taahir and Talha Moosajee (Tyre Rack Stryker) finished second in Class A in the Special Vehicle category with John Telford/Victor Ntsekhe (Calcamite BAT) rounding off the Class A podium after a few niggling issues like a leaking radiator and not having rear brakes for the last 100 kilometres.
It was the first SACCS outing together for the Jonck couple of Sandra and Jaco (Total Agri Porter) with Sandra behind the wheel. Husband Jaco experienced motion sickness and the team limped home during the first loop due to a broken drive shaft, but they bagged their first points in the Special Vehicle and Class A championships by finishing fourth in class.
The first national championship round of the Side x Side Class attracted four teams all competing with Can-Am Maverick SxS vehicles. It was Werner/Leon Mostert who drew first blood by taking the victory despite a flat tyre and brake problems. Gerry van der Byl/Andrew Katay started fourth in this class and despite it being the motorcycle rider’s first time on four wheels and a few issues, they finished second with Ashley Bradbury/Timmy Botes rounding off the podium. Pieter Walter/Shaun De Villiers won the Qualifying race and were the first SxS on the route, but they had to settle for fourth place after a challenging event that was characterised by rocks, water and mud.
Teams have almost two months to prepare for the second round of the SACCS that will take place from the Waffle Hut on the outskirts of Winterton in KwaZulu-Natal on 17 and 18 May.