A close battle can be expected between team-mates and teams in the Production Vehicle category of the Mpumalanga 400 this weekend after an intense 67km Qualifying race to determine the starting grid for the race today.
It will be Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Henk Lategan and newcomer navigator, Brett Cummings (Toyota Hilux) who will be leading the field after they completed the qualifying race 26 seconds faster than their team-mates, Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy in a similar version of the Toyota Hilux that won the 2019 Dakar Rally earlier this year.
According to De Villiers, who won this event last year together with navigator, Rob Howie, it was a good route which they took easy. There was some mud, but nothing like last year and the scenic area made for an enjoyable race. The two Toyota Gazoo Racing teams will also be leading the Class FIA battle.
A third Toyota Hilux in the hands of Johan and Werner Horn (Malelane Toyota) was fastest in Class T and will tackle the event today in third place. They were, however, only 17 seconds faster than the defending champions, Lance Woolridge/Ward Huxtable (Ford Castrol Cross Country Racing Ranger) and the battle for the title seems to be on from the start.
The four seconds that separate the Ford Ranger team from Gary Bertholdt/Geoff Minnitt (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) just behind them, underlines the fact that the battle lines in Class T have been drawn. Bertholdt/Minnitt also had a clean and enjoyable run despite the second half of the route being quite rocky with ruts and wash-a-ways.
Sixth fastest in the Production Vehicle category, was the Elf Renault DE Duster of Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson. They trailed Bertholdt/Minnitt by 50 seconds and rounded off the Class FIA podium for the qualifying race. Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer (Ford Castrol Cross Country Racing Ranger) started their season on a positive note by posting the fourth fastest time in Class T.
They had to open the road after the draw and were the first team to take on the slippery route. They were, however, only 19 seconds off the pace of the Renault Duster in front of them. “It was challenging and hard work for the navigator and the driver,” Woolridge commented afterwards.
Jaco van Dyk and Michael Rust (Red-Lined Motorsport Nissan Navara) enjoyed their first ever SACCS event and had a clean run. They did find the race as being ‘rougher than a rally’ though. The Namibians finished eighth in the Production Vehicle category and fourth in Class FIA. Their team-mates, Ernest Roberts/Riaan Greyling were 24 seconds behind and were followed by Chris Visser/Philip Herselman (Atlas Copco SA Toyota Hilux) rounding off the top 10.
Richard Leeke/Danie Stassen (ATS Ford Ranger) enjoyed their new race vehicle although they experienced overheating problems 20 kilometres into the event that forced them to back off to ensure they finish the Qualifying race. Schalk Burger/Elvené Vonk (Nissan Navara) are also busy finding their feet in the Production Vehicle category and were 12th fastest with the lonely Class S entry of David Huddy/Gerhard Schutte (Nissan Navara) just behind them. Shameer Variawa/Juan Möhr (Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux), who joined the team earlier this year were 14th.
Jacques van Tonder/Sammy Redelinghuys (Ford Ranger) will bring up the rear of the Production Vehicle category after receiving a 5 minute penalty for an infringement of the rules.
Terence Marsh and André Vermeulen (Red-Lined Motorsport Nissan Navara) failed to complete the Qualifying race.
All the action takes place from the Village Green Cricket Oval in Dullstroom where the Start/Finish as well as the designated service area (DSP) and Race Headquarters will be. The race will start at 08:30 from the cricket oval. After completing the first of two 160km loops, the teams will enjoy a 30 minute compulsory break when enthusiasts and supporters can get up close and personal with their favourite teams for poster signing before they leave to take on the final loop.
SACCS enthusiasts can follow the Mpumalanga 400 on the RallySafe App available to be downloaded free for iOS and Android devices.