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ABSA 2009: Bertholdt/Vermeulen make ABSA Championship History.

The Nissan bogey at Carnival City continued when Gary Bertholdt and Andre Vermeulen won the Production Vehicle category on the Highveld 400 Rally, round six of the South African Absa Off Road Championship.

Bertholdt and Vermeulen, in the Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux, snapped a run of five successive Nissan victories this year and in the process claimed a slice of off road history. The Bertholdt/Vermeulen victory was the first ever by a privateer team running in the premier SP Class.

Nissan did not have a happy record on the East Rand when the race was run as the Carnival City 400 with Toyota and Ford claiming wins in 2006 and 2007. This year the race returned to Carnival City as the Highveld 400 and the Nissan bogey again reared its head.

Bertholdt and Vermeulen came home one minute and 43 seconds ahead of former South African champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer, in the factory diesel Ford Racing Ranger TDCi, who scored their second podium placing in a row. Third place went to Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald, in the Regent Racing Nissan Navara, who salvaged Nissan pride by scoring their first ever podium in the Production Vehicle category.

"This is a triumph for the whole team," said Bertholdt who twice won the Carnival City 400 in a Special Vehicle. "It was hard work but we kept our heads." There was a measure of consolation for Nissan with runaway championship leaders Duncan Vos and Ralph, in a Donaldson Nissan Navara, limping home eighth overall and sixth in class. According to unofficial scoring Vos and Pitchford can now not be caught in the championship.

Vos and Pitchford hit a rock while trying to overtake Bertholdt and Vermeulen and then limped home with suspension damage. They finished behind team-mates Ivar Tollefsen and Quin Evans, who battled with overheating problems, while former champion Hannes Grobler and Juan Mohr, in a third Donaldson Nissan Navara, hit abridge and then retired with a broken side shaft.

There was also a tale of woe for the factory Castrol Toyota Hilux team with both Anthony Taylor and Robin Houghton and Hein Lategan/Chris Birkin falling by the wayside on the first of two loops that made up the race. Taylor/Houghton retired with a steering problem and an electrical problem sidelined Lategan and Birkin.

There was a high attrition rate in Class D with former Blue Bulls scrum half Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber (Raysonics Nissan Hardbody) grinding out their second win on the trot. Potchefstroom crew Dewald van Breda and Johann du Toit (Northam Toyota D4D) also gutsed it out to take second. Among those to fall by the wayside were championship leader Cliff Weichelt and Johan Smalberger. They rolled the N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux D4D with no damage to the crew.

Reigning Class E champions Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux (RFS Toyota Hilux) took their first win of the season after a good fight with early championship leaders Deon Venter and Ian Palmer in the 4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux. Only 35 seconds separated the two crews at the finish.

Third went to Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling (Ruwacon Ford Ranger) who held off KZN pair Bappy Rubuluza and Khuliele Vakalisa in the Ford Racing Ranger. After dropping out of the prologue championship leaders Pikkie Labuschagne and Rikus Erasmus, in the second 4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux, fought back to salvage valuable points with a hard earned fifth place.

2009/09/04 | 10:58 CET | Editor: MR/HS/Charmaine Fortune

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