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ABSA 2009: Fourth Victory for Vos/Pitchford on Sun City 400.

The Donaldson Nissan Navara pair of Duncan Vos and Ralph Pitchford scored their fourth win of the season when they stormed to victory in the Production Vehicle category on the Sun City 400, round five of the South African Absa Off Road Championship, which ended here today.

After another disappointing prologue which saw them start in seventh place, Vos and Pitchford again demonstrated their ability to turn disappointing Friday’s into winning Saturday’s. Aided and abetted by a high attrition rate the pair were in the lead by the end of the first of two 180 kilometre loops that made up the route, and victory gives them a vicelike grip on this year’s overall and premier SP Class championships.

"It was fast and dusty but the only problems we picked up were two punctures," said a weary Vos. "Straying off the track was to court disaster, and this was a typical Sun City 400."

A great result saw privateers Gary Bertholdt and Andre Vermeulen take second place in the Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux. It was their first podium finish after ‘defecting’ to the Production Vehicle category from the Special Vehicle ranks.

There was also a much needed podium finish for former South African champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer in the factory twin turbo diesel Ford Ranger. Ford is the first South African manufacturer to switch to diesel, and third will have done much to ease the pressure on the team in what is a performance driven sport.

Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald (Regent Racing Nissan Navara) produced their best result of the season to come home fourth, with Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Jansen van Vuuren (RFS Toyota Hilux) following up their third place on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race with a solid fifth. There were also plucky performances from George and Sharon Barkhuizen (AIM Toyota Hilux), Graeme Leith/Mike Lawrenson (Transcor Ford Ranger) and SP Class debutantes Louis Weichelt and Maret Bezuidenhout who made it to the finish in a battered Discovery Drilling Ford Ranger.

For the factory Castrol Toyota Hilux team the race was something of a disaster. After setting the early pace by winning the prologue to grab pole position, Anthony Taylor and Robin Houghton were early casualties when they hit a rock and damaged the steering.

They were followed into retirement before the designated service point by team-mates Hein Lategan and Chris Birkin, who were leading the race at the time, with a broken control arm. Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux) were also forced into early retirement and another Toyota crew, Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (RFS Toyota Hilux), crashed heavily when they hit a rock.

There were also disappointing outings for former SA champion Hannes Grobler and Juan Mohr and Ivar Tollefsen/Quin Evans in the other Donaldson Nissan Navaras. They were eighth and 11th respectively in the SP Class and Grobler’s woes included a wrong slot that cost seven minutes, while Tollefsen soldiered on without power steering after hitting a rock.

Former Blue Bulls scrum half Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber (Raysonics Nissan Hardbody) ended a string of non finishes by taking their first Class D win of the season. They edged out Dewald van Breda and Johann du Toit (Northam Toyota Hilux D4D) after race leaders Cliff Weichelt and Johann Smalberger (N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux D4D) broke down 20 kilometres from the finish.

The win by Labuscagne/Gerber ended a string of four successive Class D wins by Toyota crews. A string of Toyota wins in Class E was also broken when circuit racing and kart star Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie, in the Ferodo Nissan Hardbody, romped to victory by nearly 20 minutes.

Poulter, a former South African Production Car champion, is in his first season of off road racing and this was his maiden victory. Second were Free State crew Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling (Ruwacon Ford Ranger) in their best performance of the season.

A solid performance took Pikkie Labuschagne/Rikus Erasmus (4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux) into third and gave them the championship lead ahead of team-mates Deon Venter and Ian Palmer. The Palmer/Venter car fell by the wayside and fourth place saw reigning champions Jannie Visser/Joks le Roux (RFS Toyota Hilux) cut their lead in the championship.

2009/07/28 | 20:32 CET | Editor: MR/HS/Charmaine Fortune

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