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ABSA 2009: Nissan clean sweep on Nissan Sugarbelt 400 Rally.

The Nissan Sugarbelt 400, round three of the Absa Off Road Championship, turned into a Nissan benefit on Saturday. Veteran former South African champion Hannes Grobler and Juan Mohr led the factory Donaldson Nissan Navara team to a Production Vehicle clean sweep. For Grobler and Mohr it was their first victory of the season with the Donaldson Nissan team making it three wins in three starts this year.

Second were Norwegian Ivar Tollefsen and his British co-driver Quin Evans, who finished fourth on this year’s Dakar Rally. Duncan Vos and Ralph Pitchford made sure the Nissan cup overflowed by taking the final place on the podium.

It was a thoroughly professional performance from Grobler/Mohr and a typically gutsy performance from Tollefsen and Evans. But the drive of the race belonged to reigning SA drivers champion Vos and Pitchford who started 55th on the road in a field that also included cars in the Special Vehicle category.

"I don’t believe this result," said a pumped up Vos who was looking for his third win in a row. "We spent the whole race passing other cars, and it was nerve wracking in the dust and on a route where you could not afford mistakes. Without co-operation from the car in front overtaking was a risky business, but we kept our heads."

A delighted Grobler, who started fifth on the road, said the win was overdue with the pair having around nine minutes in hand over Tollefsen and Evans. Grobler and Mohr took control of proceedings when the factory Castrol Toyota Hilux, in the hands of Anthony Taylor and Robin Houghton, lost all drive midway through the last of two figure of eight loops that made up the race. "We needed the win and starting fifth on the road made it a little more difficult," said Grobler. "The car was good and in the end it was a dream result for the team."

Fourth went to the second works Castrol Toyota Hilux of Hein Lategan, in only his third off road race, and Chris Birkin. The pair took no chances in the hot and dusty conditions and led home Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, in the RFS Toyota Hilux, who were 80 seconds in arrears.

High profile casualties included both the factory Ford Racing Ranger TDCI entries. Former champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer broke a steering rack, while Thomas Rundle and Hennie ter Stege failed to start with engine problems after an off road excursion on the Friday prologue to determine start positions.

Also in the wars were Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald in the Regent Racing Nissan Navara who battled to ninth overall in the premier Class SP. They started from the back of the field and a clutch problem plagued them throughout the race.

Class D honours went to the father and son combination of Cliff and Louis Weichelt, who bagged their third win of the season, in the N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux D4D. It was a clean run for the pair who never had to get out of the car.

Heinie Strumpher and Hendrik van der Linde, in the Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux, were the only other finishers in Class D. They were more than an hour behind the Weichelt’s.

The Class E honours saw rookies Pikkie Labuschagne and Rikus Erasmus score their maiden national championship win in the 4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux. Labuschagne and Erasmus had more than 20 minutes in hand over Deon Venter and Ian Palmer in a second 4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux.

Venter and Palmer won the first two events of the season and consolidated their position at the top of the Class E championship. Reigning champions Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux, in the RFS Toyota Hilux, again had to dig deep to take third in class.

Circuit racing star Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie battled to fourth place in the factory Ferodo Nissan Hardbody. Included among the casualties were Ford Racing crews Baphumze Rubuluza/Khuliele Vakalisa and Lance Woolridge and Kevin Christie and the Ruwacon Racing pair of Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling in another Ford Ranger.

2009/05/18 | 02:45 CET | Editor: MR/HS/Charmaine Fortune

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