Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

Sugarbelt 400 not so sweet for some but sugar rush for others

Round 2 of the SA Cross Country Series in Eston, KwaZulu-Natal was a bit more salty than sweet for many this time round. The big battle was between Toyota and Ford, the latter not doing as well as what they hoped for.

The short 51km qualifying for round two of the South African Cross Country Series (SACCS) on Friday 21 May saw Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (#377) set the second-quickest time in their new EcoBoost-powered NWM Ford Ranger, finishing just 47 seconds off the lead vehicle. They subsequently received a 2-minute penalty for exceeding the 40km/h speed limit in a decontrol section by 6km/h due to a discrepancy between the vehicle’s speed sensor and the series’ RallySafe system. This saw them dropping to fifth in FIA-class and eighth overall.

Team-mates Lance Woolridge and Elvéne Vonk (#334) adopted a relatively cautious approach to the opening stint in the sugarcane fields that characterise this scenic region of the province, and were ultimately classified third in FIA-class and fifth overall once penalties had been handed out to various competitors.

While the expected rainy weather held off, race day on Saturday 22 May dawned cloudy and cold – and soon dealt a cruel blow to Lance and Elvéne on the opening 160km race loop. Just 41km into the stage, the round one winners’ Ranger suddenly suffered a significant power loss, and they were forced to retire.

A similar fate befell Gareth and Boyd’s Ranger on the opening loop, but they were able to soldier on – albeit rapidly dropping down the running order. They made it to the mandatory 30-minute service stop, but the team wasn’t able to rectify the problem, so they persevered and started the second loop. Eventually the team decided to call it quits as they had dropped out of the points, and didn’t want to risk damaging the engine.

On the other end it was a sweet victory for Toyota Gazoo Racing. It was a memorable win at the 2021 Sugarbelt 400 for Giniel de Villiers this weekend, as the man from Stellenbosch last won this race in 2001, then partnered with Francois Jordaan. Now, twenty years later, he had Dennis Murphy reading the notes, but the victory was just as sweet as two decades ago.

The weekend started with Henk Lategan winning the 50km-long prologue, despite not having raced since his crash at the Dakar Rally in January. He injured his shoulder in the crash, and required surgery after returning home. As a result, he missed out on the first round of the season, but clearly showed his intent when he returned to the cockpit of the Toyota Hilux.

Lategan and navigator Brett Cummings set about the first race loop with determination, despite having to open the route. The pair set highly competitive times throughout the loop, with teammates De Villiers/Murphy in hot pursuit.

Both crews faced challenges along the way, with Lategan/Cummings losing time when their car started overheating mid-way through the second loop.

“The bracket of our water reservoir came undone, and the system lost pressure as a result. The engine temperature climbed rapidly, and we had to adjust our pace in order to manage the situation,” explained Lategan after the race.

At the same time, De Villiers/Murphy powered ahead, only to suffer two punctures in the second loop of the race. Navigator Murphy was also plagued with motion sickness, and the pair were forced to hunt for the route in places. But in the end, they did enough to secure victory, finishing 1min 52sec ahead of teammates Lategan/Cummings.

“We are very pleased with Giniel and Dennis’ performance today,” said TOYOTA GAZOO Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall, from the DSP after the race. “Add to that a solid second place for Henk and Brett on Henk’s return, and we could hardly have asked for more. But then Johan and Werner Horn added the cherry on top, by taking class honours in Class T – their second victory on the trot.”

The Horn brothers, campaigning an older generation Class T Hilux, finished in third place overall, just behind Lategan/Cummings. The pair have stolen an early march in the championship, and will be looking to build on this during Round 3 of the 2021 season.

Next up is the TGRSA 1,000 Desert Race, which has moved from Botswana to a new venue at Upington, in the Northern Cape. The only marathon event of the year is scheduled to take place from 18 to 20 June, and fans can look forward to following much of the action live on both TGRSA and the SACCS’ social media channels.

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