After 10 successive wins you would expect South African champions Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie to be leading both the overall and FIA Class championships in this year’s South African Cross Country Auto Series (SACCCS).
That is exactly the position in which the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA pair find themselves. Victory on the Battlefields 400 in Dundee, round two of the championship, gave the pair a considerable lead in the overall and FIA Class championships in a race run under wet and freezing conditions.
With the Toyota team also defending an unbeaten record dating from the 2015 season, Poulter/Howie have a 27 point lead in the overall championship and a 13 point lead in the FIA Class for cars conforming to FIA specifications. Poulter/Howie lead the FIA Class from team-mates Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy who came from the back of the field to finish second overall in Dundee, and Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson who finished an encouraging seventh overall in a South African built Renault Duster on its SACCS debut.
It was heartening to see some FIA Class competition for the two Toyota vehicles on the Battlefields 400, but there will be major interest in the developing battle in the ultra-competitive Class T for cars above four litres with solid axle rear suspension. Here there is a tie between the two crews in second place in the overall championship with the teams separated by just one point in the class championship.
Young Pietermaritzburg crew Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (Ford NWM Puma Lubricants Ranger) and brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Hilux) are level on points in the overall championship. Woolridge/Dreyer have picked up two second places with the Horns a win on the first event and fourth in Dundee.
Hot on the heels of Woolridge/Dreyer in both championships are Woolridge’s elder brother Lance and Ward Huxtable, in a second Ford NWM Puma Lubricants Ranger, who won Class T in Dundee. In Class T the Horns trail Woolridge/Dreyer by a single point with six points the gap between the brothers.
Two consistent races have seen Hennie de Klerk, partnered in Dundee by former South African champion Achim Bergmann in the Treasury One/ Atlas Copco VW Amarok, in fourth place in Class T with Gary Bertholdt and Philip Herselman (Atlas Copco VW Amarok) completing the top five. The Battlefields 400 was Bergmann’s first race in six years with the former champion taking over the co-driving duties from Rodney Burke.
Behind Bertholdt/Herselman there is a tie between a third Ford NWM Puma Lubricants Ranger crew in rookies Henk Lategan and Barry White, and Jason Venter and Vince van Allemann in a 4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux. Lategan/White were non finishers in Dundee while reigning Class T champions Venter/van Allemann have made a dodgy start to their title defence.
Rounding out the top ten crews are former SA champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) and Jacques van Tonder and Leander Pienaar in a Ford Ranger. Visser and Badenhorst were also non finishers in Dundee while van Tonder and Pienaar have picked up a brace of top 10 finishes.
Penalties in both the qualifying race and main event cost Luke Botha and Andre Vermeulen (Red-Lined Nissan Navara) the opportunity of finishing ahead of van Tonder and Pienaar in Dundee. The pair were out in a new Nissan Navara which showed plenty of potential but the penalties were a killer blow.
Class S, for cars up to four litres with solid axle rear suspension, is led by former champion Jannie Visser and his son Chris junior (Toyota Hilux) by virtue of a win on the opening event of the season. The pair gave the Battlefield 400 a miss, with Richard Leeke junior and Henry Kohne (Ford Ranger) picking up their first national cross country win to move into second place in the championship ahead of David Huddy and Gerhard Schutte in a Nissan Navara.
The next event on the SACCS calendar is the iconic Toyota 1000 Desert Race in Jwaneng in Botswana on June 23, 24 and 25. The event is the only marathon race on the calendar with the two heats carrying a whopping 60 championship points which could drastically alter championship positions.
Pictures: Awie Van Den Berg / www.xmemories.co.za