The Gold 400, the final round of the 2018 South African Cross Country Series that took placeat Glenharvie on the West Rand of Gauteng, delivered the nail-biting action predicted and after 375 tough kilometres on a tight and rocky route, both Toyota and Ford were awarded with championship titles in the Production Vehicle Championship.
The battle for the overall title between the two Toyota Gazoo Racing SA teams of Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy and Henk Lategan/Barry White was a nerve-wrecking one with De Villiers/Murphy winning the 49km Qualifying Race on Friday but dropping back on Saturday after an early puncture cost them some valuable time.
Although Lategan/White were quick out of the blocks they had difficulties in finding the route early in loop one, and with Chris Visser/Philip Herselman (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) taking an early lead in the second of the two 163km loops, De Villiers/Murphy played it safe and their third overall win as well as a victory in Botswana resulted in them being crowned the 2018 overall Production Vehicle champions.
Lategan/White received a penalty for a route infringement on loop two but still finished second. Their second place in the FIA Class resulted in them claiming this class championship title ahead of team-mates De Villiers/Murphy.
Johan van Staden/Mike Lawrenson (Elf Renault DE Duster) rounded off the overall as well as the FIA Class podium at the Gold 400 despite an early puncture. Visser/ Herselman, who were in a commanding lead after DSP, were forced to retire with power steering failure 70km from the finish.
The Gold 400 was also the deciding event for the Class T championship title with class leaders, Lance Woolridge/Ward Huxtable (Ford NWM Ranger) and the defending champions, Johan/Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Hilux) locking horns until the final whistle. It was however Gary Bertholdt/Geoff Minnitt (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) who walked away with the laurels and claimed their second victory for the season with second place in the class for Woolridge/Huxtable making them the new champions. It is Woolridge’s first national championship title and Huxtable’s third with the team adding another podium result to their tally that includes three race wins this year.
The Horn brothers posted the fastest time in Class T after Friday’s Qualifying Race but were forced to retire due to electrical problems. There was not much between the Class T teams with Woolridge/Huxtable finishing two minutes behind Bertholdt/Minnitt while only one minute 33 seconds eventually separated the Woolridge brothers from each other with Gareth and Boyd Dreyer in the second Ford NWM Ranger rounding off the podium.
The rocky route also challenged Jacques van Tonder/Sammy Redelinghuys (Ford Ranger) who finished fourth in Class T. The newcomer from the rally scene, Theuns Joubert and Sean van Staden (Elf Renault DE Duster) played it safe at his first Cross Country event and the pair were rewarded with a fifth place in Class T, just ahead of Richard Leeke, also a rallyist who won the final round of the national series last weekend and Danie Stassen (Speedglas BMW X3) were hampered by puncture on the first loop.
Marcos Baumgart/Kleber Cincea (Ford NWM Ranger) and Dylan Venter/Donavan Lubbe (4×4 Mega World ARB Toyota Hilux) were seventh and eighth respectively.
There were also successful finishes for all four the Red-Lined Motorsport Nissan Navaras in FIA Class. Terence Marsh teamed up with Letshego Zulu, as a celebrity in the navigator seat finished fourth with newcomers to the Production Vehicle category, Ernest Roberts/Stuart Creevy, who previously participated in the SxS Interprovincial Challenge finishing their first race in this category and rounding off the top five.
Like Baumgart/Cincea, another international team, Thomas Bell/Patrick McMurren ticked off more kilometres in preparation for the 2019 Dakar Rally and were sixth. Shameer Variawa, who also resides in Dubai and Zaheer Bodhanya experienced some teething problems with their brand-new Navara that raced for the first time, but they finished despite brake problems and suspension set-up issues.
It was an extremely close race in Class S with Jannie Visser and son Chris (Toyota Hilux) beating second placed Archie Rutherford and son Kent by just less than a minute. The new champions, David Huddy/Gerhard Schutte (Nissan Navara) lost fifth gear on the first loop and sixth on the second, but they were happy to finish and be crowned the new Class S champions.
Visser/Herselman and the Horn brothers were the only Production Vehicle teams who could not complete the full race distance on a route that was described by all as tough, rough and rocky.
Pictures: Nadia Jordaan