Cold conditions highlight battlefield war

South African champions Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie scored their second victory of the season with a comfortable win on the Battlefields 400, round two of the South African Cross Country Auto Series.

The race was run in treacherous conditions with a wet route compounded by freezing temperatures. A lone puncture was the only hiccup for Poulter/Howie who again dominated the premier FIA class for cars conforming to FIA specifications. The pair came in over three minutes ahead of Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team-mates Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy.

It was a sterling drive from the former Dakar Rally winner and Murphy with the pair starting more than 20 minutes behind Poulter/Howie after rolling the Toyota Hilux in the qualifying race to determine grid positions. Seventh overall and third in the FIA Class were Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson who debuted a Renault Duster.

“It was slippery, fast and hairy,” was Poulter’s laconic comment at the finish. But apart from the puncture the pair never put a foot wrong.

The final podium place and the win in Class T for cars above four litres with solid axle rear suspension, went to Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable in the Ford NWM Puma Lubricants Ranger. The pair finished around seven minutes clear of Woolridge’s younger brother Gareth and Boyd Dreyer in a second Ford NWM Puma Lubricants Ranger.

The younger Woolridge and Dreyer were penalised 10 minutes for not stopping at a road crossing in the qualifying race, and started the day 13th in the Production Vehicle class. They made up wads of time but it was a costly error that ultimately cost them a shot at winning Class T.

It was, however, an excellent result for the Pietermaritzburg team with the Dundee event a home race. The only blot on the copybook was a non finish for rookies Henk Lategan and Barry White who rolled their Ranger in the second half of the race.

Fifth place overall and third in Class T went to Hennie de Klerk and former South African champion Achim Bergmann in the Treasury One/Atlas Copco VW Amarok. Bergmann was having his first outing in a race car for years, and an impressive performance saw them come in ahead of brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Hilux) who won the season opener in Lichtenburg.

A misty windscreen saw the brothers beach the Hilux on some rocks with the incident costing them two minutes. Behind the Mpumalanga pair Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson were delighted with the Renault Duster’s potential, and after a tricky qualifying race they also made up places.

Gary Bertholdt and Philip Herselman (Atlas Copco VW Amarok) also ran into problems via a broken rear differential and nursed the car home over the last 100 kilometres. They finished up eight overall and seventh in class with the top 10 rounded out by reigning Class T champions Jason Venter and Vince Van Allemann (4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) and Jacques van Tonder and Leander Pienaar in a Ford Ranger.

Class S for cars up to four litres with solid axle rear suspension provided Richard Leeke junior and Henry Kohne (Ford Ranger) with a maiden national championship victory. The pair were hampered by fuel pressure problems but were comfortably ahead of David Huddy and Gerhard Schutte in a Nissan Navara.

Notable retirements were former South African champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) who broke a front prop shaft, and Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer in a Ford Ranger. Dakar quad hero, Baragwanath/Cremer were having their first outing in the Production Vehicle category having previously campaigned among the Special Vehicles.

Evan on top
South African champions Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen won a Special Vehicle category two horse race as they gave the King Price Extreme team its first victory in only the second race of the season. The pair, in the King Price BAT Viper, came in around seven minutes clear of Lance Trethewey and Geoff Minnitt in the LTE BAT Venom a race run in wet conditions and freezing cold temperatures.

Hutchison/Stassen and Trethewey, who lives in KwaZulu-Natal, and Minnitt dominated the qualifying race to determine grid positions and the main event. The King Price Extreme pair had around eight minutes to spare in the race, but the gap would have been much closer had Trethewey and Minnitt not picked up a five minute penalty.

“We never had any issues but conditions were treacherous,” said Hutchison at the end of the race. “Despite the conditions it was the perfect day for us, and Danie and I were delighted to give the team a maiden win.”

Trethewey’s comment was “it was like grease out there” but the crew, in one of their sporadic national series appearance in the last couple of seasons, did a sterling job. Despite the penalty they were almost 11 minutes ahead of the husband and wife team of Marius and Jolinda Fourie (PHB BAT) who picked up their second podium finish in two races.

The Fouries completed the first half of the race with an intercom problem, but once that was sorted out they put in another workmanlike drive. The Fouries, however, only had 38 seconds to spare over Stefan van Pletzen and Richard Carey in the Live Lesotho Chenowth.

Van Pletzen, who won the opening event in Lichtenburg with Jaco Pieterse, and Carey picked up a 10 minute penalty for not stopping at a road crossing on the qualifying race to determine grid positions, and started the race in 8th position. Showing a little more aggression than in the opening race they came in ahead of Naeem Moosajee and Rayhaan Bodhanya (Tyre Rack Jimco), who were delighted with a top five finish after adopting a cautious approach because of the conditions.

Schalk Burger and rally champion Elvéne Coetzee, in the King Price Extreme Porter, completed the first of two loops that made up the race with no back brakes, while Lourens and Carien Booysen (BAT) were happy just to finish with no major issues. John Telford and Victor Ntsekhe (Calcamite Hellcat) were in much the same boat and collected their second Class P win on the trot.

Werner Kennedy and Thinus Venter in the Live Lesotho Aceco were second in Class P and ninth overall with the father/daughter combination of Coetzee and Sandra Labuscagne 10th in the 4x4 Mega World Porter. After starting the day in fifth place the Labuscagnes found it tough going in the conditions and gradually slipped down the leader board.

The next event on the calendar is the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race on June 23, 24 and 25. The event is the only marathon race on the calendar and is again based in Jwaneng.