Rainy and misty weather conditions resulting in a treacherous route with muddy as well as dry and dusty sections, were just a bit too much for the biggest part of the Special Vehicle category at the Mpumalanga 400, the first round of the 2020 South African National Cross Country Series (SACCS) that took place this weekend in the Dullstroom area.
The powerful Class A vehicles as well as the light and nimble Class G Side by Sides (SxS) had to stay on the tight track as gnarly rocks and other obstacles next to the road could cause disaster. The muddy, wet and misty conditions added to the challenge of the teams in these vehicles that are not fitted with windscreens. In the end it was the KwaZulu-Natal team of experienced driver, Clint Gibson and navigator Alaric Smith (Dirt Sport Components Stryker) who claimed the first overall victory of the season while they also scored full points in Class A.
The team started the race from second place in the Special Vehicle category after the 64km Qualifying Race on Friday but took the lead from John Thomson/Maurice Zermatten (Zarco Challenger) who had to call it a day during the first loop after hitting a rock and damaging their front suspension . Despite the ever changing conditions and an extremely rough final 20 kilometres, Gibson/Smith were happy with the healthy amount of points on the scoreboard and silverware for the trophy cabinet.
Newcomer-driver Tim Howes and experienced competitor, Gary Campbell (Zarco Magnum) opened their scoresheet with a clean run to finish second overall while they were the runners-up in Class A. They started the race from the back of the field and kept it steady to not only bag good points, but also have the awards to show for their efforts.
Dean Bradbury/Timmy Botes (Canon Rotex) started the race from fourth place in the category after the Qualifying Race on Friday and the second SxS vehicle off in Class G, but a good run saw them taking the class victory as well as the third place on the overall Special Vehicle podium. It was also a first national victory for the Canon Rotex.
They were, however, in a battle for time with the 2019 Lichtenburg 400 winners, Theo Erasmus/Edward Odendaal (Can-Am Maverick) who could almost see a second national class victory winking at them. They posted almost the exact same time as Bradbury/Botes after the first loop and were 10 minutes quicker after the second loop, but the time lost during the Qualifying Race on Friday resulted in them having to settle for second place in Class G by a mere 64 seconds.
Nico du Rand/Rickus Hattingh (Can-Am Maverick) got their season off to a good start by rounding off the Class G SxS podium and finishing fifth overall, just over five minutes behind Erasmus/Odendaal. They were the first SxS team to start the main race on Saturday morning, but experienced problems during the second of the two loops.
The first points are also in the bag for Sandra Labuscagne-Jonck and husband, Jaco Jonck in the Total Agri Porter who rounded off the Class A podium. They finished sixth overall after initial fuel pump problems on Friday. The seventh and final team to reach the finish, were the father and son team of Archie and Kent (17) Rutherford in the Red-Lined Motorsport Can-Am Maverick.
Dad Archie read the notes for his son who moved in behind the steering wheel for the first time in the SACCS and the team scored their first points after an event that not only tested the competitors, but also the vehicles and the support teams.
Class A teams who will be going to the second round of the SACCS in search of their first points include Thomson/Zermatten; newcomer André Fourie and Hendrikus Pienaar (BAT Spec 3) as well as Trace Price-Moor/Shaun Braithwaite (BAT). The defending Class G SxS champions, Werner and Leon Mostert (Elf Renault Can-Am Maverick) hit a rock and broke a rear trailing arm and will also be back with a vengeance after not being able to finish at Dullstroom while Christo Rose/Arno Olivier (Can-Am Maverick) also had to throw in the towel during the final loop.'
The Sugarbelt 400 takes place on 3 and 4 April in the Eston area in KwaZulu-Natal and competitors have five weeks to get ready to score their first points towards the championship onslaught or to add more points to their tally.