The South African Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC) continued in Parys on Saturday, August 19, with the second of the weekend’s double-headers events. This time the Parys 400 featured as Round 5 for the season, and was run as a full, standalone race. The double-header format has featured during the last few seasons, and brings some extra pressure for the teams, while also offering fans of rally-raid racing a double dose of action to be enjoyed over the course of a single weekend. For the crews taking part, this also means that there are double points on offer, and a good performance in Parys could well swing the eventual outcome of the championship.
Where the Friday of the race weekend was dry, largely windless and warm, the Saturday dawned crisp and cold, with an icy wind that chilled the spectators, but helped the competitors to find their way around the winding route as the dust cleared somewhat quicker than the day before. But, with an all-new route that featured fresh challenges, the race was always going to be a tough one, especially following directly after Round 4, which dealt many blows of its own to both the crews and their racing machines.
Saturday’s race comprised a Pirelli Qualifying Race of 18 kilometres, which started at 07:30 in the morning. This was followed by two race loops of 170 kilometres each, with the first getting under way at 09:30, starting from the Afridome in Parys.
Class T1+ saw Henk Lategan and co-driver Brett Cummings launch their TOYOTA GAZOO Racing SA (TGRSA) Toyota DKR Hilux into the Pirelli Qualifying Race as the first car on the road, but they also made the most of the opportunity, setting the fastest time over the short route. They completed the 18 kilometres-long course in just 9min 19sec, which should have seen them well ahead of their nearest competitors.
Fouché Blignaut and brother Bertus, however, had a different agenda: The Lowveld pairing went second-fastest in the qualifier, finishing just 4sec adrift of the lead, in their brand-new #TeamHilux Toyota T1+. This was a moment of glory for both of them, but especially for driver Fouché, who rolled the new car during a shakedown on Thursday before the race. The team managed to repair the car in time for Friday’s fourth round, but it was at the start of Round 5 where the brothers clearly hit their stride. They were followed home by the NWM Ford Castrol Team’s Ranger of Gareth Woolridge and co-driver, Boyd Dreyer, who rounded out the qualifying podium, though they lagged 15sec behind the flying #TeamHilux crew.
For Lategan/Cummings, their hopes were dashed early in the day, when they incurred a 5min penalty for clocking in late, following some last-minute work to the gearbox of their car after the Pirelli Qualifying Race. This sent them tumbling down the order even before the starting flag dropped, and they were on the back foot for the rest of the day. Despite this setback, they fought back to a fighting fourth place overall, just 4min 58sec off the eventual winning time, leaving them to wonder what might have been, were it not for an errant sensor on the gearbox.
Navigational challenges kept TGRSA’s Saood Variawa and Danie Stassen at bay, with the fast-paced youngster attaining only the 5th position overall. This was only Variawa’s third national SARRC event, however, and there is no denying his considerable pace.
On to the podium, where Woolridge/Dreyer kept their championship hopes alive, by bringing their Ford Ranger home in third place overall. A solid performance which was not without its challenges stood them in good stead, and the pair will be heading to Round 6 with high hopes for more of the same. Ahead of them, however, came defending SARRC champions, TGRSA’s Giniel de Villiers and co-driver Dennis Murphy, who pipped the Ford crew by 2min 27sec.
But the men of the moment were undeniably TGRSA’s Guy Botterill and stand-in navigator, Zaheer Bodhanya. The crew drove a near-perfect race to give Botterill his first SARRC win, and Bodhanya the biggest smile in the history of SARRC racing. At the same time, Botterill’s regular navigator, Simon Vacy-Lyle, would be frustrated that he was unable to be in the car for the winning moment. While there’s no denying Botterill’s supremacy on the day, De Villiers/Murphy finished just 9sec behind after nearly 400 kilometres of racing, leaving them to ponder what might have been, had they not suffered a puncture during the qualifying race earlier in the day.
There was disappointment for two prominent Class T1+ crews, with the Blignault brothers forced to withdraw due to a broken gearbox, bringing an end to their fairytale fifth round; as well as their teammates, the Horn brothers, who had to retire their “Gifpyl”, thanks to a broken steering rack.
Class T1 has seen defending champions, #TeamHilux’s Eben Basson and Leander Pienaar, launch a serious assault on a second title. And they continued their relentless march with another win in the Pirelli Qualifying Race, clearly showing their intention to increase their lead at the top of the title standings. They had the International crew of Daniel Schröder and Ryan Bland on their tailpipes, however, just 3sec behind, in their Nissan Navara VK50. The qualifying podium was rounded out by Johan de Bruyn and Gerhard Schutte (Red-Lined REVO T1), who trailed second place by just 3sec.
The race itself, however, yielded a somewhat different result. Basson/Pienaar were sidelined when the normally reliable V8 engine of their Hilux lost
fuel pressure and power, and eventually gave up the ghost. They were towed into the DSP by a fellow competitor, resulting in exclusion from the final results. This opened the door for De Bruyn/Schutte to pounce and pounce they did – only to have their efforts undone by two penalties, incurred at road crossings.
As a result, Jurgen Schröder and Stuart Greggory claimed the points for Class T1 victory, while De Bruyn/Schutte had to settle for second place. They were the South African filling in an International sandwich, with the Dutch crew of Dave Klaassen and Tessa Rooth bringing their Red-Lined VK50 home in third place overall.
The field was somewhat smaller than usual, due to the withdrawal of Jayden Els and Elvéne Vonk in their King Price SVR following a broken differential in Round 4; and a massive roll during qualifying, which brought a premature end to Johan and Sean van Staden’s race. The Renault Duster crew emerged unharmed from the crash, though their car will need considerable repairs in preparation for the next event.
Class T saw only two entries for Round 5, with Schalk Burger and Henk Janse van Vuuren winning both the Pirelli Qualifying Race and the main event, in their King Price Xtreme Volkswagen Amarok. Their only competition, Hendrik and Heinrich du Plessis, completed the qualifier, but were forced to retire from the race due to a broken gearbox.
On the Special Vehicle side of proceedings, the results looked on course for a major upset, with LC de Jager and Rikus Hattingh (Porter) claiming victory in the Pirelli Qualifying Race. They finished the short course 27sec ahead of their nearest competitors, in the form of John Thomson and Maurice Zermatten, in their Zarco Challenger. But it was a close-run affair for second place, as defending champions and Round 4 winners, Tim Howes and Gary Campbell, were just 7sec behind, in third place in class A. Keith and Andrew Makenete went fourth-fastest in their BAT Makmobile.
Once the race itself got under way, however, the Parys 400 route claimed the scalps of De Jager/Hattingh; as well as Thomson/Zermatten, giving Howes/Campbell a clean shot at victory. They made the most of the opportunity, bringing their BAT Spec 4 home in first place. The Makenete brothers completed the race, earning a second place in the process.
And in Class G, it was Ian and Werner Mostert who set the initial pace during the morning’s Pirelli Qualifier. They had Geoff Minnitt and Rodney Burke just 40sec behind; while Glen Theron and Craig Galvin headed up a gaggle of Class G machines, which included the Can-Am Mavericks of Francois and Neil de Wit and Ewald van Rensburg, partnered with Johan Scheepers.
During the race itself, however, it was again Minnitt/Burke (HPE Can-Am Maverick) who crossed the line in first place, with Theron/Galvin (Moto-Netix Can-Am) in second. Van Rensburg/Scheepers rounded out the podium, with the Mosterts forced to settle for fourth.
With the season now clearly heading to its climax, the Parys 400 double-header may have already played a pivotal role in the outcome of the various championships. However, there are two races remaining in the 2023 season, and next up is Round 6, which takes place on 6 and 7 October, from Phakisa Raceway in the area surrounding the Free State town of Welkom.
Images: Plan C Productions