Sugarbelt 400 2021:  Giniel De Villiers wins tough Sugarbelt 400 after two decades as racing in the sugarcane fields tested man and machine

Sugarbelt 400 2021:  Giniel De Villiers wins tough Sugarbelt 400 after two decades as racing in the sugarcane fields tested man and machine

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The Sugarbelt 400, the second round of the 2021 South African National Cross Country Series (SACCS) that took place this weekend, 21 and 22 May, in the Eston / Mid Illovo area outside Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal, will be a memorable one for former multiple SA National Champion, Giniel de Villiers, who claimed the overall as well as the Production Vehicle Category victory 20 years after winning the event in 2001.

De Villiers and navigator Dennis Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux) took their first overall and FIA Class victory of the season after starting the race from second place behind their team-mates, Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings. The winners romped to victory despite two punctures and wrong slotting while Murphy also suffered motion sickness on the first loop.

“It was just as I remember it from 20 years ago,” De Villiers said afterwards. “It was really, really tough out there and there are so many things that can catch you out. You can make a mistake around any corner,” he said. “The first loop was extremely slippery after some rain the previous night while the second of the two 160 kilometre loops were really rough,” De Villiers reported.

Lategan/Cummings started from pole position and also suffered a flat tyre on the first loop. They finished a minute and 52 seconds behind the winners.

It was an all Toyota podium with the Class T winners, Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Hilux) taking their second class victory and podium result of the season after a trouble-free race on Saturday. Their total race time was 05:54:23.

After rolling their Century Racing CR 6 on Friday during the Pirelli Qualifying Race and being slapped with a two minute time penalty and starting the race from the 11th place in the Production Vehicle Category, Brian Baragwanath/Leonard Cremer clawed their way back to finish third on the FIA Class podium while they were fourth overall with only a minute and 53 seconds separating them from the Horn brothers.

Baragwanath/Cremer were the only non-Toyota team in the top five and were again only two minutes 21 seconds clear of Chris Visser/Nico Swartz (Toyota Hilux) who finished fourth in the FIA Class. It was Visser/Swartz first event of the season and their first outing together and despite their Toyota Hilux surviving a small roll and fortunately landing back on its wheels, they had a clear run.

There was heartache for the two Woolridge brothers as both the Ford Castrol Cross Country Team Rangers in the hands of Lance/Elvéne Vonk and Gareth/Boyd Dreyer, experienced mechanical issues preventing them from reaching the finish and scoring points towards the title chase.

Conrad Rautenbach/Riaan Greyling (Red-Lined Motorsport VK56) led the team of four to finish. They were sixth overall and fifth in the FIA Class after losing time with a puncture early in the first loop. The team also received a time penalty after the Qualifying Race on Friday and tackled the route from the 16th place in the category and had to deal with dusty conditions. After two days of racing and 370 tough and challenging kilometres in the sugarcane fields, only one second separated them from Gary Bertholdt/Siegfried Rousseau who competed for the first time this season in their brand new FIA Toyota Hilux.

Bertholdt/Rousseau, who won the Special Vehicle Category of this event back in 2005, experienced gearbox problems during the second half of the race and had to settle for seventh place overall and sixth in the FIA Class. The two Neil Woolridge Motorsport Ford Ranger teams of Malcolm/Frans Kock and Wors Prinsloo/André Vermeulen rounded off the Class T podium and were eighth and ninth respectively.

Prinsloo/Vermeulen stopped to assist the father and son team of Johan and Sean van Staden to get their Moto-Netix KEC Racing Renault on its wheels after it rolled during the first loop. The Van Staden duo managed to still finish 13th overall and ninth in the FIA Class.

The overall top 10 in the Production Vehicle Category was rounded off by Mark Corbett/Rodney Burke (Century Racing CR6). Corbett competed in the Sugarbelt 400 event years ago and like many of the teams, expressed his appreciation of a spectacular route and a great event. The team lost time with a puncture and a jack that was stuck because of the mud.

After not being able to complete the Qualifying Race and having to start last, Ernest Roberts/Henry Köhne put up a fight in dusty conditions to bring their Red-Lined Motorsport VK56 home in 11th place overall while they bagged points for finishing eighth in the FIA Class. It was quite an eventful first Sugarbelt 400 experience for the team who tried, but failed, to pull their team-mates, Philip Botha/Roelof Janse van Vuren (Red-Lined VK50) out of a ditch on the first loop and then getting stuck in mud and being recovered by Special Vehicle competitors, Clint Gibson/Alaric Smith.

Botha/Janse van Vuren finished 18th overall (12th in the FIA Class) while their team-mates, Eben Basson/Gerhard Schutte were the last team to be classified as finishers after losing valuable time when the alternator of their Red-Lined VK56 packed up early in the second loop. They took a penalty to have it repaired in the Designated Service Point and restarted the second loop to continue their streak of uninterrupted race finishes.

The rest of the results included the two 4x4 Mega World ARB Toyota Hilux teams with the Venter brothers behind the wheel – Dylan and navigator Donovan Lubbe were fourth in Class T and 12th overall and Jason and Jaco van Aardt were 14th overall and 10th in the FIA Class after their first Sugarbelt 400 outing.

This notorious event was also the first experience for Christo Rose/Arno Olivier (Neil Woolridge Motorsport Ford Ranger) who were fifth in Class T (they finished 15th overall) with their team-mates, the development team of Baphumza Rubuluza/Fanifani Meyiwa, scoring their first points by finishing sixth in Class T and 17th overall. Dewald van Breda/Johann du Toit (CR 5) were sandwiched between the two Ford Rangers and finished 11th in the FIA Class.

The Sugarbelt 400 has not taken place for the past six years and despite it being a challenging and tough event, it was enjoyed by all with the route being described as exceptional, excellent and a fantastic event.

Images: Nadia Jordaan
Source SACCS

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