The Mpumalanga 400, the opening round of the South African National Cross Country Series (SACCS) that took place in the Dullstroom area in March, was a muddy and rocky one and those who saw out the distance were awarded with their first points of the season. In the Production Vehicle category, Toyota Gazoo Racing SA took the early lead in the overall standings, the FIA Class championship and the Manufacturers championship while the Ford Castrol Cross Country Team made a successful start in defending their Class T championship title.
After a close battle between Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team-mates, Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy and Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota Hilux), it was De Villiers/Murphy who got the upper hand and their first victory of the season resulted in them taking the lead in the overall Production Vehicle standings as well as in the FIA Class championship. Lategan/Cummings, who competed in Mpumalanga with the 2019 Dakar Rally winning Toyota Hilux, trail the leaders by seven points in the overall standings as well as in the FIA Class championship.
A victory for defending Class T champions, Lance Woolridge/Ward Huxtable, put them in the lead of the Class T championship and third in the overall standings. They are five points behind Lategan/Cummings.
All competitors who started the Mpumalanga 400, received a five point bonus in the various class championships. This will continue throughout the season.
In the Class T championship, Lance Woolridge/Huxtable lead their team-mates, Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer, who finished second at Dullstroom, by seven points while Gary Bertholdt/Geoff Minnitt (Atlas Copco SA Toyota Hilux) are third in the standings, only five points behind the Woolridge/Dreyer combination. The Horn brothers, Johan and Werner (Malalane Toyota Hilux) are fourth, a mere three points behind Bertholdt/Minnitt with Jacques van Tonder/Sammy Redelinghuys (Ford Ranger) three points behind the Horn brothers in fifth place.
Cross Country Rookie Ernest Roberts and the experienced Riaan Greyling (Red-Lined Motorsport Nissan Navara) made an excellent start to their debut season in the Production Vehicle category and will go to the second round of the series with guns blazing from their third place in the FIA Class championship. They are five points behind Lategan/Cummings and lead team-mates, Jaco van Dyk/Michael Rust, whose season also started on a high when they finished fourth at the Mpumalanga 400. Michael Rust who races on a Namibian Motorsport Federation license is not eligible to score points in the championship.
Chris Visser/Philip Herselman (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) will have somewhat of an uphill battle to make up for lost points as they are respectively fifth and fourth in the FIA Class standings after the first event and a problematic season opener.
While the various title battles in the FIA Class and Class T championships will continue through the season, teams are also fighting for the best place in the overall standings in the Production Vehicle championship. De Villiers/Murphy lead Lategan/Cummings with Lance Woolridge/Ward Huxtable third, but Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer are hot on their heels in fourth place with three points separating the Pietermaritzburg brothers. Bertholdt/Minnitt can already peep through the small gap of three points to see Gareth/Boyd from their fourth place in the overall standings but will have to keep the Horn brothers at bay as only two points separate them from the Mpumalanga team in sixth place.
Roberts/Greyling fill the seventh place in the overall standings, one point behind the Horns and only one point ahead of the Class S leaders, David Huddy/Gerhard Schutte (Nissan Navara) who are eighth. Van Dyk (Red-Lined Motorsport Nissan Navara) is ninth in the drivers’ standing with Herselman (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) ninth in the navigators’ standings. Visser (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) and Elvene Coetzee who made her production vehicle debut alongside driver Schalk Burger in another Red-Lined Nissan Navara round off the top ten.
With only a handful of points separating the teams in the different championships and five more opportunities to score in the SACCS, there is no doubt that exciting racing is on the cards at each event.
The second round of the SACCS, the Berg 400, a new event on this year’s calendar will take place from the Waffle Hut on the outskirts of Winterton KwaZulu-Natal on 17 and 18 May.