Sugarbelt 450 victory cements early season championship lead
Castrol Team Toyota pair Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie today won the Sugarbelt 450, round two of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship, to extend their early lead in the Production Vehicle title chase.
It was a second win in a row for Poulter/Howie, in the Castrol Team Toyota Hilux, with the pair coming home ahead of team-mates and reigning South African champions Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy. The final podium place went to local Pietermaritzburg pair Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable in a factory Ford Performance Ford Ranger – and left the two crews locked together in second place in the championship with a second and a third each so far this season.
“It was a tough day on a tricky route but we never had any issues and never had to get out of the car,” said Poulter. “It was a good day for the team, and it has been a dream start to the season for Rob and me.”
Apart from a puncture 800 metres from the finish Taylor and Murphy, who started second on the road behind Poulter/Howie, also reported a clean run with 68 seconds the final margin between the two cars. The two Castrol Team Toyota crews dominated the qualifying race to determine grid positions, and were never in any real trouble during a race run in tricky and dusty conditions.
Woolridge and Huxtable, back in action after missing last season while Woolridge recovered from back surgery, started the day in fourth place behind team-mates and former SA champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst. A misfire and a trip into a donga on the first of the two 160 kilometre loops that made up the race, along with a puncture late in the day, dropped Visser and Badenhorst into fourth place.
“After a long lay-off you have to be happy with two podiums in a row,” said Woolridge, “but a win for the team would be nice. Another plus is that I have felt no after effects from the back surgery.”
Mpumalanga brothers Johan and Werner Horn, in the Malalane Toyota Hilux, started the day in fifth position and crossed the line still in fifth place. It was an uneventful day for the Horns, but one which Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer will remember after a solid sixth in only their second national championship event.
Out in a Ford Ranger privately entered under the Neil Woolridge Motorsport banner, the two youngsters showed plenty of maturity. Gareth is the younger brother of Lance with father Neil a former South African champion and the Ford Performance team principal – with three NWM prepared cars in the top six representing a good day for the Pietermaritzburg-based family.
There was an equally impressive result from former Special Vehicle champion Terence Marsh and former Springbok rugby captain John Smit. With Smit competing for a second time in the Imperial Auto Celebrity Challenge, a steady performance took them into seventh place in a Regent Racing Nissan Navara.
There was another good performance from Jason Venter and Vincent van Allemann in the 4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux. Qualifying race problems saw them start from the back of the field, with the North West youngsters fighting back to finish eighth.
They were followed home by the husband and wife team of Freddie and Sune Kriel, in the Uni Freight Ford Ranger, who won Class S which caters for cars up to four litres with solid axle rear suspension. It was a maiden win for the Kriels, with another husband and wife combination in Marius and Jolinda Fourie second in the PHB Toyota Hilux.
High profile retirements included Gary Bertholdt/Siegfried Rousseau in the Atlas Copco Ford Ranger and Portuguese crew Rómulo Branco and João Serôdio (Regent Racing Nissan Navara), who won Class S on debut last time out. An adventurous outing for Bertholdt/Rousseau saw them limp into the designated service park, at the end of the first lap, after contact in heavy dust with Special Vehicle team-mates Sarel van Biljon and Philip Herselman.
They made it back into the race, but a disappointing day for the pair finally ended with a broken side shaft on the second lap. Branco and Serôdio never made it into the second loop with their race over after 70 kilometres with rear differential failure.
The next event on the calendar is the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in Botswana from June 26 to 28. The event is the only marathon race on the Donaldson championship calendar.