The SA Rally-Raid Championship one of the biggest Rally-Raid series globally
De Villiers/Murphy - Image: Plan C Productions

The local South African Rally-Raid Championship (SARRC), which consists of seven rounds per season, has grown exponentially in numbers, with an anticipated combined total of 24 teams that will be lining up in FIA T1+ and FIA T1 classes in the Production Vehicle Category at the upcoming Parys 400 double-header is indicative of it being the single most populated local Rally-Raid championship in the world.

The Parys 400 forms the fourth and the fifth rounds of the 2023 SARRC and takes place on 18 and 19 August in the Parys area in the Free State. And while the battle for all the various championship titles will continue in all fury, the FIA T1+ and FIA T1 not only attract the greatest number of entries, but the high level of competition and the fierce battle for the titles reach new heights as the season progresses.

It is anticipated that a total of 15 teams will enter in FIA T1+ for the Parys 400 double-header, while at least nine teams will line up in FIA T1, and with the season at the halfway mark, these numbers add to the excitement of the championship. The large number of visiting competitors is a further indication of the high level of competition in the SARRC.

The SARRC has been the breeding ground for the international stage with various local manufacturers and competitors playing an important role in the outcome of results of races across the globe. Looking at the gruelling 2023 Dakar Rally that took place over 16 days and 8 500 kilometres in Saudi Arabia, a total of 58.5% of the vehicles in the car category were designed, developed and built in South Africa with the Midrand manufacturer and constructors, Toyota Gazoo Racing, Century Racing and Red-Lined Motorsport, pushing their vehicles with star-studded, experienced and competent teams into the field.

The efforts were greatly rewarded with the defending Dakar Rally champions, Nasser Al-Attiya and his French navigator, Mathieu Baumel, claiming a back-to-back victory in the locally built Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux DKR T1+. They were backed-up by the two South African Toyota Gazoo Racing teams, the Dakar Rally veteran Giniel de Villiers and navigator Dennis Murphy and Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings, who also posted outstanding performances by rounding off the overall top five.

Five SA built Toyota Hilux vehicles finished in the Top 10 in FIA T1+ while there was also a podium finish for another SA race car constructor, Century Racing with Mathieu Serradori/Loic Minaudier finishing third in FIA T1.2 for 4x2 vehicles. Century Racing started the 2023 event with a staggering 10 CR6 vehicles with the SA team, Brian Baragwanath/Leonard Cremer, like their French team-mates, competing in the new Century Racing CR6-T bi-turbo vehicles. Baragwanath/Cremer were leading the class and were seventh on the overall standings until they flipped and damaged their car during the penultimate stage and had to eventually settle for 15th place in FIA T1.2.

There were more good results for teams in Century Racing vehicles who finished 10th, 14th 18th and 19th. Red-Lined International also proved that they are rated as one of the leading race car builders with teams competing in FIA T1.1 by winning the class and filling four of the top five positions in the class and claiming a 100% finishing record.

The regular SARRC competitor German, Daniel Schröder and his navigator from KwaZulu-Natal, Ryan Bland won the class in a WCT Engineering Nissan Navara VK50 (ex-Red-Lined International) and were followed by another regular SARRC competitor, UAE based Thomas Bell and SA navigator, Gerhard Schutte (Red-Lined VK56). Two more Dutch teams rounded off the top five in the class in their Red-Lined International vehicles, with regular competitors in SA Dave Klaassen/Tessa Rooth (Red-Lined VK56), who will be in action at Parys, finishing fourth.

The SA Rally-Raid Championship has gone from strength to strength and has quadrupled since the inception of the FIA Class in 2016 with the T1+ and T1 classes now representing 70 – 75% of the field.

The impressive field in FIA T1+, which is the FIA Rally-Raid pinnacle and the Dakar Rally winning class, is represented by two manufacturers namely Toyota Gazoo Racing as the world champions under the guidance of Team Principal, Glyn Hall and the NWM Ford Castrol Team led by Neil Woolridge who, in partnership with MSport, will launch their Dakar onslaught at the 2024 Dakar Rally. These two formidable teams are bolstered by three constructors namely Red-Lined International, WCT Engineering and Century Racing in FIA T1+ with privateer teams making up the balance of the field.

For the two Parys 400 events, Toyota Gazoo Racing SA will have a total of four teams in the field with not much separating the multiple former champions, Lategan/Cummings and De Villiers/Murphy in the Overall and FIA T1+ standings. They will be pushed by multiple SA National Rally Champions, Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy-Lyle who have finished on the podium and the 17 year-old Saood Variawa who impressed in his first SARRC outing in Botswana with navigator Danie Stassen.

More Toyota DKR Hilux T1+ vehicles in the hands of Johan and Werner Horn and their #TeamHilux Rally-Raid team-mates, Fouché and Bertus Blignaut will also be on the start line as will Gary Bertholdt/Henry Köhne.

The two Woolridge brothers, Gareth and his navigator Boyd Dreyer who are the current overall and FIA T1+ leaders and Lance partnered by Kenny Gilbert will bring their race-winning Ford NWM T1+ Ranger to the show while Wors Prinsloo/André Vermeulen will also be flying the Ford Ranger T1+ flag.

Three Red-Lined International teams have entered of which two are visiting teams with all three teams competing with the REVO T1+. Chris Visser/Albertus Venter will represent South Africa while the 17 year-old lady driver, Aliyah Koloc will again team up with Riaan Greyling. It will be a first outing for the Dutch team, Stefan Carmans/Arjan van Tiel.

FIA T1+ caters for 4x4 vehicles fitted with 3.5 litre V6 Turbo engines and 4x4 vehicles with Normally Aspirated V8 engines and known as the big wheel vehicles. The wheel sizes are restricted to 910 – 940mm with a maximum of 350mm suspension travel. In view of the relatively small field of current Class FIA T1.2 4x2 vehicles in SA, SARRC included the T1.2 vehicles in the big wheel T1+ class to effectively explore the required research and development, and to competitively compete in the SA Rally-Raid Championship, although T1.2 is a separate class in FIA events across the world.

The engine capacity for the 4x2 vehicles, however, remains as per the stipulated FIA regulations catering for the Audi 2.9 V6 and the Toyota 3.5 Turbo engines while the Normally Aspirated 4x2 vehicles embody V8 engines of any capacity with the engines being regulated by restrictors and weight.

The 4x2 teams that will be in action with their Century Racing vehicles at Parys include Dewald van Breda/Stompie Mynhard and Lance Trethewey/Adriaan Roets (King Price Xtreme CR6).

FIA T1 class also boasts highly skilled teams representing the manufacturers and constructors and is now considered the entry level to the powerful Production Vehicle category. Teams in the T1 Class are also governed by the FIA T1.1 regulations and are restricted to Ford, Nissan and Toyota 5 litre, V8 engines while the older Nissan 5.6 litre V8 engine is also allowed. They are also differentiated by the smaller maximum 810mm wheels; a maximum of 280mm suspension travel and lower weight.

Four Red-Lined International teams will be in action in FIA T1 of which both Johan de Bruyn/Gerhard Schutte and Nic Pienaar/Carl Swanepoel in similar REVO T1 vehicles have claimed a class victory this season. Gerhard and Rudi Heinlein will be out in the VK56 while the Dutch pairing of Klaassen/Rooth will take on another race on South African soil in the VK50.

The rest of the FIA T1 field is made up by defending champions, Eben Basson/Leander Pienaar (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid Toyota Hilux); Johan and Sean van Staden (Renault Duster); Daniel Schröder/Bland, Jurgen Schröder/Stuart Gregory (WCT Engineering Nissan Navara’s) and Jayden Els/Elvéne Vonk, who won their entry into the 2024 Dakar Rally, in the King Price Xtreme SVR at the recent TGR 1000 Desert Race.

“We are extremely proud of all the South African competitors who for many years have successfully competed at various levels in the international arena,” the CEO of SA Rally-Raid Championship, Archie Rutherford, said. “The vast number of locally developed and built vehicles that compete across the globe are a true reflection of the high standard of technical expertise and skills levels that are available in South Africa and depicts the confidence and trust competitors and teams have in our product,” he explained.

“Competitors and their race vehicles can, however, only be as good as the technical teams who are part of the backbone of the rally-raid scene and their expertise cannot be underestimated,” Rutherford said. “It is gratifying to be able to witness the growth of the SARRC through the years and to experience the high level of professionalism and proficiency in this field in South Africa,” he concluded.