Ford’s Woolridge/Dreyer conquered the Free State to strengthen title chase as challenging Renergen 400 took no prisoners
Image: Plan C Productions

 The Renergen 400, the sixth and penultimate round of the SA Rally-Raid Championship that took place from Phakisa Raceway outside Welkom in the Free State on Friday and Saturday, 6th and 7th October, delivered action-packed racing with the Overall Production Vehicle Category leaders, Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (NWM Ford Castrol T1+ Ranger) taking their second victory of the season to strengthen their lead in the standings with only one race still to go.

Woolridge/Dreyer had a clean run throughout the 15 kilometre Pirelli Qualifying Race and 58 kilometre Loop 1 on Friday and repeated this performance during both the two 164 kilometre loops on Saturday, which they took on from third place in the category trailing the leaders, Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota Gazoo Racing DKR Hilux T1+) by a mere 78 seconds. They won the Renergen 400 in a total time of 4 hours 27 min. 16 s after a trouble-free outing.

With team-mates, Lance Woolridge/Kenny Gilbert (NWM Ford Castrol T1+ Ranger) running in second place until they hit a ditch and retired with suspension damage, the pair continued their battle with Lategan/Cummings  who opened the road early on Saturday morning, having posted the fastest combined time on Friday. Lategan/Cummings ran into issues early on the last day approaching a closed gate on the route and hitting it at a fairly high speed. The team came away unscathed with no major damage to their vehicle, but their luck did, however, turn when they hit a ditch and rolled their vehicle on the final loop, with Lategan injuring his shoulder.

Two of their team-mates kept the Toyota Gazoo Racing flag flying high by finishing on the podium with Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy-Lyle, who opened the road on the first day after the qualifying race, making up for lost time and clinching second place overall as well as in FIA T1+, trailing the winners by only two minutes and 16 seconds. The scholar, Saood Variawa with navigator, Danie Stassen, overcame their navigational issues of the first day to round off both the overall and FIA T1+ podiums finishing just over a minute behind their team-mates, with young Variawa enjoying the fast pace of the race that reminded many competitors of the Carnival City events of the early 2000’s.

After not competing for the best part of the season, Brian Baragwanath/Leonard Cremer finished fourth (4h 36 min. 47s.) with their brand-new four-wheel drive Century Racing CR 7 Twin-Turbo on its debut race. They started the final day from seventh place and were happy with the new vehicle’s performance despite experiencing some overheating problems. The team finished just under three minutes ahead of Gary Bertholdt/Henry Köhne (Toyota Hilux T1+) who brought home a top five result for their sponsors, Renergen albeit losing time with a flat tyre on the first of the two loops.

The FIA T1 battle was won by Eben Basson/Leander Pienaar (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid) who finished sixth overall (4h 42 min. 45s.) but this title war with Johan de Bruyn/Gerhard Schutte (Red-Lined Motorsport REVO T1) will continue at the last event with De Bruyn/Schutte claiming the second place in T1 while they finished 10th overall (4h 49 min. 38s.)

There was disappointment for another title contender, Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy who hit a ditch during the first of the two loops that damaged their Toyota Gazoo Racing DKR Hilux T1+. The team persevered and managed to salvage valuable points finishing 16th overall and 11th in the packed FIA T1+ class.

Three more FIA T1+ teams finished in the top 10 of an event where competitors described the route as fast, technical and tricky with not a moment to relax. Two #TeamHilux Rally-Raid teams, both consisting of brothers as team-mates, finished behind Basson/Pienaar. Johan and Werner Horn had a much better day in their Hilux DKR T1+ ‘office’ having sorted their engine management issues of the first day out to finish seventh (4h 43 min 20s.) while Fouché and Bertus Blignaut brought their Hilux DKR T1+ home in eighth place albeit with altered appearance as they rolled during the first of the two loops on the last day. Wors Prinsloo/André Vermeulen (Ford Ranger T1+) finished just 34 seconds behind the Blignaut brothers.

Just outside the top 10, former Special Vehicle Competitors, Lood du Preez/Junior Vardy completed their debut in the Production Vehicle Category successfully when they brought their FIA T1+ two-wheel drive Farmers Meat Abattoirs CR6 home in the first place while they were also the only T1+ 4x2 vehicle to finish the race, by finishing 11th overall (4h 53 min 35s.). Their team-mates, Eugene Bierman/Marius Lombard could, however,  not complete the event.

The German driver, Jϋrgen Schröder and Achim Bergman (Nissan Navara) rounded off the FIA T1 podium and were 12th overall, a mere 39 seconds behind Du Preez/Vardy and beating fellow T1 competitors, Johan and Sean van Staden (Renault Duster) by only two minutes and 32 seconds. Team Van Staden was followed by two more Red-Lined Motorsport teams with the Dutch pairing of Dave Klaassen/Tessa Rooth (REVO T1+) 14th (4h 57 min 22s.) and the Heinlein brothers, Gerhard and Nickus (VK56) 15th and fifth in FIA T1.

A finish and a victory in Class T for Schalk Burger/Henk Janse van Vuuren (King Price Xtreme VW Amarok) put them in the lead of the class championship.

There were disappointments for Simon Murray/Elvéne Vonk (WCT HT2 Toyota); the visiting Dutch driver, Rients Hofstra and Wade Harris (Red-Lined VK50) as well as the visiting German driver, Max Schröder and Ryan Bland (Nissan Navara) and Mark Corbett and his son, Luke (Century Racing CR6T Audi Twin-turbo) who could not see out the distance.

In the Special Vehicle Category, the defending overall and Class A champions, Tim Howes/Gary Campbell (BAT Spec 4) claimed their hat-trick of victories and won for the fourth time this season. The team led the way from start to finish over the two days and spent 5 hours, one minute and 58 seconds in the vehicle.

Behind them, the battle for the Class G title continued between the Mostert duo, youngster Ian behind the wheel and his father, Werner, reading him the notes and their Moto-Netix Racing Can-Am Maverick team-mates, Glen Theron/Craig Galvin as well as Geoff Minnitt/Rodney Burke (Hydro Power Equipment Can-Am Maverick) with the Mostert’s winning the class for the second time this season and finishing second overall in the category.

Communication issues on the first day as well as a broken wheel and overheating problems during the second day slowed the Mostert father and son who beat Minnitt/Burke by a mere 52 seconds. Minnitt/Burke led the class after the two racing sections on Friday, but also lost time due to a broken wheel. They rounded off the overall podium with Theron/Galvin finishing third in Class G and fifth overall. Keith and Andrew Makenete (BAT Makmobile) were second in Class A and fourth overall.

Ewald van Rensburg/Johan Scheepers (Can-Am Maverick) as well as both Class P teams, Quintin Lessing/Patrick Dodon (Century CRT) and Grant Watkins/Mark Irvine (Zarco) failed to finish the event.

With the dust settling on the Renergen 400, teams now have five weeks to prepare for the seventh and final round of the 2023 SARRC when they will meet again at the Waterberg 400 in Limpopo on 10 and 11 November.