Records set, history made, new Rally-Raid champions and titles defended successfully at the end of a thrilling season

The 2023 SA Rally-Raid Championship ended on a high note with the Waterberg 400, the seventh and final round of the season that took place in the Thabazimbi area in the Limpopo Province. Not only was the event extremely enjoyable, but it served as the pinnacle of a thrilling season where history was made, new champions emerged and other outstanding titles successfully defended.

And when new champions are crowned, it means disappointment for others with, a few curve balls here and there, all adding spice to the excitement of the season.

In the end, a third overall and FIA T1+ victory this season for Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer (NWM Ford Castrol Ranger T1+) resulted in the team being crowned the Overall Production Vehicle Champions as well as the FIA T1+ Champions. It was the first championship title in 17 years for the NWM Ford team with Gareth’s father and team-owner, Neil Woolridge claiming the premier class title in 2006 together with navigator, Kenny Skjöldhammer.  The history books were also rewritten as it is the first time a father and son have both been crowned SA Overall Production Vehicle Champions in the series, with Woolridge/Skjöldhammer winning the 2001 Overall Production Vehicle Championship.

Behind the overall winners, various teams were split up in the standings due to injuries and different team combinations. In the Overall Drivers’ Championship, Guy Botterill (Toyota Gazoo Racing DKR Hilux T1+) was Woolridge’s main rival as his team-mate, Henk Lategan, was injured in the penultimate round, and out of action,  with Lady Luck also turning her back on another of their team-mates, the defending overall and FIA T1+ Drivers’ Champion, Giniel de Villiers, who was fighting for a podium finish.

With a victory and three more podium positions under the belt, Botterill, together with Lategan’s navigator, Brett Cummings, took on the Waterberg 400 with Botterill aiming for his first SARRC title, but it was not to be, and Botterill (132 points) finished the season as the runner-up trailing Woolridge by 47 points with De Villiers third (129 points). Lategan, who won three events during the season, finished fourth (116 points) followed by Gareth’s brother and team-mate, Lance (74 points).

De Villiers’ navigator, Dennis Murphy, finished second behind Dreyer in the Overall Navigators’ Championship (129 points) with Cummings having to relinquish his crown when he finished third (116 points). Botterill’s regular navigator, Simon Vacy-Lyle is fourth (84 points) after missing two events with Lance’s new navigator, Kenny Gilbert fifth (74 points) after an up and down season that saw the team claiming two podium positions.

Competitors receive an additional five points for starting a race resulting in Woolridge/Dreyer ending the season with 214 points in the FIA T1+ Championship. Here, Botterill again finished as the runner-up (170 points) followed by his two team-mates, De Villiers (169 points) and Lategan (152 points). Gary Bertholdt (Toyota Hilux T1+) rounds off the top five (113 points) after a relatively consistent season that includes a podium finish at the Waterberg 400. Lance Woolridge also finished with 113 points followed by Johan Horn (#TeamHilux Rally-Raid DKR T1+) with 82 points; Lance Trethewey (King Price Xtreme CR6) with 65 points in eighth place after missing two events; Chris Visser (Red-Lined REVO T1+) in ninth (57 points) and Wors Prinsloo (Ford Ranger T1+) in 10th place (56 points) with these two teams also missing two events during the season.

The FIA T1+ Navigators’ Championship looks somewhat different with Murphy finishing second behind Dreyer (169 points) and Cummings (160 points) rounding out the podium. Bertholdt’s navigator, Henry Köhne (113 points), finished a position higher than his driver in fourth place accumulating the same number of points as Gilbert. Vacy-Lyle is sixth (104 points) followed by Johan’s brother and navigator, Werner (82 points) after a tough season for the brothers that saw their father and a senior member of their technical crew pass away at the opening and final rounds respectively.

Trethewey’s navigator, Adriaan Roets (65 points) finished eighth; Zaheer Bodhanya, who stood in for Vacy-Lyle next to Botterill at the two Parys 400 events (58 points) is ninth and Visser’s navigator, Albertus Venter (57 points) finished 10th with André Vermeulen, who read the notes for Prinsloo, 11th, trailing Venter by a single point.

In FIA T1, the defending champions, Eben Basson and Leander Pienaar (#Team-Hilux Rally-Raid) won the title war against their rivals, Johan de Bruyn/Gerhard Schutte (Red-Lined REVO T1) with this title fight balanced on a knife edge until the end. Basson/Pienaar (206 points) claimed four class victories but were excluded after Round Five at Parys while De Bruyn/Schutte (183 points) won the opening round but could not see out the distance in round five.  

The father and son duo of Johan and Sean van Staden (Renault Duster) rounds off the FIA T1 podium (140 points) after finishing on the podium twice. German driver, Jurgen Schröder (105 points) and Ryan Bland (75 points) are fourth in the respective championships, with Bland also scoring points next to Schröder’s son, Daniel, who finished ninth having to sit out the final two events due to an injury.

Jayden Els (King Price Xtreme SVR) is fifth in the FIA T1 Drivers’ Championship (69 points) leading Nic Pienaar (Red-Lined REVO T1) as well as Fouché Blignaut (#Team-Hilux Rally-Raid), who moved to FIA T1+ after the Parys 400, by a single point. Gerhard Heinlein (Red-Lined VK56) is eighth (62 points) with the Dutch driver, Dave Klaassen 10th (50 points) after competing in this class on three occasions.

In the FIA T1 Navigators’ Championship, Carl Swanepoel, who competed with Pienaar, finished the season in fifth place (68 points), one point ahead of Stuart Gregory who navigated for Jurgen at four events. Bertus Blignaut is seventh (63 points) followed by Elvéne Vonk (60 points) who sat next to Els with Klaassen’s Dutch navigator, Tessa Rooth ninth (50 points) and Rudi Heinlein 10th (45 points).

The Class T Championship was won by Schalk Burger/Henk Janse van Vuuren (King Price Xtreme VW Amarok) with the team missing the season opener and not being able to complete the three-day marathon event in Botswana. Their 86 points are 22 more than Hendrik and Heinrich Du Plessis (Ford Ranger) who also missed the final two races. Barnard and his wife, Minette Johnstone (NWM Ford Ranger) complete the podium (29 points).

Toyota, in a phenomenal show of character, also made history by claiming the Manufacturer’s Championship for the 16th consecutive year, earning 621 points in total during the season. Ford finished as the runner-up (310 points) followed by Nissan (157 points); Century (88 points); Renault (40 points); SVR (18 points) and Volkswagen (11 points).

The 2023 SARRC attracted numerous international competitors during the season adding testimony to the high level of professionalism and competition in South Africa, with the series being recognised as one of the toughest globally.

With the exceptional quality of locally designed and built vehicles, that meet the exacting standards of the international arena, and showcase the high-level of technical expertise and competitive machinery, again proves why the SARRC is the series in which to participate.