Sunday, 30 August 2009


NISSAN MOTORSPORT SAYS: Duncan Vos and Ralph Pitchford (Donaldson Nissan Navara) are the 2009 champion driver and co-driver in this year’s Absa National Off Road Championship for production vehicles. They secured their titles, Vos’s fourth and Pitchford’s second, with two rounds remaining when they finished eighth overall in the Highveld 400 in Gauteng on Saturday afternoon. It was Nissan Motorsport’s ninth successive championship win since the company switched from circuit racing to off road racing in 2001.

Such has been the domination of Vos and Pitchford in this year’s championship – they have won four of the six events to date – that their poorest result of the season so far was enough to put them out of reach of their nearest rivals. Vos was the defending champion driver and has now won the title three years in succession.

The Highveld 400, which started from Carnival City with a 99-km prologue on Friday and finished at Carnival City after two racing legs of 134 km on Saturday, was won by Gary Bertholdt and Andre Vermeulen (Toyota Hilux), who finally brought to an end Nissan’s 11-race winning streak. Second, 1 min 43 sec in arrears, were former champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer (Ford Ranger). Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald (Regent Racing Nissan Navara) were third, 29 min 17 sec behind the winners and 14 min 41 sec ahead of Nissan Motorsport’s Ivar Tollefsen and Quin Evans (Donaldson Nissan Navara).

All four crews were competing in the premier Super Production class.

Privateers Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber (Raysonics Nissan Hardbody) won class D and did very well to finish 11th overall out of just 16 finishers.

Apart from the all-important championship win and the class win, it was not Nissan’s best day in the bush. Former champion driver Hannes Grobler and defending champion co-driver Juan Mohr (Donaldson Nissan Navara) won Friday’s prologue and led for the first 50 km before dropping back to second with brake problems. They were later forced to retire before the halfway point with a broken side shaft after contact with the concrete wall of a bridge.

Vos and Pitchford, who had started fourth among the production vehicles on Saturday after suffering a puncture on the prologue and losing further time beached on a disused dam wall, reached the mandatory service stop at the halfway point in second place, just 18 seconds behind Bertholdt and Vermeulen.

On the second loop they hit a rock in the dust as they drew alongside Bertholdt and Vermeulen to take the lead and suffered a broken bolt on the steering arm. They limped very slowly some 70 km to the finish, completing the loop 58 minutes slower than they had done earlier in the morning.

The Norwegian/English combination of Tollefsen and Evans, who had been second in the championship at the start of the event, lost all further hope of challenging for the title when they started 47th among the combined production and special vehicle field on Saturday after losing 22 minutes stuck on the same dam wall as their team-mates. Despite heavy dust which made overtaking difficult, they battled their way back into the top 10 by the halfway stage and did well to finish in the top four. They are now third in the championship, a single point behind Bertholdt and still in the running for the runner-up spot.

A trouble-free run after starting 21st overall and 10th among the production vehicles saw Marsh and Groenewald score the best overall result by Nissan privateers. It moved them up to sixth in the championship.

Glyn Hall, general manager of Nissan Motorsport: “It’s a bitter sweet moment: our magic run of individual event successes has finally ended, as we knew it eventually would, but our ninth successive championship more than makes up for this. These are unique achievements and are a great tribute to our whole team. I am very proud of them all. The manner in which Duncan and Ralph soldiered on today, against all the odds, demonstrates the kind of spirit that makes this team a winning one.”