Newcomers to the Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody off road squad, Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford, surprised a star-studded field entered in the Nissan Sugarbelt 400, opening round of the 2005 Absa Off Road Championship, when they set the fastest time in today’s 31km Prologue in Eston, Kwa-Zulu Natal.

The reigning Class D champions qualified 14-seconds faster than team-mates Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan in the 2004 Production Vehicle Championship winning Nissan Hardbody and 26-seconds ahead of Neil Woolridge and Ken Sjoldhammer in the Team Ford Racing Ranger in which the former Production Vehicle Champions won last year’s Carnival City 400.

Brothers Gary and Bevan Bertholdt gave notice that they would be the ones to beat in the Special Vehicle category when they qualified fourth and fifth respectively. Gary and co-driver Siegfried Rousseau posted a time of 26m01s in the Advansoft BAT while Bevan and Nick Selemolela were 1m07s slower after getting lost in the new Itec BAT Spec 1.

Manfred Schroder and Alec Harris had a good run in the Class D Team Ford Racing Ranger and recorded the same time as Bertholdt and Selemolela and were followed by Class B leaders Evan Hutchison and Trevor Ormerod in the Motorite BAT.

Local crew Will Battershill and Reg Sutton were eighth overall and second in Class B in the John Rowe built JRE with 2004 Lesotho Sun 400 winners John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt ninth in the Class A Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jimco. Weir-Smith and Minnitt had a few moments during the Prologue including a high-speed excursion into the sugar cane and a close encounter with a hefty gatepost.

Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin, runners-up in the 2004 Class D championship looked set to grab the Class D lead until a puncture eight kilometres from the end slowed their progress in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i.

Arnold du Plessis and Johan Knox from Limpopo Province were third in Class D and 21st overall in the BB Auto Nissan Hardbody.

Veterans Richard Schilling and Chris Davies finished 17th and were the fastest Class S qualifiers in the new Plastotech Aceco and were followed by Nardus Alberts and Collin Hunter in the 19th placed Wrapsa Raceco.

The first Class E qualifiers were reigning champions Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn who finished 18th in the privately entered Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i with Thomas Rundle and Stavros Yiannakis 20th overall and second in Class E in the Barden Nissan Hardbody. Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst finished 22nd and third in the Class E Tyco Toyota Hilux 2.7i.

The Nissan Sugarbelt 400 proper gets underway at 08h00 tomorrow with crews completing two laps of a figure-of-eight route comprising a 91km East Loop and a 119km West Loop, which includes fast sections through the sugar cane fields and rough, technical sections in the forests.

Original article from Car