2006 season preview

BUMPER SEASON LIES AHEAD FOR ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP The 2006 Absa Off Road Championship is shaping up to provide another bumper season of hugely competitive racing. The championship kicks off with the Nissan Dealer 400 in the Western Cape...

BUMPER SEASON LIES AHEAD FOR ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP

The 2006 Absa Off Road Championship is shaping up to provide another bumper season of hugely competitive racing.

The championship kicks off with the Nissan Dealer 400 in the Western Cape on March 17 and 18, and already there are indications that both the Production Vehicle and Special Vehicle categories are going to be ultra competitive. Last season all but one of the championships on offer in the Absa series went all the way to the wire.

"We could well see the same sort of situation surfacing this season," said Motorsport South Africa Off Road Car Racing Commission President Piet Swanepoel. "Over the years the racing has each season become more competitive and more professional, and that trend is set to continue.

"We have a settled calendar with eight events around the country and in Botswana and Lesotho which provide for plenty of variety, and we are looking forward to another season of growth."

On the Production Car front the hugely spectacular Class T vehicles, with which Nissan have dominated over the last four years, have been phased out. They have been replaced by a less expensive Super Productions Class which will see Nissan, Toyota and Ford at loggerheads again.

Nissan look set to run two Proudly South African entries for former champions Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan and a team still to be announced. Toyota will run two Hilux 4.0 V6 SP entries for brothers Mark and Gavin Cronje, partnered by the experienced Chris Birkin and Robin Houghton respectively, while Ford are also expected to run two SP entries for Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer and as yet unnamed crew.

Other SP Class entries are certain to emerge as the season progresses, with a number already in production. This will add to the spectacle at the front of the field, with some fierce racing on the cards.

The ongoing rivalry between Nissan and Toyota will spread into Classes D and E via a string of factory backed and privateer teams from both manufacturers. Ford will also be a part of the action, but will be swamped by sheer numbers from Nissan and Toyota.

The Special Vehicle category also looks set to produce fireworks. Here there will be a mixture of settled driver/car combinations in the premier Class A category along with some new faces, returning former champions and new machinery.

Sheer consistency took Terence Marsh and Mike Whitehouse, in the Nashua Mobile BAT, to last year's title, but will be stretched to win back-to-back titles. Last season almost every race produced a different winner, and this is another trend that is likely to continue.

Tried and tested combinations will also be challenged this year by some interesting 'newcomers' and new machinery. Former champions Hermann and Karl-Heinz Sullwald, after a sabbatical of 10 years through family and work commitments, will be back in a two car team.

They will run newly commissioned Zarcos, and on past history will immediately be competitive. Herman will be partnered by wife Bertha and Karl-Heinz by technical guru Paul Helberg.

On the new car front there will be an imported Porter for Sam and Ahmed Moolla while former champion Shameer Variawa will also be out in a Porter. The most interesting development, however, will come from veterans Nardus Alberts and Collin Hunter.

Alberts and Hunter will be out in a new BAT that features a mid mounted engine as opposed to the traditional rear mounted power unit. And with around 500 horsepower on tap the pair could upset a few applecarts.

Class B and Class S will also be highly competitive. Once again some tried and tested combinations will do battle with some fresh new faces.

-msa-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Gavin Cronje