Botswana 1000 pre-event challenge news

NISSAN UNDER PRESSURE ON TOYOTA 1000 DESERT RACE Nissan's domination of the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in recent seasons will be in danger of crumbling away from June 9 to 11. This year's bash through Botswana, the 26th anniversary of the event,...

NISSAN UNDER PRESSURE ON TOYOTA 1000 DESERT RACE

Nissan's domination of the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in recent seasons will be in danger of crumbling away from June 9 to 11.

This year's bash through Botswana, the 26th anniversary of the event, will see the factory Proudly South African Nissan team looking for a fifth successive victory on what is the signature event in the Absa Off Road Championship. The event is the third round of this year's championship and there are signs that both Toyota, who would love a win on their own event, and Ford have the ammunition to shoot down the Nissan challenge.

Ford Racing, in particular, look menacing after the Production Vehicle category win by Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer on the recent Nissan Sugarbelt 400 in KwaZulu-Natal. The KZN win for Woolridge, a three-time winner of the Toyota Desert Race, and Skjoldhammer in the Ford Racing Ranger was a comprehensive one and will be the cause for some concern in the Nissan camp.

Woolridge and Skjoldhammer will have backing from Shameer Variawa and VZ van Zyl in a second Ford Racing Ranger and both teams are in with a good chance. Woolridge and Skjoldhammer, in particular, have the experience to dominate proceedings.

Toyota have had two disappointing outings in the Super Production Class and will be making a special effort to produce a good showing from Mark Cronje/Chris Birkin and Bevan Bertholdt/Robin Houghton in the Castrol Toyota V6 Toyota Hilux entries. The factory Toyota's have, however, shown potential and could find no better stage for fireworks this time around.

For all that Nissan put into the fray in works Nissan Navara entries two highly experienced crews in South African champions Hannes Grobler/Francois Jordaan and Duncan Vos/Ralph Pitchford. Grobler is a four-time winner of the Toyota Desert Race, with his first win going all the way back to 1986, and there is no shortage of experience among the two crews.

It all adds up to a fascinating duel between three highly motivated factory teams. Speed, endurance, patience and a dollop of good fortune are ingredients that go towards winning the Toyota 1000 Desert Race and the tactical battles that develop are going to be hugely interesting -- and could prove to be decisive.

It is almost certain that the overall winner will come from the SP Class, but recent history suggests that the Class D and Class E frontrunners could find themselves fighting for top five finishes. On the Class D front Coetzee Labuschagne and Johan Gerber, in the Raysonics Nissan Hardbody, lead the championship by virtue of scoring points on both events so far this season.

In a class where there is an interesting Nissan versus Toyota scenario, Labuschagne and Gerber hope to have reliability on their side. For sheer pace, however, the winners could come from either Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst (Tyco Trucks Toyota Hilux) or Cliff and Louis Weichelt in the Bosal Toyota Hilux with both crews each having won once this season.

Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn, in the Castrol Toyota Hilux, will be looking for a change of fortune after a pair of non finishes, and relish the long distance events. The BB Auto Nissan Hardbodys of Jurie and Andre du Plessis and Arnold du Plessis and Johan Knox will be looking for good results, while Mitsubishi Pajero pair of Kobus van Tonder and Rian Guelpa will be looking to continue their consistent run so far this season.

Two local crews, Baart Aarse/Peetra van Zanten and Kim Brand/Gilly Dykes, both in Nissan's will add interest to an already competitive class. The locals will be competing in the regional championship but could upset a few of the national competitors.

Reigning Class D drivers champion Manfred Schroder, who will be paired with Ward Huxtable in the diesel Ford Racing Ranger, will be the outright favourites. Pace and reliability could also see Schroder pushing for a top five finish.

A host of Toyota entries, led by the works Castrol Toyota Hilux of Brian Martin and Ockie Fourie, will provide the opposition where the Ford is concerned. A win and a third has seen Martin and Fourie make a good start to the season, but the dark horses could turn out to be reigning Class F champions Mark and Stuart Moffat.

The pair have opted out of Class F and are now campaigning an ex works Castrol Toyota Hilux in Bosal colours in Class E. They finished second first time out on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 and could spring a surprise.

A gaggle of Toyota Hilux entries adds extra interest to the class. The Ruwacon team will have two Toyota Hilux entries for George and Sharon Barkhuizen and Pieter Ruthven/DeWaal Boshoff, while former track racers Jaco Swanepoel (IDM Cement Toyota Hilux) and Fabio Tafani (Club Refrigeration Toyota Hilux) will have their first taste of long distance off road racing.

A lone Mahindra will keep the Indian flag flying. Douw de Beer and actor Ben Kruger will be looking for their first finish after mechanical problems on the two events run so far this season.

The event gets underway on Friday, June 9 with a 52 kilometre prologue to determined start positions. Racing section one on Saturday, June 10 will start from Game City, on the outskirts of Gaborone, and will finish at the quarry north of the capital.

The final day on Sunday, June 11 will see the route run in reverse direction with the start at the quarry and the finish at Game City. On both days there will be a designated service point about 20 kilometres from Molepolole.

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SPEED VERSUS ENDURANCE ON TOYOTA 1000 DESERT RACE

The Special Vehicle category on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in Botswana from June 9 to 11 is shaping up to provide a fascinating contrast in style and approach.

The event is round three of the Absa Off Road Championship and there is no shortage of potential winners. The only marathon event on the calendar, however, offers up the prospect of intriguing duels between those crews who are speed merchants and those who take a more circumspect approach.

So far this season the wins on the Nissan Dealer 400 and the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 have gone to Brandon Harcus (Motorite BAT) and Evan Hutchinson/Achim Bergman, also in a Motorite BAT, who fall into the speed merchant category. The overall championship and Class A, however, are led by reigning champions Terence Marsh and Mike Whitehouse (Nashua Mobile BAT) who tend to grind out results rather than blow the opposition into the weeds.

It is the contrast that makes the Toyota 1000 Desert Race such a fascinating contest. On an event of this nature one would tend to punt crews who forsake out and out pace for a more controlled approach.

On this basis Marsh and Whitehouse would be good bets, along with Will Battershill and Reg Sutton, in the Jimco, and Nick and Ryan Harper in the BAT. The Sullwald brothers, Karl-Heinz and Herman, in Zarco entries also have good credentials along with Nardus Alberts and Collin Hunter who gave the Wrapsa BAT an impressive debut on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400.

John Moore and Ashley Thorn have come up with good results in the Chenowth, and Clint Gibson and Mike Brown (Absolute BAT) have the potential to win. One cannot help feeling, however, that the winners are likely to come from the speed merchant brigade.

Harcus has the ability to become only the fourth driver to win the Toyota Desert Race in a singleseater, while the two other Motorite crews, Hutchison/Bergman and Alfie Cox and Hennie Ter Stege, also have the pace to simply run away from the opposition. Cox is also in the unique position in that he could also become the first person to win the Toyota Desert Race on two wheels and in both the Production and Special Vehicle categories.

Another speed merchant, Gary Bertholdt, has overcome a shoulder injury and will be among the favourites with Henry Kirstein again sitting alongside him.

There is also no shortage of potential winners in Class B. Bez Bezuidenhout and Johan de Bruyn (Adenco Sandmaster) and the van Graan brothers, Rudi and Pierre, in the Technochair Zarco have tasted victory this season, and will be full of confidence.

Former champion Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain, in the JRE Ford, will want to get their season back on track after two non finishes, while Swaziland crew John Thompson and Clint McNamara (Zarco), Ernest Corbett/Warwick Goosen (Century Property Developments BAT) and the Kraaij brothers, Jan and Hendrik, will all be looking for good results. As is the case in Class A duels are likely to emerge between crews who favour racing flat out all the time and those who opt for the more cautious approach. Also in the equation will be former Class B champion Giel Nel, partnered by Johan Smalberger in the Bosal Truggy who has turned his back on Class A and gone back to his roots.

Class S is also likely to produce some highly competitive racing. Local crew Gary Gillingham and Peter van Vuuren, in the Shell Botswana Raceco, will want to do well on home soil and local knowledge will be an advantage.

However, crews like Richard Schilling, an overall winner of the Desert Race in 1990, and Chris Davies (Plastotech Aceco) and Archie Rutherford and Craig Doubtfire (Nashua Mobile Raceco) are highly experienced. Schilling/Davies and Rutherford/Doubtfire have each won once this season and a good duel could develop here.

Also in with a chance are Naeem Moosajee and Naazim Moti in the Tyre Rack Raceco and the Kopanong Hotel Superteam pair of Nic Goslar and George Bowie in a Raceco.

After two events there will be crews who feel they have so far under achieved. For those who fall into this category and for those who would like to keep good early season momentum going, the Botswana event is an important one.

The field is bolstered by six local entries. The locals, however, will compete on a regional basis but could surprise a few of the national competitors with local knowledge the key factor.

For both the under achievers and those who have promising starts the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, as always, is going to be a test of character.

-msa-

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Series Other rally
Drivers Mike Brown , Alfie Cox , John Moore , Ralph Pitchford , John Thompson , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst