Carnival City 400: Series shakedown report

ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP TITLE CONTENDERS SET THE PACE IN FORD CARNIVAL CITY 400 PROLOGUE The two contenders for the Special Vehicle championship today set the scene for a dramatic finale to the Absa Off Road Championship when they set the...

ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP

TITLE CONTENDERS SET THE PACE IN FORD CARNIVAL CITY 400 PROLOGUE

The two contenders for the Special Vehicle championship today set the scene for a dramatic finale to the Absa Off Road Championship when they set the pace on the prologue for tomorrow's Ford Carnival City 400.

Provisional scoring saw Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann, in the Motorite BAT, set the fastest time on the 40 kilometre prologue to determine start positions for the race proper. The Motorite pair will start 25 seconds ahead of Nick and Ryan Harper, in the Atlas Copco BAT, with the Special Vehicle and Class A championships a straight fight between the two crews. "Its an early boost, but ahead of us is 400 kilometres of hard racing," said Hutchison. "Anything can happen."

The Harpers go into tomorrow's race with a five point lead in the overall championship. It is a winner take all scenario and the finish to the season could not have been scripted better Adding to the intrigue is a contrast in styles between the two contenders. Hutchison and Bergmann, who have won three times this year, are chargers while the Harpers, who have one win this season, grind away at the opposition.

"We both have to go for it so it should be a good race," said Harper. "This sort of situation is what makes motor racing so exciting."

Hutchison/Bergmann and the Harpers dominated the prologue with third placed Gary Bertholdt and Geoff Minnitt, in the Atlas Copco Porter, a further 39 seconds off the pace. The first seven cars on the prologue were Special Vehicles with outgoing South African champions Alfie Cox and Hennie ter Stege, in a second Motorite BAT, and Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau, in the Total Motorsport Porter, completing the top five.

Brothers Johan and Etienne Bezuidenhout, in the Adenco BAT, came in ahead of their father, Bez, and Johann de Bruyn, in a second Adenco BAT. Only one point separates the two crews in the runner-up race in Class B.

Hendrik and Jan Kraaij, who have already won the Class B title, were third fastest. The Kraaijs wrapped up the title when they won the first five events of the season There will be no team order where the Bezuidenhout battle is concerned. "It is going to be a straight fight between us," grinned father Bez.

Nic Goslar, the reigning drivers champion, and Richard Carolin (Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco) were the only Class S team to finish the prologue. Newly crowned champions Richard Schilling and Chris Davies (Aceco) have decided to give this weekend a miss, and Glen Gibson and Mark Whitehurst (Absolute Aceco) ran into a clutch problem before the prologue and will start from the back of the field.

The race proper starts at 09h00 tomorrow at Carnival City with crews completing two laps of approximately 180 kilometres each. There will be a designated service point at Carnival City with the first cars expected at the finish at around 14h30.

ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP CRONJE/BIRKIN WIN FORD CARNIVAL CITY 400 PROLOGUE

Castrol Toyota Hilux factory crew Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin today boosted Toyota hopes of a victory on the final event of this season's Absa Off Road Championship ronje and Birkin, who have twice come within a toucher of winning races this year, won the prologue on the Ford Carnival City 400. The pair were 28 seconds ahead of Ford Ranger works pair Brandon Harcus and Juan Mohr.

Only one second separated Harcus and Mohr from newly crowned South African drivers champion, Duncan Vos, and Ralph Pitchford in a factory Nissan Navara. Pitchford and Francois Jordaan, who sits alongside Hannes Grobler in another works Nissan, are locked in a battle for the co-driver championship.

The first round went to Vos and Pitchford. A puncture on the 40 kilometre prologue cost Grobler/Jordaan time and they will start 21st on the grid.

A second factory Ford in the hands of former SA champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer, was fourth fastest with Ford and Toyota trying to prevent a Nissan clean sweep this year. The top five was rounded out by Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst in another Castrol Toyota Hilux.

"We owe Toyota a win and this is a good start," said Cronje. "Hopefully we can keep it all together in the race."

The early advantage in a Class D battle where five or six crews are in line to win the title, went to the Ryobi Nissan Hardbody pair of Henri and Maurice Zermatten. Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber (Raysonics Nissan Hardbody) were second with rookies Ramon Bezuidenhout and Stefan Lock third in a Toyota Hilux.

Championship leaders Cliff and Louis Weichelt, in the Bosal Toyota Hilux 4D4, were down in sixth place and face an uphill battle. They will start three minutes behind the Zermatten's There was a surprise in Class E where Thomas Rundle and Brian Roberts, in the Barden Tyre Services Nissan Hardbody, were around three minutes faster than a local crew, brothers Mark and Stuart Moffat, in the Bosal Toyota Hilux.

Third were George and Sharon Barkhuizen (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux) with Brian Martin/Ockie Fourie (Castrol Toyota Hilux) and Jack Peckham/Lucio Santoro (Ford Racing Ranger) fourth and fifth. Peckham leads the driver championship while Joks le Roux, who partners Jannie Visser in the Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux, leads the co-driver stakes.

Visser and le Roux had a poor prologue and were seventh. They will start more than five minutes behind Rundle and Roberts.

The race will start tomorrow at 09h00 at Carnival City with crews completing two laps of approximately 180 kilometres. There will be a designated service point at Carnival City with the first cars expected at the finish at around 14h30.

-credit: -credit: absa/mweb.co.za

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About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Mark White , Alfie Cox , Ralph Pitchford , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst