Carnival City Casino 400 preview

Pressure Situation For Off-Road Title Contenders Pressure will be the name of the game for championship contenders on the Carnival City Casino 400, the final event of the MSA Off Road Car Championship, on November 16 and 17. This is...

Pressure Situation For Off-Road Title Contenders

Pressure will be the name of the game for championship contenders on the Carnival City Casino 400, the final event of the MSA Off Road Car Championship, on November 16 and 17.

This is particularly true of the Production Vehicle category where all the championship issues - and most of them are desperately close affairs - have still to be settled. The opposite is true, however, of the Special Vehicle category where three of the four titles up for grabs have already been won and lost.

The Carnival City Casino 400, which sees Sun International's return to off-road sponsorship, replaces the Roof of Africa Rally which this year is for motorcycles and quad racers only. A section of the route, however, will remind competitors of Roof features and, according to Koepel Club route director Willie Prinsloo, outstanding titles will be won the hard way.

Despite the overall severity of Prinsloo's route, the Carnival City Casino 400 will also endeavour to bring the spectacle of off-road racing a little closer to Gauteng motorsport enthusiasts. A three kilometer section within the Carnival City Casino grounds provides for some artificial obstacles and, along with numerous spectator vantage points along the route, will provide enthusiasts with plenty of action.

The Production Vehicle championship issues could not have been better stage managed, with the situation stimulating interest after a long, hard and highly competitive season. While championship issues will stimulate crowd attendance, those involved in the title scraps will be in a state of nervous tension with a great deal of hard work throughout the season boiling down to a final throw of the dice.

In the Production Vehicle overall drivers and co-drivers championship four drivers - Buks Carolin, Shumi van Vuuren, Giniel de Villiers and reigning champion Neil Woolridge - all have a chance of lifting the championship. Hennie ter Stege, Francois Jordaan and reigning champion Kenny Skjoldhammer are in line to lift the co-drivers title, and battle lines have been clearly drawn.

Carolin and ter Stege (Mitsubishi Pajero) have not won an event this season, but consistency has kept them at the top of the overall leaderboard and the Class T Supertruck standings. Carolin has a six point edge over van Vuuren in the drivers championship, with ter Stege a little better off with a 21 point cushion over Jordaan.

Where Carolin and ter Stege are concerned, consistency will again be their biggest ally. Popular opinion will be that the overall winners are likely to come from the factory Nissan Hardbody entries of de Villiers/Jordaan and veterans Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke, and the Moreca Ford Ranger in the hands of former bikers Woolridge and Skjoldhammer.

Others like former champions Apie Reyneke and Robin Houghton (Team Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser), Cliff Barker/Malcolm Joubert (Barker Performance Products Land Rover) and the Vacation Vans Jeep Cherokee in the hands of the Piazza-Musso brothers, Claudio and Paolo, and Scott Abraham will be there to run interference and hope for an upset win. Loaded with hi-tec machinery and drivers and co-drivers who have won championships in off-road racing, circuit racing, rallying and karting, Class T is an ammunition dump waiting for someone to detonate a major conflagration.

As far as the championship is concerned, Carolin and ter Stege are, perhaps, on slightly more solid ground tactically. With a couple of points in hand they will be able to monitor the progress - and act accordingly - of those who have no option but to go into the race in attack mode.

The situation offers interesting possibilities. Off-road races these days are, as Nissan team boss Glynn Hall points out, one long and very fast rally special stage, and the Carnival City Casino 400 is likely to prove to be a survival of the fittest with reliability a telling factor.

Tactics are also going to be a major consideration for van Vuuren and Fanie Kotze in the Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser. Van Vuuren has a comfortable cushion in the Class D championship, but will also have an eye open on what is happening in Class T. Matters in the Supertruck category could be crucial to his overall title hopes, and once again an interesting situation could develop.

Piet Haasbroek and Christo Bosch, in another Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser, and the young pairing of Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr (Petronas Syntium Isuzu) add to the Class D equation. Corbett is just seven points behind Haasbroek in the drivers championship, with only nine points separating Kotze, Bosch and Mohr in the co-drivers stakes.

All three crews are capable of victory but, once again, the advantage of tactical choices would appear to lie with van Vuuren and Kotze. Reliability will also once again be a factor, and it is going to be interesting to see which crews decide to go for broke and force the pace from the word go.

Matters in Class E are just as intense and here a mere 10 points separate Manfred Schroder/Jack Peckham (Moreca Ford Ranger), Andrew and Chris Birkin (Castrol Toyota Hilux) and Coetzee Labuschagne and Piet Heunis in the Raysonic Hilux. The Birkins, the reigning champions, are just two points behind Schroder/Peckham, and both crews - along with Labuschagne and Heunis - have no option but to throw all their eggs in one basket and keep breakages down to a minimum.

Against the situation in the Production Vehicle categories, the situation in the Special Vehicle championships looks positively mundane. The father and son team of Franz Czepek senior and junior (Vee Motors Chenowth), have wrapped up the overall drivers and co-drivers championships as well as the Class A titles.

The major interest on what some competitors may dub the "Gauteng Roof" will be the battle for second place in the Class A championship between Greg Harvey/Boy Stone (Castrol Jimco) and John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt in the O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel entry. Only seven points separate the two crews and, with the championship issue settled, both would love to end the season on a high note with a win.

The sibling Czepek has sat out the last two events with a back injury, but five wins on the trot were enough for him to wrap up the co-drivers title. A slip on the recent Moreca Ford Caledon 400 saw Czepek senior fail to chalk up a seventh consecutive win this season, but a win this time around would set the seal on a terrific season for Czepek.

Veteran Giel Nel (Luk Afrika Truggy) also has the Class B drivers title in the bag. The veteran Nel will also finish runner-up in the overall drivers championship, and that leaves the Class B co-drivers to be sorted out. Here Deon Bezuidenhout has the inside track with a 10 point lead over no fewer than five other co-drivers who are all bracketed together, and sorting that lot out should provide for a free for all.

The Carnival City Casino 400 has other attractions - an Off-Road Expo and all the fun of the fair - but winning championships is what it is all about. This is particularly true of Class T where manufacturers vie for prestige, and a fine line between success and failure sees the Gauteng event provide for a finale that is loaded with potential for drama.

-MSA-

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Series Other rally
Drivers Giniel de Villiers , Mark Corbett