Carnival City: Series pre-event news 2009-08-22

VOS/PITCHFORD FAVOURED FOR HIGHVELD 400 VICTORY There are no prizes for guessing which team will be installed as pre race favourites in the Production Vehicle category at the Highveld 400, round six of the Absa Off Road Championship, at Carnival...

VOS/PITCHFORD FAVOURED FOR HIGHVELD 400 VICTORY

There are no prizes for guessing which team will be installed as pre race favourites in the Production Vehicle category at the Highveld 400, round six of the Absa Off Road Championship, at Carnival City on August 28 and 29.

With four wins in five starts under their belts and a whopping 60 point lead in the championship, the Donaldson Nissan Navara pair of Duncan Vos and Ralph Pitchford are the obvious team to beat. Vos and Pitchford have almost perfected the art of combining pace with the ability to stay on the track, and not make the mistakes that sideline other crews who have put themselves in line to win events.

The Highveld 400 returns to Carnival City after a one-year break and Donaldson Nissan team will be looking to make it six wins in six starts this season. The other victory this year went to veteran Hannes Grobler and Juan Mohr who are currently third in the championship behind Ivar Tollefsen and Quin Evans in a third factory entry.

The trio give Nissan a powerful hand but previous Carnival City based events were not entirely kind to Nissan. The 2006 event was won by Bevan Bertholdt and Robin Houghton in a Castrol Toyota Hilux and in 2007 former South African champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer won in a factory Ford Racing Ranger.

Nissan's privateer back-up has been a little thin on the ground with Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald flying the flag in the Regent Racing Navara. But Nissan get a massive boost with an entry from off road legend Alfie Cox and Jurgen Schroder in a new PS Laser Nissan Navara built by Glynn Hall and team in Midrand.

Cox and Schroeder will use the Highveld 400 and Toyota Dealer 400 events as shakedowns for the Dakar Rally next year. The 2010 event will also be held in Argentina.

It goes without saying that both Toyota and Ford would love repeats of recent history. For Toyota the need to widen a tenuous 15 point lead over Nissan in the SA Manufacturers Championship is another reason for a good showing.

For Toyota and Ford recent form offers contrasts. Toyota had a good Toyota 1000 Desert Race and a disappointing Sun City 400 while Ford, after an unhappy Botswana trip, bounced back with Woolridge and Skjoldhammer giving the new twin turbo diesel Ford Racing Ranger its maiden podium finish in the Pilanesberg.

With the Ford squad looking to be ironing out all the little niggles that go with new race cars Woolridge/Skjoldhammer and Thomas Rundle/Stavros Yiannakis, in the second factory entry, will be high on confidence. The two works cars will also have solid back-up from the privateer ranks.

Kobus van Tonder and Riaan Guelpa (Uni Freight Ford Ranger) have been models of consistency and Graham Leith and Mike Lawrenson, in the Transcor Ford Ranger, have had two solid outings in a row. Pieter Ruthven/De Waal Boshoff are due a good run in the Ruwacon Racing entry, and after a baptism of fire at Sun City young Louis Weichelt and Maret Bezuidenhout will be looking for an easier passage in the Discovery Drilling Ford Ranger.

Toyota has this year flattered to deceive. Castrol Toyota Hilux crews Anthony Taylor/Robin Houghton and Hein Lategan/Chris Birkin have led various events at various times but have not followed through. Pressure is now mounting on the squad and what is needed from either Taylor/Houghton or Lategan/Birkin is a repeat of the 2006 result.

Toyota also have a strong privateer back-up with Gary Bertholdt and Andre Vermeulen (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) coming off a strong second place at Sun City. George and Sharon Barkhuizen (AIM Toyota Hilux) also had a good Sun City outing and that will be a boost for the Bloemfontein husband and wife team, while Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux) are always top five candidates.

Young Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Jansen van Vuuren, in the RFS Toyota Hilux, are probably the most improved crew in off road at the moment and will be looking for another encouraging result. Team-mates Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, after a good start to the year, have a different task in that they will want to bounce back after a big Sun City crash.

On the Class D front Cliff Weichelt, now partnered by Johann Smalberger in the N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux D4D, still leads the driver championship -- albeit with a reduced majority after two non finishes in a row. Weichelt is 10 points clear of Dewald van Breda and Johann du Toit (Northam Toyota D4D) with a third Toyota crew, Heine Strumpher and Hendrik van der Linde, in third place in the Micaren Exel Hilux.

The Toyota runners, however, face a stiff Nissan challenge. Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber will be full of confidence after a morale boosting win at Sun City.

The win by Labuscagne and Gerber ended a run of four straight wins by Toyota crews. A good battle between the two marques is on the cards.

A run of Toyota wins in Class E also came to an end at Sun City with track start Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie taking a maiden win in the Ferodo Nissan Hardbody. They are now in a position to take the fight to the lead Toyota crews and will also be full of confidence.

Pikkie Labuschagne and Rikus Erasmus have opened up a 13 point lead over Megaworld 4x4 team-mates Deon Venter and Ian Palmer with reigning champions Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux (RFS Toyota Hilux) now also part of the mix. It adds up to a competitive race with Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling (Ruwacon Ford Ranger) also coming off a strong showing at Sun City making it a three-way fight between Toyota, Nissan and Ford.

Race headquarters, the start/finish and designated service point will be at Carnival City with the route a spectator friendly one with vantage points within easy reach of home base. The prologue to determine grid positions will start at 12:15 on August 28 and the race at 08:00 on August 29.

HUTCHISON/BERGMANN LOOK FOR A REPEAT OF HISTORY ON HIGHVELD 400

Runaway Special Vehicle championship leaders Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann will be hoping for a repeat of history at the Highveld 400, round six of the Absa Off Road Championship at Carnival City on August 28 and 29.

The Highveld 400 replaces the Limpopo 400 on this year's Absa calendar with the race returning to Carnival City, on the East Rand, for the first time since 2007. Hutchison and Bergmann, now campaigning the Motorite Revo1 4x4, won the 2007 Carnival City 400 to win the South African championship.

A repeat victory this time out would all but assure Hutchison and Bergmann of their second national title. After four wins in five starts this season the pair have a lead of more than 50 points in the championship, and another win would allow the engravers to start putting their names on this year's trophy.

But, despite the four wins from five starts record, Hutchison/Bergmann do not face an easy passage. There are at least half a dozen other crews in the Class A ranks who could bag a win.

Only four points separate two of those crews -- Shameer Variawa/Siegfried Rousseau (Total Porter) and Nick and Ryan Harper (Atlas Copco BAT) -- in second and third in the championship. Both have the credentials to win with a good contrast in styles between the two teams.

Mike Whitehouse and Mathew Carlson are fourth in the championship in the Regent racing BAT and have been a revelation this season. They are knocking at the door for a win while Limpopo crew Naeem Moosajee and Mohammad Moultson (Tyre Race Jimco) have been models of consistency with a 100 percent finish record.

After dodgy starts to the season the two Sullwald Racing crews, reigning champions Kallie and Quintin in the BAT and Herman and Wichard in the Zarco, are starting to show ominous form. The reigning champions, in particular, look as though they are again ready for the winner's enclosure.

There are a couple of other dangermen in the field. The two Century Racing crews, Mark Corbett and Rudi Balzer in the 4x4 CR1 and Colin Matthews and Alan Smith in the conventional BAT, have plenty of pace. Reliability has been a problem for both teams this season, but if they keep it all together will be there or thereabouts.

KwaZulu-Natal crew Clint Gibson and Gary Campbell, in the Gibson Racing SVR, could also come into the picture along with Jimmy Zahos and Stefan Coetzee in the ex Bertholdt Porter. The Gibson/Campbell car is new but has shown potential.

Two wins in a row have given Cape crew Derrick du Toit and Ian Pienaar (Orange Tree BAT) a comfortable 35 point cushion in Class B. They will be the target for other crews with sheer doggedness taking brothers Keith and Andre Makenete into second place in the championship in the Zarco.

The Makenete's now narrowly lead Bez and Deon Bezuidenhout (Adenco BAT) who have had a miserable run since winning the opening race of the year. Simon Beckett and Tim Curtis, after a brave Sun City performance, also come into the reckoning with a good fight in the offing.

There is also a good fight in the offing in Class P where reigning champions Johan and Etienne Bezuidenhout (Adenco BAT) still top the table -- but with the rest of the pack closing in. Like father and brother in Class B, the Bezuidenhout's running in Class P has also had a rough time of it lately.

The class was turned upside down at Sun City when veteran Ernest Corbett and son-in-law Warwick Goosen won in the futuristic Century Racing CR2 with its enclosed bodywork. That will have made everyone sit up and take notice and Corbett/Goosen will fancy their chances on the East Rand.

At the top of the table David and Gary White (Ruwacon BAT) have closed to within eight points of the Cape based Bezuidenhout brothers with Jan Kraaij and former South African Champion Hennie ter Stege also coming into the picture in the Keymax BAT. KZN flyer Don Thompson now partnered by Hjalmar van Gessellen is always a danger in the Zarco and Johan van Staden and James Rossouw (KEC BAT) will be looking to bounce back after a couple of disappointing outings.

A couple of old timers in Bodo Bertholdt and Richard Schilling will also be looking for good results. Bertholdt and Philip Herselman had a good run at Sun City in the Atlas Copco BAT, while Schilling and Chris Davies are due a good result in the Aceco ZA.

-credit: msa

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Series Other rally
Drivers Alfie Cox , Ian Palmer , Ralph Pitchford , Quin Evans , Jurgen Schroder , Mark Corbett , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst , Leeroy Poulter