Carnival City: Series preview

PRODUCTION VEHICLE CHAMPIONSHIP HEADING FOR TIGHT FINISH The 4x4 Mega World 400 at Carnival City on August 27 and 28 takes the Absa Off Road Championship into the second half of the season with a tight championship issue brewing in the...

PRODUCTION VEHICLE CHAMPIONSHIP HEADING FOR TIGHT FINISH

The 4x4 Mega World 400 at Carnival City on August 27 and 28 takes the Absa Off Road Championship into the second half of the season with a tight championship issue brewing in the Production Vehicle championship.

After four events so far this season - with three of them won by privateers - only 23 points separate seven crews. Two wins and a gutsy finish on the recent Sun City 400 keep RFS Toyota Hilux crew Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst at the top of the table, but behind them there is a bun fight.

Visser and Badenhorst have a 13 point lead over reigning drivers' champion Duncan Vos and Rob Howie (Team Castrol Toyota Hilux) who are just one point ahead of former champions Hannes Grobler/Hennie ter Stege (4x4 Mega World BMW) and Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer in the Team Ford Racing Ranger TDCi. A win at Sun City has lifted Terence Marsh and Buks Carolin (Regent Racing Nissan Navara) into fourth and behind them Gary Bertholdt/Andre Vermeulen (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) and Mike Whitehouse/Mathew Carlson (Regent Racing Nissan Navara) are locked together.

The situation at the top of the table and in the premier SP Class is indicative of the highly competitive nature of the Absa Off Road Championship. It also makes predicting winners a risky business.

Adding to the intrigue is the fact that five of the top seven have non finishes to their names, and cannot afford another failure to see out the distance. Only Woolridge/Skjoldhammer and Whitehouse/Carlson have 100 percent finish records, although the Ford crew missed the opening event of the season.

Visser/Badenhorst and Bertholdt and Vermeulen, who won this event last year, are obvious choices as frontrunners. There is a question mark over the reliability of the BMW, which has 4x4 Mega World backing for this event and which will be having only its third outing, and damage control will be the name of the game for Grobler and ter Stege.

After winning the Toyota Dealer 400 in their first appearance of the season Woolridge/Skjoldhammer have been hit by little niggles. The pair are also former winners of the event and the compact route should suit the diesel Ford Ranger.

The two Regent Racing Nissan Navara crews will again rely on grinding down the opposition. The Sun City win for Marsh/Carolin came from left field while Whitehouse/Carlson have relied on an enviable finish record to regularly gather in points.

Of the more fancied crews those with the toughest job at Carnival City are the Team Castrol Toyota pairings of Vos/Howie and Anthony Taylor and Robin Houghton. With Toyota's two wins this season coming from privateers Visser/Badenhorst there is mounting pressure on the Toyota factory team to produce a victory. A return to form at Sun City by Thomas Rundle and Juan Mohr in the Barden Tyres Nissan Navara also elevates them into the bracket of potential winners. Sun City produced plenty of evidence that the Barden team has come to grips with the ex Vos car, and confidence will be high.

The Team Ford and Team Castrol Toyota factory teams have plenty of other support from privateer outfits. On the Ford front Kobus van Tonder and Freddie Kriel (Uni Freight Ford Ranger) produced their best result of the season at Sun City, with Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling, in the Ruwacon Racing Ford Ranger looking to bounce back after losing their 100 percent finish record in the Pilanesberg.

The ever improving Toyota Hilux crew of Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren, also with 4x4 Mega World backing for this event, will be looking at a top five finish, with Bloemfontein pair George Barkhuizen/David van Wyck (AIM Toyota Hilux) also looking to bounce back after a disappointing Sun City 400. Inconsistency has been a problem for the Free State crew.

Willem and Dana Vos (Vossies Toyota Hilux) will also want to bounce back after a huge accident at Sun City. A non finish in the Pilanesberg sees Graham Leith and Mike Lawrenson in much the same boat in the Transcor Ford Ranger.

The battle at the front of the SP Class is going to be intriguing - and it could be decided on the 60 kilometre Donaldson Prologue to determined grid positions. A good grid position is imperative on a compact event like this, and none of the top contenders will want to get involved in rearguard actions during the two 175 kilometre loops that will make up the race.

New cars will add a dollop of interest to the Class D battle. Reigning champions and current championship leaders Dewald van Breda and Johann du Toit (Northam Toyota Hilux), will be joined by Louis Weichelt and Johan Smalberger in the new N1 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser and Deon Venter and Ian Palmer in the 4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux.

Weichelt and Smalberger will be making their first outing of the season, while Venter/Palmer took a win at Sun City in a 4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux that was running close to Class E specifications. An interesting contest is in the offing.

A good battle is also on the cards in Class E where teenager Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable top the championship table in the factory Team Ford Ranger. The rookie driver and the experienced Huxtable have won twice this season to open up a 16 point lead over Pikkie Labuschagne and Rikus Erasmus in the 4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux.

A technical infringement on this event last year cost Labuschange and Erasmus the Class E championship, and they will be keen to make amends. The pair have also won this season as have third placed Gerald le Roux and Willem Pretorius in the Ruwacon Racing Ford Ranger, and with a healthy rivalry building between the leading trio.

Cape crew Etienne Bezuidenhout and Hanro Visser (Adenco Ford Ranger) will also make their second appearance of the season, but are likely to be a little ring rusty. Also looking to make an impression will be Diederik and Danie Hattingh in the Transcor Toyota Hilux while reigning co-drivers' champion Joks le Roux returns to action with Pieter du Plessis in a Toyota Hilux.

Race headquarters, the start/finish and the designated service point will all be located at the Carnival City complex. Public entrance to these areas is free of charge with the Donaldson Prologue scheduled to start at 11:30 on Friday, August 27 and the race at 08:00 on Saturday, August 28.

The route is again spectator friendly with numerous viewing points all within 40 kilometres of Carnival City. Public access to these areas is also free of charge with a request from the organisers for enthusiasts to respect the environment.

CHAMPIONSHIP LEADERS AIM FOR CONSOLIDATION ON 4X4 MEGA WORLD 400

Consolidation will be the name of the game for Special Vehicle championship leaders Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau at the 4x4 Mega World 400 at Carnival City on August 27 and 28.

Variawa and Rousseau, in the Team Total Porter, take into the race a 19 point lead over Class P crew Johan van Staden and James Rossouw (Atlas Copco BAT) and will be keen to widen the gap. The Team Total pair have won twice this season but a good points haul will be top of the agenda at Carnival City with another win a bonus.

Van Staden and Rossouw made history earlier this season when they became the first Class P crew to win an event overall. The right set of circumstances could conspire to see a Class P crew win again, but one cannot see the Class A brigade again slipping up.

That gives Variawa/Rousseau another string to their bow with Sun City 400 winners Kallie and Quinton Sullwald (Elegant Fuel BAT) their nearest Class A challengers. The Sullwald's have a 25 point deficit to make up but the Sun City performance produced ominous signs that they will be strong championship contenders over the rest of the season.

Other potential winners like reigning drivers' champion Evan Hutchison and Darryl Curtis (Motorite BAT), Herman and Wichard Sullwald (Sullwald Racing SVR) and Nick Harper and Kevin Hume (Atlas Copco BAT) cannot afford to let the championship leaders further stretch the gap. Although the 4x4 Mega World 400 takes competitors into the second half of the season, those doing the chasing in the championship are almost at the point of no return.

Also in contention on the East Rand event will be KwaZulu-Natal crew Clint Gibson and Gary Campbell (Gibson Racing SVR), Nardus and Louis Alberts (Wrapsa BAT) and the Century Racing BAT pair of Colin Matthews and Alan Smith. Matthews and Smith will be out in the Century Racing CR3 previously campaigned by Mark Corbett and Rudi Balzer in Class P, with the car converted back to Class A specifications.

A second Century Racing entry will also be out in Class A. Ernest Corbett has retired from racing and Warwick Goosen will now join Guy Henley in a Jimco.

The colourful Jimmy Zahos (Cobalt Racing Porter), reunited with co-driver Stefan Coetzee, is another driver with the potential to win races while Polokwane crew Naeem Moosajee and Rayhaan Bodhanya will be looking for a return to form in the Maxxis TyreRack Porter. Bevan Bertholdt and Danie Stassen (lab88 BAT) will also be looking to bounce back from a disappointing Sun City 400, but showed plenty of potential.

Apart from the usual suspects the Sun City 400 produced signs that less fancied crews are ready for breakthrough results. The Parker brothers, Brett and Steve, came up with a useful first outing in the ex Moosajee Jimco, newcomers Neil Meyer and Leon Muller (Zarco Magnum) also came up with an impressive showing and Keith du Toit and Ashley Thorn (White Star Racing/Bokomo BAT) will be aiming at another top 10 finish.

A surprise entry - KZN star Lance Trethewey in the LT Earthmovers BAT - could also pose problems for national regulars. Trethewey picked up a top five on the Atlas Copco Sugarbelt 400 and will be joined by off road motorcycle star Spencer Kriel.

A win on the Sun City 400 took veteran Bes Bezuidenhout and daughter-in-law Lindie, in the Adenco BAT into the joint championship lead in Class B. Former Production Vehicle stalwart Coetzee Labuscagne and daughter Sandra make a second appearance in the Raysonics Zarco, and will be among contenders hoping to improve on reliability records this season.

The Makenete brothers, Keith and Andrew, have yet to finish an event this year while Simon Beckett and Steve Harris, in the Century Racing BAT, have picked up three 'did not finish' results in a row. The championship is wide open and no crew has as yet stamped their authority on proceedings.

There has been a shake-up in Class P. With Corbett senior's retirement son Mark and Rudi Balzer will take over the Century Racing CR2 with the futuristic car already a winner.

In another interesting development former rally star Etienne Lourens will take over from veteran Bodo Bertholdt in the Atlas Copco BAT. The Atlas Copco team is looking to bring new talent into off road racing and Lourens, paired with Philip Herselman on this event, could make an immediate impact.

While van Staden and Rossouw will start clear favourites in Class P there are plenty of crews keeping them honest. Brothers Johan and Deon Bezuidenhout (Adenco BAT) are among the potential winners with a strong Sun City showing bringing Swaziland pair John Thomson and Clinton McNamara (Zarco) into the picture.

Consistency has taken Archie Rutherford, out for the first time with new co-driver Jacques le Roux in the Regent Racing Jimco, into second place in the championship, and veterans Richard Schilling/Chris Davies (Aceco) have huge amounts of experience going for them. The appearance of Lourens simply adds a little spice to the category.

The Carnival City complex will be home to race headquarters, the start/finish and the designated service area. Public access to these areas will be free with the Donaldson Prologue scheduled to start at 11:30 on Friday, August 27, and the race at 08:00 on Saturday, August 28.

The race route is spectator friendly with numerous viewing areas within 40 kilometres of Carnival City. Public access to these areas is also free with a request from the organisers for enthusiasts to respect the environment.

-source: saorc

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Series Other rally
Drivers Ian Palmer , Mark Corbett , Darryl Curtis , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst