Eastern Cape 500 preview

NISSAN AIM FOR FIFTH PRODUCTION VEHICLE WIN IN A ROW Absa Vehicle and Asset Finance is proud to bring the Amathole 500 to the Eastern Cape. Absa is one of the leading providers of vehicle and asset finance, and there is no better way to ...

NISSAN AIM FOR FIFTH PRODUCTION VEHICLE WIN IN A ROW

Absa Vehicle and Asset Finance is proud to bring the Amathole 500 to the Eastern Cape. Absa is one of the leading providers of vehicle and asset finance, and there is no better way to demonstrate the qualities of racing 4x4's than the Absa Off Road Championship.

Marcel de Klerk, managing executive of Absa Vehicle and Asset Finance, said that from the point of exciting racing action to choosing and buying your next vehicle, 4x4 or any other asset, Absa Vehicle and Asset Finance is able to offer the complete finance solution to get you on the road in no time at all.

Nissan will be looking for their fifth win in a row in the Production Vehicle category this season on the African Heritage/Amathole 500 in the Eastern Cape on July 27 and 28.

The Eastern Cape outing is two races in one with the Amathole 500, round five of the Absa Off Road Championship, run in conjunction with the African Heritage Cross Country which is round two of the FIA Cross Country World Cup. So far this season the factory Nissan team has scored a clean sweep with two wins apiece to reigning champions Hannes Grobler/Francois Jordaan, and Duncan Vos who will be reunited with co-driver Ralph Pitchford who missed the Toyota 1000 Desert Race.

In Pitchford's absence Richard Leeke partnered Vos to a Botswana win that took Vos to the top of the drivers championship. Grobler/Jordaan and Vos/Pitchford will be among the pre-race favourites, but apart from the two factory cars Nissan have further strong cards in Norwegian Ivar Tollefsen and Briton Quin Evans, in another factory Navara, and Mark Corbett and Rudy Balzer in the Century Property Development Nissan Navara.

Tollefsen/Evans and Corbett/Balzer are also entered in the African Heritage race. Both crews could concentrate more on good finishes in the World Cup than in the local event, but Nissan are well equipped for a fifth consecutive win and continued domination of the Super Production Class.

Both the Castrol Toyota Hilux and Ford Racing Ranger factory and privateer teams are itching to put an end to the Nissan run. There is plenty of quality in both stables and Toyota pair Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin will feel hard done by after coming so close to a win on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in Botswana.

Bevan Bertholdt and Robin Houghton, in a second factory entry, will be hoping to turn around a season to forget while works newcomers Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst will be out to consolidate on an impressive performance in Botswana. Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux) led the Toyota 1000 Desert Race for long periods and will take plenty of encouragement to the Eastern Cape event.

On the Ford front factory pair Neil Woolridge/Kenny Skjoldhammer will be looking for a return to form. Team-mates Brandon Harcus and Juan Mohr appear to be settling down, and experienced Manfred Schroder/Ward Huxtable will be a threat in the Barloworld/ Absolute entry.

Kobus van Tonder and Riaan Guelpa also had a good first outing in the ex works Unifreight Ford Ranger in Botswana. With a good mix of factory and privateer entries the SP Class is now full of quality, and the Nissan brigade will come under plenty of pressure. There will be plenty of pressure flying around in Class D where some intense championship battles have developed. Consistency has taken Harold and Tiaan Coen, in a Land Rover, to the top of the championship where they are being chased by Jurie and Andre du Plessis (BB Auto Nissan Hardbody) and impressive newcomers Ramon Bezuidenhout and Stefan Lock in a Toyota Hilux.

Also involved in the championship fight are Arnold du Plessis and Johan Knox, in another BB Auto Nissan, and Coetzee Labuscagne/Johan Gerber in the Raysonics Nissan Hardbody. The winners in the Eastern Cape, however, could well come from either Botswana winners Henri and Maurice Zermatten (Ryobi Nissan Hardbody) or Cliff and Louis Weichelt (Bosal Toyota Hilux D4D) who are about due for a win.

The Zermattens, the Weichelts and Bezuidenhout/Lock have also entered the African Heritage invitation event. All this really means is that their fight will last more than two days.

Pressure will also be very much in evidence in Class E where only a handful of points separate four or five crews. Jack Peckham/Lucio Santoro (Ford Racing Ranger) lead the class by a point from Botswana winners George and Sharon Barkhuizen in the Ruwacon Toyota Hilux.

On their tales are Castrol Toyota Hilux crew Brian Martin and Ockie Fourie and Jannie Visser/Joks le Roux in the Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux. Any of the top crews could sneak the win with Thomas Rundle/Brian Roberts (Barden Tyre Services Nissan Hardbody) and Mark and Stuart Moffat (Bosal Toyota Hilux) also among those in with a chance of an upset.

The fight for overall and class honours should produce some fascinating racing. The scenery in the Amathole mountains should be dramatic, and a fast route adds to the potential for drama.

Absa marketing head William James said the Absa Off Road Championship was growing in terms of both spectators and TV viewership, and now ranked as one of the top motorsport series in South Africa. "We are currently highly satisfied with our involvement and are excited about the future of the sport," James said.

BATTLE ROYALE LOOMS IN SPECIAL VEHICLE CATEGORY

If the four races run so far this season are any indication of things to come, a dramatic battle looks likely to emerge in the Special Vehicle category on the African Heritage/Amathole 500 in the Eastern Cape on July 27 and 28.

The Eastern Cape outing is two races in one with the Amathole 500, round five of the Absa Off Road Championship, run in conjunction with the African Heritage race which is round two of the FIA Cross Country World Cup. So far this season there have been four different winners in four races and, given the highly competitive nature of the championship, it could well be the trend will continue.

Adding to the potential for high drama is the fact that the championship, with the season just past the halfway mark, is delicately poised. Championship leaders Nick and Ryan Harper (Atlas Copco BAT) are 10 points clear of Evan Hutchison/Achim Bergmann (Motorite BAT) who are just three points ahead of Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau in the Total Motorsport Porter.

Also in the championship mix are reigning champions Alfie Cox and Hennie ter Stege in a second Motorite BAT who, like Hutchison/Bergmann and the Harpers feature among the race winners this season. The other winning crew, Karl-Heinz and Quinton Sullwald (Sullwald Transport Zarco), have lifted their game to another level with Sullwald Snr partnered this time by Paul Helberg, must now also be counted among pre race favourites.

Variawa/Rousseau have been threatening a win all season and will fancy their chances this time around. But there are plenty of other potential winners.

Gary Bertholdt and Geoff Minnitt, who will be standing in for Henri Kirstein (Atlas Copco Porter) have the pace but reliability has been a problem, while Colin Matthews/Alan Smith (Century Property Development BAT) produced an impressive display on the recent Toyota 1000 Desert Race. Reliability is a forte for former champion Terence Marsh, now partnered by Pieter Groenewald in a Regent Racing BAT, while Nardus Alberts and Collin Hunter are always there or thereabouts in the Wrapsa BAT.

Naeem Moosajee/Rayhaan Bodhanya (Total Motorsport Jimco) have come up with some impressive performances of late. Clint Gibson, partnered by Gary Campbell in the Absolute BAT, has also shown good form this season and they could be the dark horse of the race.

With so much quality in the Class A ranks picking winners is a risky business. With high stakes on offer the ingredients are there for a memorable race.

By contrast looking for potential winners in Class B is a simple business. Hendrik and Jan Kraaij, in a Regent Racing BAT, have a perfect record this season but are now in an area where the law of averages could be a problem.

The major opposition for the Kraaij's will come from the consistent Giel Nel/Sandra Labuscagne in the LUK Zarco Truggy, the Adenco BATs of Bes Bezuidenhout/Johan de Bruyn and Johan and Etienne Bezuidenhout and KwaZulu-Natal crew Mark Taylor/Derek Keith in the JRE. Louw de Bruyn/Rudi Britz (Ruwacon BAT) and Swaziland crew John Thompson and Clinton McNamara (Zarco) could also come into the reckoning.

An interesting three-way tussle could develop in Class S. Former drivers champion Richard Schilling and Chris Davies will start as favourites in the Plastotech Aceco, but could come under pressure from arch rivals Nic Goslar and Richard Carolin in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco.

Glen Gibson and Mike Whitehurst, in the Absolute Aceco, will also throw their hats into the ring. Experience could be a telling factor, and here Schilling and Davies will have the edge.

With the season now entering the home stretch every championship point will be an important one. The African Heritage Cross Country/Amathole 500 could make or break a few championship challenges.

-credit: msa

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Series Other rally
Drivers Mark Taylor , Alfie Cox , Ralph Pitchford , Quin Evans , Mark Corbett , John Thompson , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst