Ford, Toyota out to upstage Nissan at Sun City 400

The Team Ford Racing and Castrol Toyota off road teams are out to upstage the Proudly South African Nissan team on the Sun City 400, round six of the SA Off Road Championship... presented by Absa, which takes place in the Pilanesberg area on ...

The Team Ford Racing and Castrol Toyota off road teams are out to upstage the Proudly South African Nissan team on the Sun City 400, round six of the SA Off Road Championship... presented by Absa, which takes place in the Pilanesberg area on September 26 and 27.

The Proudly South African Nissan has had a record-breaking run of 12 consecutive victories of which Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke accounted for eight and set a new record, which is unlikely to be broken for many years to come. Former champions Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan ended their eight event winless streak when they lead from start to finish on this year's Queen Motor Spares Tarka 400.

Neil Woolridge and Ken Skjoldhammer last sipped champagne in 2001 when they brought the Team Ford Racing Ranger home first across the line on the Carnival City Casino 400 while Apie Reyneke and Robin Houghton (Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser) won the 2002 season opening Barberspan 500.

"Wrecking the Team Ford Racing Ranger on last year's Carnival City Casino 400 was a major setback for us," said Neil Woolridge. "Added to that we have been through a development phase with the new 3,4 litre Ford V6 engine but are satisfied that we are now on top of our game and that the vehicle has the beating of the Nissans."

"The terrain on the Sun City 400 suits the Team Ford Racing Ranger and we are confident, barring no unforeseen problems, that we can break the Nissan stranglehold," added Woolridge.

The Castrol Toyota team has been hard at work since the Tarka 400 with changes to the Castrol Toyota Land Cruisers' suspension set-up their primary focus.

"Apie and Robin have shown that they have lost none of their ability that earned them five championships in five years and it is now up to us to ensure that the handling of the Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser is up to the job," said Toyota Motorsport Manager, Wammy Haddad. "The Land Cruiser may not be as nimble as the Ford and the Nissans but we are confident that it has the power to match all-comers."

The mood in the Nissan Motorsport camp is, as always, upbeat with Nissan Motorsport Manager Glyn Hall in a confident frame of mind.

"The records show that we are the team to beat and that we have a superb driver line-up, with Hannes Grobler, Giniel de Villiers and newcomer to our Class T ranks, Duncan Vos, capable of pulling of another win," said Hall. "We welcome the challenge from Ford and Toyota but feel they'll be vying for the runner-up spot because we are aiming to win the Sun City 400."

With the factory teams vying for the top places the two-wheel drive Class T Atlas Copco/Chicago Pneumatic Jeep of Scott Abraham, who makes his last appearance in the 'red monster' before taking up employment in Germany, and Richard Carolin, which is at a distinct disadvantage in the weight stakes, can at best hope for a podium finish if some of the big guns fall by the wayside.

The battle in Class D for 6-cylinder production vehicles and in Class E for 4-cylinder vehicles, both with limited modifications, is as intense as the battle in Class T but it is the Class E contingent that has consistently outperformed the Class D brigade.

In an interesting reversal of roles Toyota and Ford are the dominant players in Class E with Nissan having to play catch-up.

Mark Cronje, who made his off road racing debut this year, and Chris Birkin have dominated the class in their Castrol Toyota Hilux 2700i and apart from walking away with the Class E win on three occasions they have twice finished third overall. Cronje and Birkin are second in the Production Vehicle Championship and pose the biggest threat to championship leaders Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke (Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody).

Veteran Kassie Coetzee and Ockie Fourie have got to grips with the Castrol Toyota Hilux KZ-TE and picked up the class win on the Oven Fresh Biscuits 500. Coetzee is no stranger to the Sun City 400 having won the production vehicle category on a number of occasions in the past in the turbo-charged Castrol Toyota Hilux, affectionately known as 'Fred'.

The only other crew to have won Class E this season is former champions Manfred Schroder and Jack Peckham from KwaZulu Natal. They have had a troubled season in the Team Ford Racing Ranger with fuel problems sidelining them on two occasions. Backing them up will be rookie Zane Pearce who, like Cronje, comes from a circuit racing background and Hennie Vosloo in the Hi Q Ford Ranger. Pearce has adapted well to off road racing and could just pull off a surprise win on the Sun City 400.

A number of Toyota privateers have performed well this season with Hannes Steyn and Ferdi Seegers finishing third and Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst fourth in Class E on the Queen Motor Spares Tarka 400.

Jurie and Andre du Plessis (BB Auto Nissan Hardbody) and Neels and Zelda van der Walt (Nissan Hardbody) have mounted a strong challenge this season but victory has so far eluded them. The du Plessis brothers finished second in Class E on the Toyota 1000 and the van der Walt husband and wife pair finished second on the Oven Fresh Biscuits 500.

There have been four different winners in five outings in Class D with Alfie Cox and Hennie ter Steege in the Arnold Chatz Cars Nissan Hardbody twice taking home the laurels. Cox will miss out on the Sun City 400 due a prior commitment to compete in the Egypt Rally on a KTM.

Father and son Johan and Marthinus van der Merwe (Chavani Colt Rodeo) from Harrismith won the class on the season opening Nissan Dealer 400 but missed a podium finish on the next three races. A third on the Tarka 400 has kept their championship hopes alive albeit by a mere four points over Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo (GBS Racing Nissan).

The GBS Racing team fields four Nissan Hardbody pick-ups in the SA Off Road Championship... presented by Absa and between them they have finished second on three occasions and had two third place finishes. Suspension problems have plagued the team and a class win is long overdue for either former Class D champions Hein Grobler/Gerhard Prinsloo who won the recent Super Rock 200, MC Coetzee/Marius Liebenberg, husband and wife J.P. and Linda Augustin and Coetzee Labuschagne/Johan Gerber.

Toyota has two Class D wins via Shumie van Vuuren and Carlos de Abreu (Chibuku Toyota Land Cruiser) who made a one-off appearance on the Toyota 1000 and father and son Cliff and Louis Weichelt (N1 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser) who won on the Queen Motor Spares Tarka 400.

Former champions Piet Haasbroek and Freddie Scheepers were the dominant force in Class D in years gone by but have had a season they would rather forget. The aging Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser has had its fair share of driveline and suspension problems and the Tosca farmers' best result has been third in Class D on the Toyota 1000.

The dark horse in the Class D battle is Topcar managing editor Deon Schoeman who made his off road racing debut this year in the Topcar Racing Nissan Hardbody. Schoeman and fellow journalist Jeremy Fall earned a well-deserved second place on the Tarka 400 and it is not long before their consistency delivers a coveted class win.

Class F for two-wheel drive unlimited Super Trucks has had limited entries this year. Newcomers Andre Botha and Beans Heydenrych (O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel Superteam Chevy) did not finish their first three events but went on to win the class and finish 27th overall on the Tarka 400.

Whichever way one looks at it the battle for overall and class honours on the Sun City 400 will have motorsport fans clamouring for more.

The Sun City 400 gets underway with a 40km Prologue at 13:00 on Friday, September 26. The main event, which consists of three laps of a 130km route, starts at 08:00 on Saturday, September 27 with the first car expected at the finish at the Sun City Sports Complex at 13:00.

-msaorrc-

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About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Giniel de Villiers , Alfie Cox , Duncan Vos