Gauteng 400 season finale pre-race notes

DRAMATIC END TO 2005 ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP It could not have been scripted any better, and the Ford Carnival City 400 on November 18 and 19 will provide a dramatic finale to this year's Absa Off Road Championship. Only one national ...

DRAMATIC END TO 2005 ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP

It could not have been scripted any better, and the Ford Carnival City 400 on November 18 and 19 will provide a dramatic finale to this year's Absa Off Road Championship.

Only one national championship category has so far been decided, and it is going to be white-knuckle time for title contenders in the remaining categories. That sets up a dramatic scenario for an event that over the last four year's has drawn huge crowds of off road enthusiasts - and just to make it more enticing there are some desperately close title battles that will be settled on the East Rand.

One of them will be the prestige Manufacturers Championship where in recent season Nissan and Toyota have been at each others throats. This time around it is Nissan who hold a slender lead - 33 points - and Toyota will be wondering what went wrong on the recent Toyota Dealer 1000 when the wheels fell off on an event where they had high expectations and desperately wanted to do well.

The only crew who will go to the Ford Carnival City 400 race free of any pressure are Evan Hutchison and Vincent Horn. The pair wrapped up the Class B title in the Special Vehicle category on the Toyota Dealer 1000, and relegated closest challengers Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain to former champions status.

The overall Production Vehicle and Special Vehicle titles are both up for grabs, with close contests between the leading contenders. The Toyota Dealer 1000 also played a role in a couple of significant changes in championship standings, and the overall title in the Production Vehicle championship fell into this category.

Victory for Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford took them four points ahead of Proudly South African Nissan team-mates Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan. After a distinguished career in off road, rallying and circuit racing Grobler is scheduled to retire at the end of the season, but is going to have to pull something out of the bag if he is to add another championship to an already impressive tally.

On the Special Vehicle front Terence Marsh and Mike Whitehouse (Nashua Mobile BAT) have a slender eight point lead over the father and son combination of Nick and Ryan Harper in another BAT. The Harpers made up ground on the Toyota Dealer 1000, but the consistent Marsh/Whitehouse combination will have a slight advantage going into the final event.

Apart from the Class B championship, all the other class titles in the Special Vehicle category are there to be won or lost. In Class A the battle is again between Marsh/Whitehouse and the Harper pair, while in Class S two class wins in a row have brought Naeem Moosajee and Naazim Moosi to within nine points of Richard Schilling and Chris Davies who missed the Toyota Dealer 1000 outing.

Apart from the scrap between motorcycle legend Cox and Grobler, some of the more interesting title struggles have been reserved for the Production Vehicle brigade. The Cox/Grobler scenario has enormous possibilities, but there are also permutations in Class D.

As matters stand the most reliable crew in off road racing, Henri Zermatten and Bodo Schwegler, in the ageing Master Craft Ryobi Mitsubishi Pajero, have a one point lead over Ford Racing Ranger pair Manfred Schroeder and Alec Harris. Zermatten and Schwegler have not had a non finish in 21 events, but consistency can have its drawback and the sting in the tail is the rule that says crews must each drop one event from their final scores.

On this basis Zermatten and Schwegler find themselves trailing Schroeder and Harris by nine points. A third crew, enter the equation with Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin, in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i, still in with a mathematical chance of sneaking in through the back door.

Cronje and Birkin dented their title hopes by crashing out of the Toyota Dealer 1000 in a big way, and have a mountain to climb - if Cronje is fit enough to race after suffering concussion in the Toyota Dealer 1000 crash. To take the title Cronje and Birkin would have to win Class D with Zermatten/Schwegler and Schroeder/Harris falling by the wayside - and given the Zermatten/Schwegler reliability record that does not look to be on the cards.

A great result also saw a change at the top of the order in Class E. Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, in the Tyco Trucks Toyota Hilux, replaced Zane Pearce (Castrol Toyota Hilux) at the top of the drivers championship.

The Toyota 1000 provided Pearce with his first non finish of the season, and dropped points is not an issue in what will be a straight fight between him and Visser in the drivers championship - with nine points separating the pair. De Bruyn faces much the tougher task in that he trails Badenhorst by 19 points in the co-drivers stakes.

The Toyota Dealer 1000 also saw new leaders in Class F. A good result for brothers Mark and Stuart Moffat (Bosal Land Rover) lifted them ahead of Andre Botha and veteran Richard Carolin in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Chev, with only four points between the two crews.

Organised by the Koepel Club, the Ford Carnival City 400 is one of those events that combines the rough with the smooth in terms of route, and it is the ideal stage on which to play out some end of season drama.

-msa-

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About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Alfie Cox , Ralph Pitchford , Japie Badenhorst