KwaZulu-Natal: Series preview

BMW ENTERS ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP FRAY BMW enter the fray at the Atlas Copco Sugarbelt 400 to add an extra dimension to the Production Vehicle category at the third round of the Absa Off Road Championship in KwaZulu-Natal on May 21 and ...

BMW ENTERS ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP FRAY

BMW enter the fray at the Atlas Copco Sugarbelt 400 to add an extra dimension to the Production Vehicle category at the third round of the Absa Off Road Championship in KwaZulu-Natal on May 21 and 22.

The RFS BMW X3 will make its debut in the hands of Chris du Plooy and Thinus Janse van Rensburg with BMW joining Ford, Toyota and Nissan in a record field of 18 cars in the premier SP Class. The BMW is, along with the factory Ford Racing Ranger, the second vehicle in the SP Class to make use of diesel power.

While du Plooy and Janse van Rensburg will give the RFS BMW its debut, the car is earmarked for former South African champions Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege who will again be out in the RFS Toyota Hilux. It would appear du Plooy and Janse van Rensburg have been tasked with sorting out any teething problems while Grobler and ter Stege look to pick up points to strengthen their early hold on the championship.

The appearance of local legend and former Special and Production Vehicle champion Alfie Cox and German co-driver Jurgen Schroder in a Nissan Navara also adds a little extra spice to an already enticing menu. A quality field tackling a route that is always taxing is a sure recipe for potential drama.

After their historic victory on the Toyota Dealer 400 another local hero, Neil Woolridge, and Kenny Skjoldhammer will fancy their chances of back to back wins in the Ford Racing Ranger TDCi. The Ford has all the characteristics needed to win an event that provides for a variety of terrain and invariably produces a sting in the tail.

Back-up for the factory team comes from the steady Kobus van Tonder and Freddie Kriel in the Unifreight Ford Ranger, Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling in the Ruwacon Ford Ranger and Graham Leith and Mike Lawrenson who will be giving for Transcor Ford Ranger its first outing of the season. De Bruin and Greyling are one of only three SP Class crews with a 100 percent record this so far this season and will want to keep the momentum going.

Grobler and ter Stege also have a 100 percent finish record this season and their mission will be a rich haul of points. With all the experience in the world to call on the pair have the credentials to win with Grobler as competitive as ever.

Toyota, with nine cars, has a numerical advantage in the SP Class but Toyota runners are under additional pressure. Of their ranks only Grobler/ter Stege have an unblemished finish record this season, and with crews forced to drop one score at the end of the season, an early non finish is a millstone around the neck.

There is even more pressure on the Castrol Toyota Hilux factory pair of reigning driver's champion Duncan Vos and Rob Howie and Anthony Taylor and Robin Houghton. High expectations have not materialised and a win for either crew would boost morale.

On the other side of the coin another non finish for either crew would be a hammer blow in terms of championship prospects. It all adds up to a difficult weekend for team boss Glyn Hall and his charges.

Of the privateer teams Gary Bertholdt and Andre Vermeulen, in the Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux, would love nothing more than to give the event sponsor a win. The pair won the Sugarbelt 400 a couple of seasons ago in a Special Vehicle and will be looking to complete a double in a Production Vehicle entry.

Adenco 400 winners Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (RFS/Visser Transport Toyota Hilux) have shown plenty of pace this season, and will want to bounce back after dropping out of the Toyota Dealer 400. Much the same applies to Ramon and Maret Bezuidenhout (Red Star Raceway Toyota Hilux) and Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren (RFS Toyota Hilux), while George Barkhuizen/David van Wyck (AIM Toyota Hilux) will want to build on an encouraging Toyota Dealer result.

Nissan's championship challenge is currently being led by Mike Whitehouse and brother-in-law Mathew Carlson in the Regent Racing Nissan Navara. The pair have built up enviable reliability records in both the Special and Production Vehicle categories and are the third crew to finish both events run so far this season.

Terence Marsh and former champion Buks Carolin, in the second Regent Racing Nissan Navara, will be looking to live up to potential while Thomas Rundle and former co-driver's champion Juan Mohr will also want to build on a promising Toyota Dealer 400 debut in the Barden Tyre Services Nissan Navara.

In Class D reigning champions Dewald van Breda and Johann du Toit will give the new Northam Toyota Hilux is first outing. The pair won the opening event of the season and missed the next race but, teething problems aside, look set to add to their championship tally.

Pikkie Labuschange and Rickus Erasmus (4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux) and Etienne Bezuidenhout/Hanro Visser (Adenco Ford Ranger) also missed the last event but are back in the Class E mix this time around. Both crews will provide stiff opposition for locals Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable (Ford Racing Ranger) who took the win on the Toyota Dealer 400.

The Class E field is bolstered by brothers Diederik and Danie Hattingh in the Transcor Toyota Hilux and Johan de Lange and Gert Ochse in a Nissan Hardbody.

Race headquarters, the start/finish and designated service area will also be situated at the Beaumont Eston Farmer's Club outside Pietermaritzburg. The Donaldson Prologue to determine start position will start at 11h30 on May 21 and the race at 08h30 on May 22.

A number of spectator points along the route are all within easy reach of race headquarters. Public entry to these areas is free of charge.

SPECIAL VEHICLE CATEGORY WIDE OPEN AT ATLAS COPCO SUGARBELT 400

After having their collective nose bloodied last time around the Class A brigade will be looking to reassert their authority on the Special Vehicle category at the Atlas Copco Sugarbelt 400, round three of the Absa Off Road Championship, in KwaZulu-Natal on May 21 and 22.

Pretoria pair Johan van Staden and James Rossouw, in the KEC BAT, made history on the Toyota Dealer 400 when they became the first Class P crew to win a race overall in the Absa series. The right set of circumstances will always provide the possibility for similar upsets, but the Class A brigade will be a bit miffed if they allow a Class P crew to hog the limelight for the second race in a row.

Class A crews will also want to address a situation that sees van Staden and Rossouw leading the overall Special Vehicle championship race. At the same time a number of Class A crews - because teams are required to drop one score at the end of the year - are skating on thin ice after early season retirements.

Among them are reigning champions Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann (Motorite BAT), Shameer Variawa/Siegfried Rousseau (Total Motorsport Porter), Colin Matthews/Alan Smith (Century Racing BAT) and the father and son crew of Nick and Ryan Harper in the Atlas Copco BAT. All four crews are potential winners but, somewhere in the back of their minds, they will be conscious of the damage another DNF in the results column could do to their championship challenges.

Sheer persistence has left Brandon Harcus well placed in the overall Class A championship but a set of circumstances will prevent the JMR Fleet management team from competing at the event. Like Harcus former quad racer Jimmy Zahos, partnered by Stefan Coetzee in the Cobalt Racing Porter, is full of aggression and could be the Sugarbelt surprise package.

The list is supplemented by the two Sullwald Racing crews. Former champions Kallie and Quintin, in the Sullwald Racing BAT, looked a little ring rusty on the Toyota Dealer 400, while Hermann and Wichard, in the SVR, have made a more than encouraging start to the season.

Naeem Moosajee/Rayhaan Bodhanya (Maxxis Porter) and Nardus and Louis Alberts (Wrapsa BAT) have made stuttering starts to the season and would like to get matters back on track. Locals Clint Gibson and Gary Campbell (Gibson Racing BAT) will have local knowledge going for them.

Class A is a blend of out and out chargers and those who approach their racing with a little more circumspection, and this always lays the ground work for interesting contests. The Sugarbelt, however, with a route that embraces rapid changes in terrain and surface and sudden drop offs, and the more cautious crews will probably carry the smart money.

Reigning driver's champion Johan Bezuidenhout and brother Deon (Adenco BAT) will be back in action in Class P and will want to make up for lost ground after missing the Toyota Dealer 400. For their part Toyota winners van Staden and Rossouw will simply want to keep the momentum going with all the top Class P crews aiming for top five finishes.

A second Class P crew, Archie Rutherford and Craig Doubtfire (Regent Racing Jimco) feature in the top five in the overall championship. There is also plenty of incentive for Mark Corbett/Rudi Balzer (Century Racing CR3), Bodo Bertholdt and Philip Herselman (Atlas Copco BAT) and former champions Richard Schilling and Chris Davies in the Aceco.

The danger man in Class P, however, is likely to be local star Don Thompson in a Zarco Lite with a co-driver still to be nominated. Thompson is a flyer with local knowledge could upset the Class P applecart.

After a rare non finish on the Toyota Dealer 400 reigning Class B driver's champion Derick du Toit, again partnered by Rod Jeffrey in the Orange Tree BAT, will be looking to immediately bounce back. Brothers Keith and Andrew Makenete, in a Zarco Lite, are in the same boat with Simon Beckett and Steve Harris (Century Racing BAT) also potential class winners.

As usual race headquarters, the start/finish and the designated service area will all be at the Beaumont Eston Farmer's Club outside Pietermaritzburg. Numerous spectator vantage points are within easy reach of race headquarters and public access to these areas is free.

The Donaldson Prologue to determine grid positions will start at 11h30 on May 21 and the race at 08h30 on May 22.

REGIONAL ENTRIES BOOST ATLAS COPCO SUGARBELT 400 START LIST

Regional entries have boosted to 88 the number of cars that will come under starter's orders at the Atlas Copco Sugarbelt 400 in KwaZulu-Natal on May 21 and 22.

The event is round three of the Absa Off Road Championship and around three of the KZN regional championship. In a move by the MSA Off Road Car Racing Commission to give added impetus to regional off road racing a number of events will this year double up with national championship races.

The KZN regional entries are spearheaded by current Class A leaders Lance Trethewey and Richard Horner who will team up in a BAT with the pair competing in both the regional and national races. Daniel Brookes, who is second among the drivers, will team up with Paul Gonlag in a BAT with Adam Jewell, who is second in the co-driver title race sitting alongside Rob Gibson in an Acetech Zarco.

Other top crews in Class A include Dave and Jane Gurney in a GMP and Gavan and Darren Gray in another BAT. Regional competitors will complete two of the three loops that make up the national championship race.

The Class B field is headed by current championship leader Graeme Petersen (Dragonfly) who will face stiff opposition from Rob Hanbury (Mighty Mag), Brett Gurney (Smith), Rob Gurney (Mighty Mag) and James Watson/Brian Berkeljon in a Sandmaster.

Other top names in Class B include former national Production Car Class E champion Manfred Schroder and former SA rally champion Tony Ball. Schroder will be out in a Mighty Mag and Ball in a JRE.

The Cricket Class, an entry level category, should be interesting with championship leader Jim Rushton having to fend off Gareth Woolridge and Warren Confait who are joint second. Woolridge is the son of former SA champion Neil Woolridge, who heads the factory Ford Racing challenge in the Absa Off Road Championship, with older brother Lance a graduate from the category.

Lance is now racing in the national series and scored his first ever Absa championship win on the recent Toyota Dealer 400 in Mpumalanga. Woolridge will again be partnered by veteran Ward Huxtable on the Sugarbelt 400.

Race headquarters, the start/finish and the designated service point (DSP) will all be located at the Beaumont Eston Farmer's Club on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg. There are also numerous spectator points along the route and public access to these areas as well as the start/finish and DSP will be free.

The Donaldson Prologue to determine grid position for the national race will start at 11h30 on May 21 and the race at 08h00 on May 22.

-source: saorc

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Series Other rally
Drivers Alfie Cox , Jurgen Schroder , Mark Corbett , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst , Rob Gibson