Magalies 400: Series preview

WINNER TAKE ALL AT FINAL ROUND OF ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP A scriptwriter could not have done a batter job in conjuring up a more dramatic finale to the Production Car championship in this year's Absa Off Road Championship. It boils down to...

WINNER TAKE ALL AT FINAL ROUND OF ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP

A scriptwriter could not have done a batter job in conjuring up a more dramatic finale to the Production Car championship in this year's Absa Off Road Championship.

It boils down to a winner take all situation in both the overall and premier Class SP championships at the RFS Magalies 400, the final event of the season, on November 21 and 22. Just four points separate three drivers and three points is the difference between two co-drivers in the overall championship.

The Ford Racing Ranger pair of Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer go to the RFS Magalies 400 Tarlton based event with a three point lead over Sasol Nissan Navara crew Hannes Grobler and Juan Mohr. A single point behind Grobler in the driver's championship is reigning champion Duncan Vos who will be paired with Ralph Pitchford in another factory Sasol Nissan Navara.

The co-driver championship is a straight fight between Skjoldhammer and Mohr. Overseas commitments saw Pitchford miss a couple of events and that put him out of the championship running.

And, just to add a further touch of drama to proceedings, Woolridge/Skjoldhammer and Vos have 100 percent finish records so far this season. That means they have to drop one score and that muddies the water a little.

Woolridge and Skjoldhammer have not finished out of the top three all season, and if they are to pick up a win this season the RFS Magalies 400 would be the ideal event to break the ice. With three wins in a row Grobler and Mohr are the form team, and a fourth win would simply add another twist to the Grobler legend.

For Vos the latter part of the season has been frustrating. Like Grobler he has three wins to his credit and desperately needs a fourth victory.

There is little to choose between the three crews in terms of pace and experience, and an intriguing race is in the offing. Tactics will be like shifting sands and the fact that Magalies is a new race on the calendar -- with the route taking in unfamiliar territory -- levels the playing field.

The crews involved in the championship battle will know exactly what they have to do. But they will also be aware of the role other teams can play in the drama that will unfold.

The Castrol Toyota Hilux factory crews, Mark Cronje/Chris Birkin and Anthony Taylor/Robin Houghton, will be particularly dangerous. Both are potential winners with Cronje and Birkin the only non Nissan crew to take a victory this year.

Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst, in the privateer Castrol Toyota Hilux, and Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn, in the Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux, have had their moments this season and have the ability to cause upsets. Mike Thomsett, back from injury, and Brian Haviland in the Imperial Feltex Toyota Hilux also have the ability to get in among the leaders and make a nuisance of themselves.

For their part the leading Nissan crews will be looking to Norwegian Ivar Tollefsen and Quin Evans for solid support. Ford support will come from the consistent Kobus van Tonder and stand in co-driver Louis Weichelt in the Unifreight Ford Ranger, with factory pair Mark Ferguson and Craig West missing out via an injury Ferguson suffered on the Toyota Dealer 400.

The SP Class will be bolstered by a debut appearance via Graham Leith and Mike Lawrenson. The pair will be out in the ex Motorite Ford Ranger which will now be running under the Transcor banner.

On a more sentimental note Chris du Plooy and Ewald van Rensburg will be hoping for a good run in the new RFS Toyota Hilux. Toyota's powerful hand is completed by George and Sharon Barkhuizen (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux) and Jaco Swanepoel/Keith Solomon (IDM Cement Toyota Hilux) and both crews will be keen to end the season on a high note.

While the overall and SP Class title chases are desperately close, brothers Henri and Maurice Zermatten, in the Ryobi Nissan Hardbody, will simply go about putting the finishing touches to winning the Class D championship. A strong latter part of the season has seen the Zermatten's pull away from Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber in the Raysonics Nissan Hardbody.

After a disappointing start to the year Ramon and Maret Bezuidenhout, in the Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux, have put together a string of good results. Outgoing drivers champion, Cliff Weichelt, has had a disappointing season in the N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux D4D and Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Jansen van Vuuren (RFS Toyota Hilux) will be hoping for a decent result after losing their way a little in the latter half of the season.

The Class E title is also pretty much done and dusted with the experienced Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux, in the Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux, in the driving seat throughout the season. Dewald van Breda, in the Potch Plastics Toyota Hilux, is a certainty for rookie of the year and, along with Johann du Toit, will be looking to cement second place in the championship.

Reigning drivers champion Jack Peckham and Lucio Santoro, in the factory Ford Racing Ranger, have not had the happiest of seasons, and this will be compounded with the pair missing the RFS Magalies 400.

Deon Venter and Ian Palmer (4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux) have a win to their credit this season, and will be looking for more of the same. Thomas Rundle and Rob Howie, in the Barden Tyre Service Nissan Hardbody, will also be looking to finish off on a high note and will be looking to upstage the Toyota entries.

The RFS Magalies 400 will be based at the Tarlton International Raceway near Krugersdorp. The prologue to determine start positions for the race will start at 11:00 on Friday, November 21.

The race proper will start at 08h30 on Saturday, November 22 with the start and finish and the designated service area all at Tarlton International Raceway.

RACE TO THE FINISH IN SPECIAL VEHICLE CHAMPIONSHIP

The Special Vehicle title race in this year's Absa Off Road Championship is set for another grandstand finish at the RFS Magalies 400 on November 21 and 22.

Three crews -- with all three drivers former South African champions -- are in line to win the title with 24 points separating the trio.

Karl-Heinz Sullwald and son Quintin, in the Sullwald Racing BAT, lead the overall and Class A championships from Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau (Total Porter) and Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald in the Regent Racing BAT.

With a 14 point lead over Variawa and Rousseau who leaped up the leader board with a couple of mid season wins, the Sullwald's would appear to have the inside track. The Phalaborwa based crew, however, have a 100 percent finish record this season and still have to drop one score from their final tally -- and this could open the door for Variawa and Rousseau and the Regent Racing pair.

In terms of sheer pace one would have to go for Variawa and Rousseau as potential winners at what is a new event on the off-road calendar. An intriguing tactical battle could unfold between the three crews with contrasting approaches to their off road racing.

There is, however, no shortage of crews capable of interfering with the championship battle and there are half a dozen or so other crews capable of winning. Outgoing champions Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann (Motorite BAT) are among them and would like nothing more than to cap a disappointing season with a final win.

Gary Bertholdt and Andre Vermeulen, in the Atlas Copco Porter, are another pair that have to be listed among the potential winners. Also in this category are Nick and Ryan Harper who will be out in a new Spec 4 BAT running in Atlas Copco colours.

The old Harper car has been taken over by Garry Gillingham and VZ van Zyl and Atlas Copco will run a four car team at the RFS Magalies 400 with Bodo Bertholdt and Philip Herselman joining the fold. The veteran Bodo is Gary's father with the Atlas Copco squad having a family look about it.

Also due for a win are Colin Matthews and Alan Smith in the Century Racing BAT while Mark Corbett and Rudi Balzer will be looking to finally get a good result in the four-wheel drive Century Racing CR1. The CR1 has plenty of potential but has been hampered throughout the season by reliability problems.

Mike Whitehouse and Mathew Carlson, in the second Regent Racing BAT, have had their moments this season as have Herman Sullwald and Paul Helberg in the Sullwald Racing Zarco Magnum. They could also produce upsets and with the race run over a route new to the competitors all the leading contenders start on an even footing.

Titles are also up for grabs in Class B where Louw de Bruin (Ruwacon BAT) and Tiddo Voogt, who this season has sat alongside Keymax BAT drivers Hendrik and Jan Kraaij, lead the driver and co-driver championships. Still in contention among the drivers is veteran former champion Giel Nel in the LUK Africa Zarco Truggy.

Deon de Kock, who sits alongside Nel, and Rudi Britz, who co-drives with de Bruin, are tied for second place in the co-drivers championship and trail Voogt by 12 points. A missed event earlier in the season has proved to be costly for Britz.

Cape crew Bes Bezuidenhout and Johann de Bruyn, in the Adenco BAT, are out of the running where the championships are concerned, but are potential winners in Class B. Nel and de Kock have relied solely on consistency but, in the long run, it may not have been enough.

The other dangermen in Class B are Alistair Stubbs and Marc de Chalain in the Stafix Racing Viper. With Stubbs back behind the wheel after missing the last event, the pair will be looking to end the season on a high note.

There is also an interesting championship situation in Class P. Here brothers Johan and Etienne Bezuidenhout (Adenco BAT) have a 10 point lead over another set of brothers in David and Gary White in the Ruwacon BAT.

And, just to complicate matters, KwaZulu-Natal driver Don Thompson (Zarco Lite) is also part of a three-way struggle in the driver stakes. Thompson has shown blistering pace this season -- he has often outrun Class A crews -- and will be the race favourite in many quarters.

The Bezuidenhout's will be looking to simply finish and must be regarded as the championship favourites. The Whites and Thompson will have to do all the hard work and an intriguing cameo performance could emerge as the race progresses.

The RFS Magalies 400 will be based at the Tarlton International Raceway near Krugersdorp. The prologue to determine start positions for the race will start at 11:00 on Friday, November 21.

The race proper will start at 08h30 on Saturday, November 22 with the start and finish and the designated service area all at Tarlton International Raceway.

-credit: saorc

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Series Other rally
Drivers Ian Palmer , Ralph Pitchford , Quin Evans , Mark Corbett , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst