Off road racing in South Africa news

OFF ROAD RACING RIDING ON THE CREST 0F A WAVE Off road racing is currently riding the crest of a wave that has taken the sport into pole position in South African motorsport. This is the opinion of Motorsport South Africa Off Road Car Racing...

OFF ROAD RACING RIDING ON THE CREST 0F A WAVE

Off road racing is currently riding the crest of a wave that has taken the sport into pole position in South African motorsport.

This is the opinion of Motorsport South Africa Off Road Car Racing Commission President Piet Swanepoel. With the Absa Off Road Championship at the halfway point Swanepeol points out, with some justification, that off road racing has never been in better shape.

"We have so far run four highly successful national championship events, with one of them run in conjunction with the Africa Heritage Cross Country which was a round of the FIA Cross Country World Cup," said Swanepoel. "This was the first world championship off road event run in South Africa and was a great success.

"Absa have also committed to backing the 2007 championship, which is a major boost and indicative of the fact that we must be doing something right."

Charmaine Fortune, the rights holder for the African Heritage Cross Country, the brainchild of the late Arthur Abraham, said that despite only two international entries the initial reaction of the FIA observer team attending the race had been positive. Early indications are that the FIA team will recommend that South Africa remains on the international calendar in 2007.

"The observers were sympathetic towards problems that were not all of our own making," Ms Fortune said. "I believe they were happy that we have the infrastructure and expertise to run future world championship events.

"I am optimistic that we will stay on the 2007 calendar."

On top of that, however, off road racing has seen unprecedented growth in terms of other areas of the sport. Entries are booming, new faces and new machinery abound and racing in both the Production and Special Vehicle categories is fiercely competitive.

Nissan Motorsport manager Glyn Hall and his technical team recently delivered a South African designed and built Nissan Navara to Hungarian driver Sandor Kis for use in international and World Cup events. The Nissan SA team also upgraded to international specifications the Nissan Hardbody Sandor Kis and co-driver Peter Czegledi used to finish second on the Africa Heritage Cross Country.

The new Super Production Class in the Production vehicle category is also turning out to be a success. The class replaces the Super Truck category and boasts works entries from Ford, Nissan and Toyota with the privateer Century Property Development team giving a Nissan Navara its debut on the Africa Heritage Cross Country / Ford Motorite 400.

The Special Vehicle category has also seen an influx of new faces and new machinery. Motorcycle legend Alfie Cox took an extraordinary career to a new level when he switched from the Production Vehicle category, where he is reigning SA champion, to the Special Vehicle brigade.

Cox now campaigns a locally designed and built Motorite BAT and is again a championship contender. The Adenco and Wrapsa teams are also campaigning new BAT entries in Class A and B while Bevan Bertholdt/Henry Kirstein, Sam and Ahmed Moolla and Shameer Variawa/VZ Van Zyl are all campaigning imported Porters.

There has been a steady increase in entries and newcomers to the sport include farther and son Jan and Hendrik Kraaij who have met with immediate success in the Special Vehicle category. They lead Class B in the Keymax BAT and won the Special Vehicle category on the African Heritage Cross Country.

Former champions Karl-Heinz and Hermann Sullwald have returned to the Special Vehicle fold in locally built Zarco entries, and former track racers Fabio Tafani and Jaco Swanepoel have taken up cudgels in the Production Vehicle category. Both campaign in Class E in Toyota Hilux entries with Tafani and Mike Baron lying second in the championship.

In both the Production and Special Vehicle categories there is close competition with tight championship battles emerging throughout the various classes. All but a handful of titles on offer look likely to go all the way to the wire.

"There have been four different overall winners this season in the Special Vehicle category, and three different crews have won in the Production Vehicle category," said Swanepoel. "It is much the same in the other classes, and the racing is hugely competitive."

It appears, too, that there is a great deal of competition in the paddock. The pits at an off road race are now taking on Formula One proportions.

"The number of immaculately turned out transporters and hospitality areas increases with every race," said Swanepoel. "It is gratifying to see so much professionalism in the sport.

The fact that this professionalism is not restricted only to the factory teams augurs well for the future."

Despite the healthy state of the sport, the high level of professionalism and the quality of the competition off road racing has managed to retain a high degree of sportsmanship and camaraderie. The recent Ford Motorite 400 saw rival teams stopping to help stranded crews with favours returned later in the race.

"The sportsmanship and camaraderie is probably the basis off road's success," said Swanepoel. "In Absa we have a committed sponsor and in Ford, Nissan and Toyota we have partners who work in tandem with the commission.

"That provides for solid and ongoing management, but without the competitors we would have nowhere to go."

-credit: msa

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Series Other rally
Drivers Alfie Cox