ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP GEARS UP FOR BUMPER SEASON With the opening event of the season -- the Adenco 400 in the Western Cape on March 20 and 21 -- only a month away, pre season activity suggests the Absa Off Road Championship is gearing up...
ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP GEARS UP FOR BUMPER SEASON
With the opening event of the season -- the Adenco 400 in the Western Cape on March 20 and 21 -- only a month away, pre season activity suggests the Absa Off Road Championship is gearing up for a fantastic season.
The off seasons comings and goings and changes in team personnel have produced some interesting developments. In particular the premier Super Production Class (SP Class) in the Production Vehicle category looks set for a great year with some high profile names swelling the ranks.
The SP Class has once again shown spectacular growth. Factory and privateer teams from Ford, Nissan and Toyota should see close to 20 vehicles come under starters orders at the Adenco 400 which will be based in Darling.
Ford's line-up in the SP Class will be made up of two factory cars and three privateer entries. Former champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer and Thomas Rundle and Hennie ter Stege will be out in new factory Ford Rangers.
Rundle makes the jump from Class E into the premier class and faces a steep learning curve. Ter Stege, however, is hugely experienced and the ideal co-driver to help him along the way.
Privateer back-up comes from Kobus van Tonder and Riaan Quelpa in the ex Mark Ferguson works car, Pieter Ruthven and De Waal Boshoff in the ex Woolridge car now in Ruwacon Racing livery, and Graham Leith and Mark Lawrenson in the ex Motorite Ford Ranger. Ruthven and Boshoff switch from the Special Vehicle category to the SP Class.
Nissan, who have dominated the Production Vehicle category for nearly a decade, will run four factory cars this season. Three will run in the SP Class and one, with a crew yet to be finalised, in Class E.
Nissan's SP Class challenge has a familiar look about it. Reigning drivers champion Duncan Vos and Dakar Rally hero Ralph Pitchford will be out in a new Nissan Navara, and will be joined by veteran Hannes Grobler and Juan Mohr and Norwegian Ivar Tollefsen and Briton Quin Evans.
Tollefsen and Evans will be out in the SA built Navara in which they finished fourth on the Dakar Rally. Mohr is the reigning SA co-drivers champion.
An interesting addition to the Nissan line-up is that of Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald (Regent Racing) in the ex Vos championship winning vehicle. Marsh, a former SA champion, is also a defector from the Special Vehicle category.
Toyota, with 10 cars, has by far the biggest numerical challenge in the SP Class with another high profile defection from the Special Vehicle ranks in Gary Bertholdt and Andre Vermeulen. Bertholdt is a flier and the pair, who won twice in the Special Vehicle category last season, will be out in a new Toyota Hilux running under the Atlas Copco banner.
Toyota's factory challenge will again be in the hands of Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin and Toyota stalwarts Anthony Taylor and Robin Houghton. Cronje/Birkin won the Eastern Cape 400 last year, and both crews will have high expectations this season.
The Toyota privateer line-up has a settled and solid look about it. Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst (Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux), Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux) and Jaco Swanepoel and Keith Solomon, in the IDM Cement Toyota Hilux, Chris du Plooy and Ewald van Rensburg (RFS Toyota Hilux) and Mike Thomsett/Brian Haviland (Feltex Imperial Toyota Hilux) were all part of the Toyota fold last season.
They will be joined this time around by Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Jansen van Vuuren in a second RFS Toyota Hilux. They make the jump from Class D and also face a learning curve.
"The growth in the SP Class over the last two seasons has been phenomenal, and reflects the state of off road racing in South Africa," said Motorsport SA Off Road Car Racing Commission president Richard Schilling. "Last season's championship went down to the last race, and it looks as though this season will be just as competitive."