PLENTY OF 'SILLY SEASON' ACTIVITY IN ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP
There has been plenty of 'silly season' activity as teams gear up for the opening round of this year's Absa Off Road Championship, the Adenco 400, in Darling, in the Western Cape, on March 11 and 12.
There have been comings and goings in both the Production Vehicle and Special Vehicle categories with one or two major developments. The behind the scenes manoeuvres have added a little spice to pre season proceedings, and there are high expectations for another hugely competitive series.
On the Production Vehicle front the factory Toyota team will be out in new double cab Toyota Hilux entries and have lost stalwart co-driver Robin Houghton. After nearly two decades with the Toyota team, during which he won multiple championships with Apie Reyneke, the versatile Houghton leaves to link up with former Toyota factory driver Mark Cronje in the South African Rally National Championship.
Replacing Houghton alongside Anthony Taylor, who rounded off their partnership with a win on the RFS Magalies 400 last season, will be the experienced Chris Birkin who makes a return to the Toyota fold. Birkin previously teamed up with Cronje.
Other developments among the Production Vehicles will see Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren campaign a second RFS BMW X3, while teenager Lance Woolridge and experienced Ward Huxtable will move into Class D in a factory Ford Racing Ranger. Du Plooy and Janse van Vuuren will compete in the RFS Toyota Hilux in Darling and will then join team-mates Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege in BMW entries.
In his first full season of national racing Woolridge, son of former SA champion Neil, last year just missed out on the Class E championship. A back injury saw him miss the final event of the year and Pikkie Labuschagne crept in the back door to take the driver's title with Huxtable clinching the co-driver championship.
There have also been some intriguing developments in the Special Vehicle category. Topping the list is the move by Class P champions Johan van Staden and James Rossouw into Class A in a new Spec 5 BAT.
The Pretoria pair dominated Class P last season and made history when they became the first Class P crew to win a national event overall. The pair will again campaign under the Atlas Copco umbrella.
There is a move in the other direction for the father and son pair of Nick and Ryan Harper. They leave the Atlas Copco team to link up with former South African champion Evan Hutchison in the Motorite team.
Hutchison will also have a new co-driver in Danie Stassen with the Motorite team dropping out of the SA National Rally Championship top concentrate on the Absa series. Hutchison and Stassen will run the Motorite Revo 4x4 while the Harpers will be out in a BAT.
There will also be at least one new team in Class A. Daniel and Louw Zeelie will be out in a Porter and will be watched with interest.
The Adenco 400 always provides an interesting start to the season. This year will be no different and the organisers have found some new sections of route. The Donaldson Prologue will be a 45 kilometre affair on March 11, with the race on March 12 to be run over three loops of around 120 kilometres. Race headquarters, the start/finish and the designated service point will all be at the Darling Club.
As usual the route will be spectator friendly with numerous viewing points. Public access to the start/finish, the DSP and spectator areas is free of charge.