Sugarbelt 400: Pre-event news

PRODUCTION VEHICLE DOG FIGHT ON NISSAN SUGARBELT 400 A Production Vehicle category dog fight is almost certain to develop on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400, round three of the Absa Off Road Championship, in the Eston area of KwaZulu-Natal on May 16...

PRODUCTION VEHICLE DOG FIGHT ON NISSAN SUGARBELT 400

A Production Vehicle category dog fight is almost certain to develop on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400, round three of the Absa Off Road Championship, in the Eston area of KwaZulu-Natal on May 16 and 17.

The premier Super Production Class is now crammed with potential winners representing reigning champions Nissan, Toyota and Ford. Nissan have dominated their own race for a number of seasons but a Toyota crew currently leads the overall championship, and a Ford crew on home territory will be heavily favoured.

As ever the Nissan challenge is a tough one. Reigning champion Duncan Vos, reunited with regular co-driver Ralph Pitchford, Hannes Grobler/Juan Mohr and Norwegian Ivar Tollefsen, who teams up with reigning co-drivers champion Francois Jordaan are all potential winners.

Jordaan sits in for Briton Quin Evans whose wife is expecting a baby. With plenty of pace and experience Nissan will want to get back to winning ways after the win by Castrol Toyota Hilux pair Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin on the Eastern Cape 500. By the same token Cronje/Birkin head the championship after their first overall national win, and will be looking for more of the same. With their confidence sky high the Toyota pair will be a threat.

With Bevan Bertholdt and the Toyota factory team parting ways by mutual consent, circuit racing star Anthony Taylor will join the seasoned Robin Houghton in the second factory entry. Taylor has rally and off road experience, has had a long association with both Castrol and Toyota and brings to the party vast experience and technical expertise.

A third Castrol Toyota Hilux will be in the hands of the consistent Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst with Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux) looking for another good result. Class E graduates George/Sharon Barkhuizen (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux) and Jaco Swanepoel/Keith Solomon (IDM Cement Toyota Hilux) provide further back-up in a strong Toyota entry.

While Nissan and Toyota will fancy their chances most of the smart money will be on former SA champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer in the Ford Racing Ranger. Woolridge cut his racing teeth in Sugarbelt 400 conditions and will relish the opportunity of taking advantage of home ground.

Back-up for the Ford factory crew comes from Mark Ferguson and Craig West while Alfie Cox and Hennie ter Stege in a Motorite Ford Ranger have yet to hit their straps but have performed consistently so far this season. Kobus van Tonder and Riaan Guelpa (Unifreight Ford Ranger) have also turned consistency into a forte while Harold and Tiaan Coen (Land Rover BMW) will be looking for a return to form.

The Nissan/Toyota battle in Class D will continue with four points separating the first three crews. A win on the Eastern Cape 500 has taken Henri and Maurice Zermatten (Ryobi Nissan Hardbody) to the top of the log. They are followed by Coetzee Labuscagne/Johan Gerber (Raysonics Nissan Hardbody) and reigning drivers champion Cliff Weichelt and Jimmy Goch in the N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux D4D.

All three crews are capable of winning but they will be keeping an eye on under achievers Ramon Bezuidenhout and Stefan Lock in a Toyota Hilux. Young Chris du Plooy and Henk van Vuuren (Retirement Fund Solutions Toyota Hilux) also come into the picture and a good Class D battle is on the cards.

Toyota Hilux crews Dewald van Breda and Pieter du Plessis and Jannie Visser/Joks le Roux go into the Nissan Sugarbelt level at the top of the log after a win apiece. For van Breda and du Plessis their win, on the Eastern Cape 500, came in their first ever national event and they will want to prove it was no flash in the pan.

Thomas Rundle/Brian Roberts (Barden Tyre Services Nissan Hardbody) and reigning drivers champion Jack Peckham and Lucio Santoro (Ford Racing Ranger) will be looking for improved performances but the class could be thrown into disarray by a local crew. Experienced Rob Gurney, who lives in the Eston area, and Paul Gonlag have taken over the ex Brian Martin/Ockie Fourie Castrol Toyota Hilux and with local knowledge will be a major threat.

After two events there are tight championship battles at the top of the various classes. The Nissan Sugarbelt 400 offers crews the opportunity to consolidate and there are high stakes on offer.

MAKE OR BREAK FOR SPECIAL VEHICLE CREWS ON NISSAN SUGARBELT 400

It will be a case of make or break for a number of crews in the Special Vehicle category when the Nissan Sugarbelt 400, round three of the Absa Off Road Championship, moves back to the Eston area in KwaZulu-Natal on May 16 and 17.

A number of crews who were fancied to be among the top overall and Class A title contenders this year have so far underperformed. Among their number are reigning champions Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann and their Motorite BAT team-mates Brandon Harcus and Richard Leeke.

Both teams have yet to finish a race this season, and neither has picked up a point so far. They need good results if they are to claw their way back into championship contention, and Gary Bertholdt/Andre Vermeulen (Atlas Copco BAT) and Nardus Alberts/Collin Hunter (Wrapsa BAT) are in the same boat.

A win and a second have taken former South African champion Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald, in the Regent Racing BAT, to the top of the championship. They have a four point lead over Eastern Cape 500 winners Karl-Heinz & Quintin Sullwald (Sullwald Racing Zarco) with Herman Sullwald/Paul Helberg third in another Sullwald Racing Zarco.

Consistency is what often wins championships and this is a forte where Marsh and the Sullwald's are concerned. The nature of the Nissan Sugarbelt 400, with the route highly technical with changing terrain and surfaces, will also suit Marsh and the Sullwald's.

The route will also be to the liking of recently married Pieter Ruthven and Johan Boshoff (Ruwacon BAT) who missed the last event, and Mike Whitehouse and Mathew Carlson in a second Regent Racing BAT. It is also likely to be a wet race and that will also play into the hands of crews who tend to take a more cautious approach to their racing.

In terms of winning potential a couple of other crews could also come into the equation. The father and son team of Nick and Ryan Harper (Atlas Copco BAT) have yet to run into their best form while former SA champion Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau (Total Porter) are due a win.

An interesting situation has developed in Class B where just three points separate the top three crews. Eastern Cape winners Louw de Bruyn and Rudi Britz (Ruwacon BAT) edge out Bez Bezuidenhout/Johann de Bruyn (Adenco BAT) and veteran former champion Giel Nel and Deon de Kock in the LUK Afrika Truggy Zarco.

De Bruyn/Britz and Bezuidenhout/de Bruyn look likely winners but sheer consistency is likely to keep Nel and de Kock in title contention throughout the season. Reigning champion Jan Kraaij and Tiddo Voogt (Keymax BAT) have a little ground to make up and are looking for their first win of the season.

The class, however, could be thrown wide open by the Stafix Racing pair of Alistair Stubbs and former champion Marc de Chalain. With five crews all in contention the Class B battle looks as though it will develop into an intriguing contest.

The first four crews in Class P are separated by just four points. Eastern Cape 500 winners Don Thompson and Don Blakey (Zarco) have a three point lead over David and Gary White (Ruwacon BAT) with veterans Nic Goslar and Richard Carolin (Men's Health International Raceco) a further point in arrears.

Reigning Class S champions Richard Schilling and Chris Davies (Aceco RS) find themselves in the same position as the under achievers in Class A. Two non finishes sees them lagging behind and they also need a good result.

In what is turning into an interesting category brothers Johan and Etienne Bezuidenhout (Adenco BAT) also come into the picture. As is the case in Class B it adds up to an interesting scenario with some tight tussles likely to emerge on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 and over the rest of the season.

-credit: absa

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Series Other rally
Drivers Alfie Cox , Ralph Pitchford , Quin Evans , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst