Sun City 400: Series pre-event news

NISSAN TEAMS FAVOURED FOR SUN CITY 400 VICTORY With four wins from four starts this season the Donaldson Nissan Navara team will be heavily favoured to provide the winner of the Production Vehicle category at the Sun City 400, round five of the...

NISSAN TEAMS FAVOURED FOR SUN CITY 400 VICTORY

With four wins from four starts this season the Donaldson Nissan Navara team will be heavily favoured to provide the winner of the Production Vehicle category at the Sun City 400, round five of the Absa Off Road Championship, on July 24 and 25.

Three of the team's wins this season, including the recent Toyota 1000 Desert Race in Botswana, have come from Duncan Vos and Ralph Pitchford and they are the obvious favourites. The pair are sitting pretty in the championship lead, but their are indications that the second half of the season could be a lot tougher for Vos/Pitchford and the rest of the Nissan squad.

Hannes Grobler/Juan Mohr provided the Nissan team with their other win while Ivar Tollefsen and Quin Evans have proved to be models of consistency and lie second in the championship. The capricious nature of motorsport and the law of averages could conspire to act against the Donaldson Nissan trio, but there are also signs that other crews are ready to start winning.

The Castrol Toyota Hilux teams of Anthony/Taylor/Robin Houghton and Hein Lategan/Chris Birkin, in particular, have looked threatening in recent events. The only thing missing from Toyota's campaign in Botswana was an overall win, and Sun City could provide the breakthrough the team so desperately needs.

The factory Ford Ranger pairings of former national champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer and Thomas Rundle and Stavros Yiannakis will also be desperate for good results. Ford are the first manufacturer to go the diesel route with the twin turbo Ford Ranger TDCI models, and have run into the sort of niggles one expects from new race machinery.

Good results in the Pilanesberg will go a long way to boosting morale within the Ford ranks. The vehicles have shown flashes of great potential, but what is now needed is a pair of solid performances.

The Nissan, Toyota and Ford factory teams all have support, in varying degrees, from privateer teams. Toyota boast a numerical advantage and the Toyota 1000 Desert Race saw them move ahead of Nissan in the prestige South African Manufacturers Championship.

The consistent Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst (RFS Toyota Hilux) are one of only three crews with a 100 percent finish record this season, and lead the Toyota challenge in the championship. Team-mates Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Jansen van Vuuren produced their best ever result with third overall in Botswana, and that will have done them a world of good.

Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn are podium potential in the Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux with Gary Bertholdt and Danie Stassen in the same boat in the Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux. George and Sharon Barkhuizen (AIM Toyota Hilux) will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing Botswana outing, and Jaco Swanepoel/Keith Solomon (IDM Cement Toyota Hilux) will make a welcome return.

Nissan's back-up comes from former Special Vehicle national champion Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald in the Regent Racing Nissan Navara. The pair are still adapting to the premier SP Class but have a good Botswana finish under their belts.

Harrismith model car collector Kobus van Tonder and Riaan Guelpa (Uni Freight Ford Ranger) lead the Ford privateer challenge along with Graham Leith and Mike Lawrenson (Transcor Ford Ranger) and Pieter Ruthven and De Waal Boshoff in the Ruwacon Ford Ranger. Van Tonder/Guelpa and the Transcor pair had good runs in Botswana and will take heart from those performances.

In an interesting development young Louis Weichelt, partnered by Maret Bezuidenhout, will make his debut as a driver. Weichelt will be out in the ex van Tonder Ford Ranger and his performance will be keenly monitored along with that of Harold and Tiaan Coen who return to action in a Land Rover.

The Land Rover adds a fourth name to the list of manufacturers competing in the SP Class. With late entries and regional championship competitors the Sun City 400 has drawn a huge field of more than 80 vehicles.

Weichelt's 'defection' to the SP Class sees father Cliff now partnered by Johan Smalberger, who makes a return to racing, in the N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux D4D. Despite a non finish in Botswana Weichelt senior still has a comfortable Class D championship lead. Brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Malelane Toyota Land Cruiser) ground out a win on the Desert Race and that will be a major boost for the Mpumalanga crew.

Heine Strumpher/Hendrik van der Linde (Micaren Toyota Hilux) and Dewald van Breda and Johann du Toit (Northam Toyota D4D) are separated by only two points in second and third in the championship. A good battle could develop but the big news in Class D is the return of the Zermatten brothers.

An interesting situation has emerged in Class E were 4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux crews share the championship lead. Deon Venter/Ian Palmer and impressive rookies Pikkie Labuschagne and Rikus Erasmus have each won twice and Sun City will provide the tiebreaker.

Reigning champions Jannie Visser/Joks le Roux (RFS Toyota Hilux) are only 14 points in arrears and another strong showing will put pressure on the leaders. Leeroy Poulter/Rob Howie (Ferodo Nissan Hardbody) are podium potential and Bappy Rubuluza/Khuliele Vakaliza (Ford Racing Ranger) and Louw de Bruin/Riaan Greyling (Ruwacon Ford Ranger) also look capable of providing for an upset.

Race headquarters, the start/finish and designated service point will all be situated at the Sun City resort complex, with the event spectator friendly. The prologue for grid positions will start at 12h00 on Friday, July 24 and the race at 08h00 on Saturday, July 25.

SUN CITY 400 A TEST OF CHARACTER FOR SPECIAL VEHICLE CREWS

The Sun City 400, round five of the Absa Off Road Championship on July 24 and 25 will be a test of character for leading Special Vehicle category crews.

The Pilanesberg race represents the start of the second half of the season and, for various reasons, the top crews will be put to the test on what is traditionally one of the toughest events of the year. While Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann, in the impressive Motorite Revo1 4x4, have a tight hold on the championship they are not yet out of the woods.

The Motorite crew have three wins -- one of them fortuitous -- and a second but championships have been lost from better positions than the one they currently occupy. There were also signs on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race that other crews are in a position to take pot shots at Hutchison/Bergmann, and have the incentive of knowing that it is a case of having to go for broke over the latter part of the season.

At least half a dozen crews could upset the Motorite applecart. Desert Race winners Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau (Total Motorsport Porter) will be high on confidence, and will have in the back of their minds that a similar situation last year saw them make a concerted championship run.

Nick and Ryan Harper (Atlas Copco BAT) are again there or thereabouts, and Mike Whitehouse and Mathew Carlson (Regent Racing BAT) have emerged as potential race winners. Prologue specialists Colin Matthews and Alan Smith have pace but need to start finishing events and the same applies to team-mates Mark Corbett/Rudi Balzer in the Century Property Development CR1 4x4.

Class A rookies Jimmy Zahos and Stefan Coetzee (Mountain Dew Porter) have opened a few eyes this season and are learning with every outing. The Sullwald teams, Kallie and son Quintin (Sullwald Racing BAT) and Herman and son Wichard (Sullwald Racing Zarco) are looking strong after dodgy starts to the year, and KwaZulu-Natal crew Clint Gibson and Gary Campbell, in the new SVR, could be dark horses.

Then there are the likes of Atang Makgekgenene, again partnered by Zimbabwe rally navigator Phil Archenoul in a Porter, and Naeem Moosajee and Mohammad Moultson in the Tyre Rack Porter. Both crews are capable of podium finishes and provide proof, if it was needed, of the depth of talent in Class A.

Also back in action will be Mohammad and Fazal Noble, in another Porter, and along with regional championship runners the Sun City 400 has drawn a massive entry of over 80 cars.

A win in Botswana has taken Cape crew Derick du Toit and Ian Pienaar, in the Orange Tree BAT, to the top of the Class B championship. The Toyota 1000 Desert Race win will also have provided du Toit and Pienaar with a massive confidence booster, and the onus is now on other teams to come up with the results that will keep them in the championship race.

Bez and Deon Bezuidenhout (Adenco BAT) and the Makenete brothers, Keith and Andrew (Zarco) both need good results and will be well aware of the situation. Other teams that could come into contention include Simon Beckett, now partnered by Tim Curtis in the Century Property Development BAT, and Alistair Stubbs and former SA champion Marc de Chalain in a Viper.

Stubbs and de Chalain make their first appearance of the season, but have plenty of experience. Their appearance adds a touch of spice to what could emerge as a tight Class B battle.

Class P could mirror Class A in terms of uncertainty and close racing. It is a category that is now ultra competitive with four or five teams all in with a chance. Reigning champions Johan and Etienne Bezuidenhout (Adenco BAT) have won twice and still lead the championship standings. Behind them there is a tie between Botswana winners David and Gary White (Ruwacon BAT), and impressive rookies Johan van Staden and James Rossouw, in the KEC BAT, with little to choose between the three crews.

KwaZulu-Natal crew Don Thompson and James Watson (Zarco) also come into the equation along with former Class B champions Jan and Hendrik Kraaij (Keymax BAT) who missed the trip to Botswana. Glen and Rob Gibson (Gibson Racing BAT) also had a good run on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, and the likes of Richard Schilling/Chris Davies (Aceco ZA) would like to come up with good results after a disappointing season.

Also in the mix will be Archie Rutherford and Craig Doubtfire who make a welcome return to racing in a Regent Racing Jimco, and veteran Ernest Corbett and Warwick Goosen in the futuristic looking Century Property Development CR2. There is no shortage of experience among the two crews and they add to a Class P mix that is now mouthwatering.

Race headquarters, the start/finish and the designated service point are all situated at the Sun City resort complex. The prologue to determine start positions will start at 12h00 on Friday, July 24 with the race scheduled to get underway at 08h00 on Saturday, 25 July.

-credit: saoffroadracing.co.za

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About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Ian Palmer , Ralph Pitchford , Quin Evans , Mark Corbett , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst , Rob Gibson , Leeroy Poulter