Sun City: Series preview

FORD AND TOYOTA CHASE NISSAN AT SUN CITY 400 Ford and Toyota will again have Nissan in their sights in the Production Vehicle category at the Sun City 400, round five of the Absa Off Road Championship, on July 25 and 26. Nissan, the reigning...

FORD AND TOYOTA CHASE NISSAN AT SUN CITY 400

Ford and Toyota will again have Nissan in their sights in the Production Vehicle category at the Sun City 400, round five of the Absa Off Road Championship, on July 25 and 26.

Nissan, the reigning champions, currently have three wins -- all going to reigning drivers champion Duncan Vos in one of three factory Sasol Nissan Navara's -- while Toyota have a lone victory via Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin in one of two factory Castrol Toyota Hilux entries. Ford have yet to win this season but former champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer have had four podium finishes in a row in the factory Ford Racing Ranger, and Sun City could provide their breakthrough.

The Woolridge/Skjoldhammer/Ford combination, on an event that is traditionally tough on man and machine, could be a winning one overall and in the premier Super Production Class. The crew is experienced and have a liking for the more technical routes, the vehicle is strong and reliable and the ingredients could all gel and provide Ford with an overdue victory.

The fact that Skjoldhammer leads the co-drivers championship -- with Ralph Pitchford missing events via overseas commitments -- is an additional incentive for the team. Woolridge is second in the drivers championship and with back-up from Mark Ferguson and Craig West, in another factory entry, and the reliable Kobus van Tonder/Riaan Guelpa (Unifreight Ford Ranger) the Ford challenge is a powerful one.

The Ford presence is given a further boost by Alfie Cox and Hennie ter Stege in the Motorite SP. The pair have had a patchy season so far, but are far too capable and experienced to be left out of the equation.

Nissan, of course, also have a powerful hand. Vos is rejoined by Pitchford and veteran Hannes Grobler/Juan Mohr and Norwegian Ivar Tollefsen and Briton Quin Evans give Glyn Hall's team three possible winners.

Young Louis Weichelt, who stood in for Pitchford in the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race win, did a fine job but Vos has an affinity with Pitchford that makes the combination hard to beat. Grobler/Mohr have not enjoyed the best of luck recently and they are also due a win.

Nissan have dominated the Production Vehicle championship in recent seasons, and will probably go to Sun City as favourites. There are signs, however, of little chinks appearing in the armour which give Toyota and Ford crews a glimmer of hope.

The experienced Anthony Taylor, who has linked up with veteran Robin Houghton in the factory Castrol Toyota team, appears to have added an element of stability to the squad. Cronje and Birkin are perhaps the quickest crew in the championship, but having both works entries in the points in two successive races has been a boost for the entire Castrol Toyota squad.

There will be solid back-up from Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst (Castrol Toyota Hilux) and Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux) who are deceptively quick. George and Sharon Barkhuizen (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux) and Jaco Swanepoel/Keith Solomon (IDM Cement Toyota Hilux) appear to have found their feet in the SP Class and have come up with encouraging recent results.

Mike Tomsett and Brian Haviland, in the new double cab Feltex Imperial Toyota Hilux made an impressive start to the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race. The potential is there for the pair to add greatly to Toyota's cause.

Nissan crews currently lead the way in Class D with Coetzee Labuscagne/Johan Gerber (Raysonics Nissan Hardbody) leading brothers Henri and Maurice Zermatten in a similar vehicle in Ryobi colours. Both crews have won this season and a good contest could develop.

Their biggest challenge will probably come from the steady Chris du Plooy and Henk van Vuuren (RFS Toyota Hilux) who have done well this season. Cliff Weichelt/Jimmy Goch (N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux D4D) and Ramon Bezuidenhout/Stefan Lock (Toyota Hilux), last year's top rookies, have been disappointing and both will be looking for a return to form.

Toyota crew Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux (Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux) have taken firm control of Class E. Penalties that dropped Jack Peckham and Lucio Santoro from first to third in class on the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race did nothing to further their cause of in the Ford Racing Ranger.

The KwaZulu-Natal crew will be keen to make amends and another interesting clash is one the cards. Newcomer Dewald van Breda (Potch Plastics Toyota Hilux) has done well, with three different co-drivers in four events, and Thomas Rundle/Brian Roberts, in the Barden Tyre Services Nissan Hardbody, will be looking to turn around what has so far been a disappointing season.

Deon Venter/Ian Palmer (4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux) will also be looking for a good result as will rookies Dan Swanepoel and James Moss in the IDM Cement Toyota Hilux.

With Toyota now leading Nissan by a slender 12 points in the prestige SA Manufacturers Championship, the Sun City event is important to both manufacturers. Ford are a further 34 points in arrears and the battles in the Pilanesberg with the Sun City 400 voted the best event last year, will be both interesting and significant.

TOP SPECIAL VEHICLE TEAMS CHASE SUN CITY 400 WIN

The four races run so far this year in the Special Vehicle category of the Absa Off Road Championship have produced four different winners, and the trend is likely to continue at the Sun City 400 in the Pilanesberg on July 25 and 26.

The Sun City event sees the championship enter the home stretch with the championship still wide open. So far this season former champion Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald (Regent Racing BAT), Karl-Heinz/Quinton Sullwald (Sullwald Racing BAT), Gary Bertholdt/Andre Vermeulen (Atlas Copco Porter) and Shameer Variawa/Siegfried Rousseau (Total Porter) each have a race.

The Sullwald father and son combination currently lead the championship and have a 100 percent finish record. They have a slender nine point lead over Marsh and Groenewald, with Variawa and Rousseau a further six points behind after a win on the recent Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race.

Behind the leading trio Mike Whitehouse and Mathew Carlson, in the second Regent Racing BAT, Herman Sullwald and Paul Helberg (Sullwald Racing Zarco) and Nick/Ryan Harper (Atlas Copco BAT) are not yet out of the reckoning and all three crews are capable of winning. Reigning champions Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann (Motorite BAT) have had a miserable season so far and will be desperate for a win.

But, in a quality field, there are other crews who could also sneak a win. Included here are Colin Matthews and Alan Smith (BAT), veteran Nardus Alberts with Geoff Minnitt now sitting alongside him in the (Wrapsa BAT) and Clint Gibson and Gary Campbell in another BAT.

Once again there will be interesting contrasts in styles. It will be flyers like Variawa/Rousseau, Bertholdt/Vermeulen, Hutchison/Bergmann and Matthews/Smith against the more measured approach of the likes of the Sullwald's and Marsh/Groenewald.

The Sun City 400 event is traditionally one of the toughest on the calendar in terms of wear and tear on crews and machinery. This year will be no different and the scene is set for an intriguing race -- with some personal duels adding a little spice to matters.

Down in Class B there is an interesting situation with Ruwacon BAT driver Louw de Bruin leading the drivers championship ahead of veteran Cape driver Bez Bezuidenhout in the Adenco BAT. De Bruin's co-driver, Rudi Britz, is second in the co-driver stakes after missing an event and it is Bezuidenhout's partner, Johann de Bruyn, who leads that championship.

It is a situation that lends itself to a good contest between two evenly matched crews. They will be troubled by reigning Class B champions Hendrik and Jan Kraaij in the Keymax BAT, while sheer consistency has lifted veteran former champion Giel Nel and Deon de Kock into third in the championship in the LUK Zarco Truggy.

Simon Beckett and Steve Harris (Century Racing BAT) also come into the picture after a good Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race. Alistair Stubbs/Marc de Chalain in the Stafix Racing Viper are also due a good run and are more than capable of coming up with an upset.

Reigning Class S champions Richard Schilling/Chris Davies (Aceco RS) have also had a miserable season in the new Class P category currently dominated by KwaZulu-Natal crew Don Thompson and Don Blakey in a Zarco Lite. A couple of wins and a second in Botswana have lifted them comfortably ahead of Toyota Kalahari 1000 Desert Race winners Johan and Etienne Bezuidenhout in the Adenco BAT. The KZN versus Western Cape battle will be interesting with Free Stater David White (Ruwacon BAT), partnered by brother David who lives in Pretoria, adding another element to what has quickly turned into a competitive category.

Schilling/Davies will be keen for a win as well as another veteran crew in Nic Goslar and Richard Carolin in the Men's Health International entry. Both crews have not lived up to potential this season, and Sun City will be a challenge for them.

-credit: absa

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Series Other rally
Drivers Alfie Cox , Ian Palmer , David White , Ralph Pitchford , Quin Evans , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst