Western Cape kicks off 2007 season

ABSA OFF ROAD SERIES KICKS OFF IN WESTERN CAPE The opening salvoes in this year's Production Vehicle category in the Absa Off Road Championship will be fired on the Nissan Dealer 400 in Darling in the Western Cape on March 16 and 17, with the...

ABSA OFF ROAD SERIES KICKS OFF IN WESTERN CAPE

The opening salvoes in this year's Production Vehicle category in the Absa Off Road Championship will be fired on the Nissan Dealer 400 in Darling in the Western Cape on March 16 and 17, with the odds favouring another season of hugely competitive racing.

Over the last two or three seasons the title races in the various classes have had a habit of going all the way to the wire. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that this will again be the case.

And with growth in the premier Super Production Class, racing at the front of the field looks as though it is going to be more competitive than ever. The competition in Classes D and E will also be cut-throat with plenty of quality and quantity in the fields.

The start of a new season is always filled with a little uncertainty and expectancy. The Darling outing is no different, but the one constant is that those with title aspirations will want to get off to a fast start.

As ever the team to beat will be the factory Proudly South African Nissan Navara squad with reigning overall champions Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan and former champions Duncan Vos/Ralph Pitchford again in harness. An interesting addition to the squad sees Norwegian Ivar Tollefsen and British co-driver Quin Evans add an international flavour to proceedings, and it will be interesting to see how they fare.

Mark Corbett, linking up with Rudi Balzer, offers Nissan another string to their bow in the Century Property Developments Nissan Navara. The pair have about them the look of potential winners.

The factory Ford Racing challenge will again be spearheaded by SP Class champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer in a Ford Ranger. Brandon Harcus leaves the Special Vehicle ranks to link up with Juan Mohr in a second factory Ford Ranger and the pair could spring a surprise or two.

On the Toyota front the factory Castrol Toyota Hilux team will go into the Darling race bolstered by a win for Bevan Bertholdt and Robin Houghton on the Ford Carnival City 400 at the end of last season. They are again joined by Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin who under performed last year and will be keen to make amends.

The two factory Toyotas will be joined by former Class E champions Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn who move into the SP Class from Class D. It may take the de Bruyn's a race or two to settle into the class, but they have experience on their side.

The SP Class has been given a late boost by Manfred Schroder and Ward Huxtable. The reigning Class E champions, with backing from Absolute and Barloworld Pietermaritzburg, will run a privately entered Ford Ranger and could set the category alight.

Reigning Class D champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst waiting for the third race of the season to move Into the SP Class, will in the interim try and pick up important points in the premier category. They will run the Class D championship wining Tyco Trucks Toyota Hilux in Class SP.

With Visser and Badenhorst running in Class SP, the Toyota challenge is squarely in the court of Cliff and Louis Weichelt in a new Bosal Toyota Hilux D4D.

They will be up against a horde of Nissans lead by Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber in a brand new Raysonics Nissan Hardbody. BB Auto stalwarts Jurie and Andre du Plessis and Arnold du Plessis/Johan Knox will be looking for good results this year and the return of the ultra consistent Henri and Maurice Zermatten, in a Nissan Hardbody with Ryobi backing, adds another dimension to the class.

The Toyota versus Nissan battle in Class D could be a feature of the Darling race. For the rest of the season the Weichelt's will be out on their own.

Ford, Toyota, Nissan, and Mitsubishi will all be represented in what should be a highly competitive Class E championship. Reigning champions Former co-drivers champion Jack Peckham switches roles and will drive the factory Ford Racing Ranger with Lucio Santoro sitting alongside him.

A strong Toyota presence is led by Brian Martin/Ockie Fourie in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2,7. George and Sharon Barkhuizen, in the Ruwacon Toyota Hilux, were among the winners last season and will be looking for consistent results this time around.

Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux (Toyota Hilux) have winning potential as do Stuart Moffat and Johan Coetzee in the Bosal Toyota Hilux. With brother Mark Moffat away on business, Stuart takes over driving duties on this event.

Former track racers Fabio Tafani and Jaco Swanepoel will both be out in new Toyota Hilux D4D entries with backing from Club Refrigeration and IDM Cement. Both will have benefited from last year's learning curve and will be looking to assert themselves.

The Nissan challenge will be in the hands of the enthusiastic Thomas Rundle and Brian Roberts in the Barden Tyre Services Nissan Hardbody. The pair had their moments last season and will also be looking for more consistency.

Kobus van Tonder and Riaan Guelpa will again be out in the Mitsubishi Pajero. The vehicle is getting a bit long in the tooth, but the pair have the potential to pick up regular points.

Ann Evans will also be out in a Pajero and Hein Moolman and Cecil Fincham bring experience to the party. They will be out in a Roost Racing Toyota Hilux and add to the list of potential winners

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CLOSE COMPETITION IN ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP

Recent history suggests that the Special Vehicle category in the Absa Off Road Championship, which opens with the Nissan Dealer 400 in the Western Cape on March 16 and 17, could turn into one of the most competitive in South African motorsport this season.

In recent seasons championships in the various classes have gone all the way to the wire. The size, and quality, of the entries in the various categories once again points to some hugely competitive racing.

And, in the premier Class A, a little needle among some of the top teams adds to the intrigue. A couple of incidents last season left little love lost between a number of competitors, and there is going to be no quarter asked or given as the season unfolds.

There are no fewer than 18 entries in Class A for the Nissan Dealer 400 and half a dozen or more teams will feel they have a realistic chance of victory. Reigning champions Alfie Cox and Hennie Ter Steege, along with Motorite BAT team-mates Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergman will start as early favourites but the challengers are piling up behind them.

The Motorite teams face a stiff challenge from a two-car Atlas Copco challenge. Gary Bertholdt and Henry Kirstein (Atlas Copco Porter) will be joined this year by Nick and Ryan Harper in a new BAT Spec 2 S, with their old car going to Botswana pair Gary Gillingham and Peter van Vuuren who join the Kopanong Hotel Superteam.

There are also changes in the Nashua Mobile team with former SA champion Terence Marsh joined by Pieter Groenewald, with Mike Whitehouse switching to driving duties after a couple of seasons of sitting alongside Marsh. A third Nashua Mobile entry sees Archie Rutherford and Craig Doubtfire move into Class A from Class B.

The Ruwacon team this season mounts a two car challenge via Pieter Ruthven and Dewaal Boshoff and David and Gary White. Both teams will be out in BAT models with Ruthven and Boshoff out in one of the new spec 2 models.

The Sullwald brothers, Karl-Heinz and Herman, will be out in up rated Zarcos, Rob and Gareth Wark will be dangermen in the Superpave BAT as will Nardus Alberts and Collin Hunter in the Wraps BAT. KwaZulu-Natal crew Clint Gibson and Mike Brown, in the Absolute BAT, and former SA champion Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau in the Total Porter will also fancy their chances and predicting a Nissan Dealer 400 winner is a risky business.

Class B champions Ernest Corbett and Warwick Goosen (Century Property Development BAT) will miss the Darling race but here, too, the scene is set for a close contest. Jan and Hendrik Kraaij (Keymax BAT) will want to build on an encouraging 2006 and the Adenco BAT entries in the hands of Johan and Etienne Bezuidenhout and Bez Bezuidenhout/Johann de Bruyn should be there or thereabouts.

The same applies to veteran Giel Nel, now partnered by Sandra Labuscagne, and Marius van Vuuren and William Elliott in the Bosal Zarcos. The experienced Alistair Stubbs and Marc de Chalain (AM/PM Viper) form a dangerous combination, as do former champion Marcus Taylor and Derek Keith (JRE) and brothers Rudi and Pierre van Graan, returning to regular competition in the Technochair Zarco, also have winning potential.

Class S will see the renewal of a rivalry between the Kopanong Superteam pair of Nic Goslar and Richard Carolin and veterans Richard Schilling and Chris Davies in the Plastotech Aceco. Goslar is the reigning drivers champion and Davies the co-drivers titleholder so there is unfinished business between the two teams.

They will be kept honest by Glen Gibson in an Absolute Aceco and Naazim Moti in the Tyre Rack Raceco. Gibson and Moti will be partnered by Mike Whitehurst and Feroz Doodha.

With quality and quantity throughout the various classes, an explosive start to the season is in the offing. And it could set the tone for the rest of the year with fur set to fly.

-credit: msa

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Series Other rally
Drivers Mike Brown , Alfie Cox , Ralph Pitchford , Quin Evans , Mark Corbett , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst