Season opener at AA Kyalami preview

High Stakes at First Vodacom National Meeting of The Year All the ingredients one normally associates with the first championship event of the year will be included in the mix for the Vodacom national meeting at AA Kyalami on February...

High Stakes at First Vodacom National Meeting of The Year

All the ingredients one normally associates with the first championship event of the year will be included in the mix for the Vodacom national meeting at AA Kyalami on February 23.

There will a few missing names, some new faces and new machinery and the high expectations that teams and competitors always carry into the first skirmish of the year. And, as usual, the stakes will be high with those harbouring championship expectations aware of the need of a fast start to what will be a long and hard season.

The opening event also has a "blockbuster" feel about it with standard and modified saloons, singleseaters, sports cars and motorcycles all sharing the same stage. The opening rounds of the Wesbank SAMCAR Series, the Production Car Championship, the Vodacom VSP Sportscars Championship, the Vodacom Sports 2000 challenge, the Formula Ford Championship, the Engen Volkswagen Cup and Superbikes offer something for everyone -- and with 14 races on the programme there will be no shortage of action.

Proceedings get underway on Thursday with open practice for all categories. This is followed on Friday by official practice and qualifying sessions, with the first race on Saturday scheduled to start at 09h30.

Gate entry is R35 per adult with children under 12 free. Booking is at Computicket.

WESBANK SAMCAR SERIES

With a committed sponsor, proven infrastructure, exciting machinery and half a dozen or more drivers capable of regularly winning races, the Wesbank SAMCAR Series has the potential to emerge as one of the showpieces of the season.

This year's championship has a couple of young guns ready to challenge the authority of some old lions. This year, too, the series also has some sentiment with reigning champion Sarel van der Merwe embarking on what is likely to be the final campaign in a long and illustrious career.

Supervan starts his final year as a team owner with Supervan Racing having taken over the factory Opel Astras run by Shaun Watson-Smith and Deon Joubert last season. Van der Merwe is joined by prot0x7a60Gugu Zulu, who this season will have to stand up and be counted in what Watson-Smith and Joubert last season demonstrated to be highly competitive cars.

Although it is a little strange to see van der Merwe racing something other than a Ford product, the old campaigner will also have a point to prove. Supervan would love nothing better to bring the curtain down on his career with another national title, but it will be tough going.

The "old timers" in the Wesbank line-up include former champion Ben Morgenrood (Auto Trader Ford Mustang), Larry Wilford (Fuchs Ford Mustang), Willie Hepburn (Chev Camaro) and Roelf du Plessis in another Camaro. The experienced Riaan Botma in a Dodge Viper also comes into the equation, but it is young lions Johan Fourie (M&D Transport Ford Mustang) and Hennie Groenewald (Chev Camaro) who will be watched with a great deal of interest.

Fourie, in particular, has a talent that should be on show on an international scale. Van der Merwe will be a sentimental favourite, but if he competes in all rounds of the series Fourie looks a good bet for the championship.

PRODUCTION CARS

With a quality field encompassing drivers and machinery the Production Car Championship this season looks set to be completely dominated by the Class A contingent.

The category has a now defunct Bankfin Procar look about it in terms of rules and regulations and, for good measure, includes two former Touring Car champions in Castrol Van der Linde Racing BMW team-mates Shaun van der Linde and Mike Briggs. Van der Linde is the reigning Production and Class A champion, and he and Briggs look to be early favourites -- although there is plenty of opposition to make life interesting for the pair who will be out in BMW 330 I models.

Kaye-Eddie Estates pair Regardt Roets and Gavin Kelsey will also be out in new Beemers along with Etienne van der Linde and Richard Sorensen. Old stalwart Steve Wyndham, in the Ford Credit Fairmont, will also keep everyone honest, but the most interesting addition to the fold is the Champion Eon Mercedes-Benz C320 to be driven by reigning Class D champion Leeroy Poulter.

Poulter is a talented young driver, but the C320 will start the season as something of an unknown quantity. Two Alfa Romeos are also earmarked for the class, so there is plenty of variety -- with the Subaru Imprezas of veteran Mike O'Sullivan and Michele Lupini -- also in the mix.

The smart money, however, will probably be with the elder van der Linde and Briggs.

Class B sees Charl Wilken and Mark Cronje, in the Team Castrol Toyota RSi entries, back in the fold after Toyota Motorsport's run in with the Midas association last season. With no Team Total AMG Hondas to worry about former champion Wilken and Cronje look set to emerge as the title frontrunners. The biggest threat to the pair is likely to come from former champion Martin Steyn in one of the ex Team Total cars.

Reigning Class B champion Curt Alchin now finds himself having to revert to Class C in a privately entered Honda Ballade. He should have some fun against the likes of Lawrence Boshoff and Philip Booysen in a category dominated by Honda entries.

Class D has an interesting look about it with Stephen Taylor the likely early favourite in an Opel Corsa. Former Class E champion James Menin, in a similar car, the Ford Fiestas of Fanie de Bruin and Etienne du Toit and Philip Kekana in the Sasol Toyota Conquest provide some tough opposition, with Angus Thompson a dark horse in a City Golf.

Reigning champion Cor Kraamwinkel, in the Goldi Chicken Opel Kadett, will be the man to beat in Class E. Dave Compton, in the Toyota Tazz, and Darren Murphy in a VW Citi Golf look to be the pair most likely to pose Kraamwinkel with a few problems.

SUPERBIKES

Some interesting off-season musical chairs provides some early additional interest to the Superbike scenario.

Reigning champion Greg Dreyer switches camps and joins former champion Stewart Macleod in the Cell C Suzuki squad. Arushen Moodley also switches camps and leaves the Vodacom Nashua squad for the Autopage Cellular Honda outfit where he joins Alex Lenaerts with the squad having to do without the services of the injured Robbie Petersen in the early stages of the season.

Talented Jason Wessels moves up a notch by joining Trevor Crookes in the UUNET Ducati squad, and talented youngsters in Hudson Kennaugh and Danie Swanepoel also leave the privateer ranks and join Shaun Whyte in the Suzuki Young Guns team.

Moodley is replaced in the Vodacom Nashua squad by development rider Dino de Wet, a teenager from Cape Town, who links up with multiple SA champion Russell Wood and Lance Isaacs. The team switches continue with Graeme van Breda joining the Merces Cura Suzuki team with Brad Anassis this year out on a Honda.

The musical chairs won't make one iota of difference when it comes to the competitive nature of the championship. It is going to be encounters of the closest kind all over again, and you need to be on the brave side to start picking winners -- even at this early stage.

Suffice to say Wood and Isaacs will think they have a point to prove this season. Macleod makes a return after a long lay-off after injury, and one can only hope that Dreyer again shows the sort of maturity that took him to last year's title.

The dangerman, however, could be Crookes. The former SA champion was desperately unlucky on a number of occasions last season, and this could be his year.

FORMULA FORD

Another chapter is written this season in the history of Formula Ford racing in South Africa.

The formula is this year exclusively for cars powered by the Ford Zetec engine, and the playing field has been leveled. Disappearing from the scene are some long in the tooth cars that have served a purpose, although the competitive nature of Formula Ford racing will remain unaltered.

Missing from the AA Kyalami entry will be reigning champion Jonathan du Toit, but frontrunners last season in Morne Jurgens and Brett Mayberry are back. They are joined by some familiar names in Martin Robinson, last year's First Division champion Brian Greyling, Mark du Toit and Warren Campbell.

An interesting addition to the fold, however, is Garth Waberski. One of South African racing's "wunderkinde" nearly a decade ago, Waberski will be out in a Swift and as the season progresses could emerge as a championship threat.

There will be a lot of interest in the progress of Vodacom Sports 2000 champion Chad Francis, but one would expect Jurgens and Mayberry to take up where they left off last season. Jurgens has loads of experience and will probably start the season as a slight favourite.

VODACOM VSP SPORTSCARS

The Vodacom VSP Sportscar championship features one major change this season, with the Canam Shelby cars now all fitted with Nissan powerplants.

Reigning champion George Ferreira will be looking at back to back titles, with a glance down the entry list producing some familiar names. The likes of Clive Kennerley, Neil Lobb, Donovan Roscoe, veteran Bernard Tilanus and Alan Eve will all be back in action with some competitive racing on the cards.

Ferreira was a model of consistency last season, but he could find it a little tougher this season. While a handful of drivers are likely to be consistent frontrunners, matters could get a little interesting while they sort themselves out.

VODACOM SPORTS 2000

Young drivers from previously disadvantaged communities get another chance to climb up the motorsport ladder in the Vodacom Sports 2000 Challenge.

One or two promising talents -- Gugu Zulu and Chad Francis are obvious names -- have emerged from the series. Zulu and reigning champion Francis, both of whom will be in action in higher profile championships this season, look set to dominate the series, but other youngsters have the opportunity to gain more experience.

Among then are Riyad Jaffer, who will also drive in the Production Car series in Team Castrol Toyota colours, Irshad Jaffer, Louis Kupai, Devan Moonsammy and Zakhele Zonale. All of them had their moments last season, and this year the series could produce some highly competitive and entertaining racing.

ENGEN VOLKSWAGEN CUP

The opening round of the Engen Volkswagen Cup feature a prospective entry of nearly 30 cars -- but there are some familiar names missing.

Reigning champion Graeme Nathan is back in harness, but missing are former champions Marthinus Briers and Derrick Irving and perennial frontrunners like Iain Pepper and Graham Donker. For all that there are a string of drivers who Nathan will be a little nervous about.

Top of the list will be Terry Moss prot0x7a60Tschops Sipuka who, after a taste of what it is like to win last season, is this year a real threat in the championship stakes. There are other drivers with plenty of experience in Neil Stephen and Silvio Scribante and some interesting newcomers.

Included among the newcomers are former Formula Ford star Gary Heimann and Vodacom Sports 2000 graduate Simon Mosley. Karters Fabio Tafani and Franco Scribante should go well along with Michael Stephen, nephew of former SA champion Neil, and the likes of Steve Rogers and Gary Marais.

The Engen Volkswagen Cup has never failed to produce close and competitive racing. The absence of a few stars like Briers and Irving is unlikely to alter the status quo.

-aa racing-

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Series General
Drivers Martin Steyn , Shaun Watson-Smith , Sarel van der Merwe , Darren Murphy , Hennie Groenewald , Leeroy Poulter
Tags AFVR