PRODUCTION VEHICLE DRAMA TO UNFOLD ON ADENCO 400 There is always an air of anticipation and expectation at the first event of a new season, and developments in the Production Vehicle category give added impetus to the Adenco 400, the opening...
PRODUCTION VEHICLE DRAMA TO UNFOLD ON ADENCO 400
There is always an air of anticipation and expectation at the first event of a new season, and developments in the Production Vehicle category give added impetus to the Adenco 400, the opening round of this year's Absa Off Road Championship, in the Western Cape on March 20 and 21.
Last season, both the overall and premier Class SP title chases went all the way to the wire. This year, with close on 20 vehicles now on parade, the SP Class is going to be even more competitive and it is probably an even money bet that this season's championship will also hinge on the final event.
The SP Class has shown huge growth in the last two seasons and comings and goings of team personnel and new machinery provide an intriguing start to the season. A couple defections from the Special Vehicle category add to the mix.
The defectors include Gary Bertholdt/Andre Vermeulen, former champion Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald and Pieter Ruthven and De Waal Boshoff.
Bertholdt/Vermeulen will have the use of a new Toyota Hilux in Atlas Copco colours, the ex Duncan Vos works Nissan Navara goes to Marsh/Groenewald, who will campaign under the Regent Racing banner, and Ruthven/Boshoff will be out in the ex Neil Woolridge factory Ford Ranger running in Ruwacon Racing colours.
Although the likes of Bertholdt and Marsh are highly experienced, the switch to the SP Class is going to be a learning curve. However, both could provide some early surprises.
The factory Donaldson/Sasol Nissan Navara squad has dominated the Production Vehicle category for nearly a decade. The team has a settled look about it with Duncan Vos/Ralph Pitchford, Hannes Grobler/Juan Mohr and Ivar Tollefsen/Quin Evans back in harness, but such is the level of competition that Nissan could come under severe pressure this season.
There is no doubt, however, that Vos/Pitchford and the wily Grobler and Mohr will be among the championship frontrunners. Tollefsen and Evans, with their confidence sky high after a fourth place on the Dakar Rally, could also pose a threat in what will be their third season in the Absa series.
The Ford line-up is highly interesting. Veteran former champions Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer will be joined by Thomas Rundle and Hennie ter Stege in new twin turbo TDCI diesel Ford Rangers.
New technology will provide the team with a challenge, but reliability is a Ford trait and Woolridge/Skjoldhammer will be in the thick of the championship fights. Rundle, stepping up from Class E, also faces a challenge but in ter Stege he has an experienced old hand who knows all the ropes.
Ruthven and Boshoff also face a learning curve with Ford's challenge in the SP Class completed by the consistent Kobus van Tonder and Riaan Quelpa in the Uni Freight Ford Ranger, and Graham Leith/Mark Lawrenson. The Uni Freight pair have taken over the ex Mark Ferguson factory car and will be looking to up their pace this season.
The Castrol Toyota factory team has been hit by Mark Cronje's decision to take a sabbatical and no replacement has yet been named to join Chris Birkin. The experienced Anthony Taylor with Robin Houghton will man the second factory entry and, despite the loss of Cronje, the team will have high hopes of winning regularly this season.
Backing up the works team are a host of privateer teams in a variety of ex factory cars and new Toyota Hilux double cab models. Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst (Team Barberspan Castrol Toyota Hilux) and Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux) performed solidly last season, and the Imperial Toyota entry of Mike Thomsett and Brian Haviland looks to have potential.
Jaco Swanepoel and Keith Solomon (IDM Cement Toyota Hilux) and George and Sharon Barkhuizen (AIM Race Data Toyota Hilux) will be looking to up their game. The same applies to Chris du Plooy and Ewald van Rensburg in the RFS Toyota Hilux.
Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Jansen van Vuuren, in a second RFS Toyota Hilux, join the band of Class SP rookies. They graduate from Class D but will have plenty of shipmates in the learning curve boat.
The SP Class entry is rounded out by Harold and Tiaan Coen. They will again be out in the Land Rover.
Class D will again be a contest between Nissan and Toyota crews with some highly experienced crews set to do battle with some promising teams who move up from Class E.
Reigning champions Henri and Maurice Zermatten sit out this season, and Nissan hopes will mainly be pinned on veterans Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber in the Raysonics Nissan Hardbody who will be looking for improved reliability.
The Toyota challenge will be led by former champion Cliff Weichelt and son Louis in the N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux D4D, who have plenty of experience and are a formidable combination. They are joined by Dewald van Breda and Johan du Toit, the 2008 Rookies of the Year, in the Northam Toyota Hilux D4D, and brothers Diederik and Danie Hattingh in the Transcor Toyota Hilux.
Van Breda/du Toit and the Hattingh's move up from Class E where both teams were winners last year. There is championship potential in both the Class D newcomers but the Weichelt's have the edge when it comes to experience.
Johan Fouche and Wentzel Pretorius will be in a lone Mitsubishi with Johan Steyn and Shaun van der Berg giving Nissan a second string to their bow.
The Class E battle will be fought out between Toyota, Nissan and Ford with a mixture of experience and enthusiasm and a highly interesting newcomer. Circuit racing and kart star Leeroy Poulter follows the likes of Cronje and Vos into off road and will be paired in the Nissan Hardbody with Rob Howie.
Poulter is a former Bridgestone Production Car champion and last year won world and European kart titles. He brings to off road an impressive pedigree and is far too talented a driver not to succeed.
Reigning champions Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux (Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux) will be the team to beat and have a wealth of experience. But Deon Venter/Ian Palmer (4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux) won for the first time last year and that throws the class wide open.
Also in the mix will be Ramon and Maret Bezuidenhout (Botes Vervoer Toyota Hilux) who drop down from Class D. The Toyota numbers will also be bolstered by a second 4 x 4 Megaworld entry in the hand of Pikkie Labuschagne and Rikus Erasmus and Heinie Strumpher and Hendrik van der Linde.
Ford bring a factory car and a privateer team to the fray. After a short sabbatical Baphumze Rubuluza is back in a new factory Ford Ranger, with Khuliele Vakaliza, and Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling will campaign the ex Jack Peckham factory car under the Ruwacon Racing banner.
De Bruin also makes the switch from Special Vehicles and is the reigning Class B driver champion. The Ruwacon team completes an interesting Class E mix and this could be the class to watch this season.
QUALITY SPECIAL VEHICLE FIELD FOR ADENCO 400
The emphasis in the Special Vehicle category will be on quality when the Absa Off Road Championship opens with the Adenco 400, in the Western Cape on March 20 and 21.
The off season has seen a few Class A frontrunners defect to the Production Car category, but there is plenty of depth within the Special Vehicle ranks. Former champion Terence Marsh and Gary Bertholdt, who won twice last year, will launch Production Car challenges this season but the overall and Class A championship battles look to be wide open with half a dozen or more teams capable of winning regularly.
Reigning champion Karl-Heinz and Quintin Sullwald will be looking for back to back titles in the Sullwald Racing BAT. A second Sullwald Racing entry will again see Herman Sullwald teaming up with son Wichard making it a real family affair for the Phalaborwa squad.
The Atlas Copco team will be spearheaded by Nick and Ryan Harper in a Spec 4 BAT with Gary Gillingham and Danie Stassen out in the ex Harper BAT. The Harpers have performed consistently over the last couple of seasons and will again be one of the more fancied teams.
The Bertholdt/Vermeulen Porter stays in the Atlas Copco fold. The car has been taken over by newcomers Jimmy Zahos and Stephan Coetzee who are unknown entities at this stage.
With Marsh/Groenewald out of the Special Vehicle category, the Regent Racing challenge is in the hands of Mike Whitehouse and Matthew Carlson. The pair turned in one or two impressive displays last season and could be serious championship challengers.
Former champion Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau will again be among the title challengers in the Total Porter. They won twice last year and only dropped out of the overall battle on the RFS Magalies 400, the last race of the season.
Two crews, former champions Evan Hutchison/Achim Bergmann (Motorite REVO1 4x4) and Mark Corbett/Rudi Balzer (Century Racing CR1) will be hoping for better results this year. Both crews will be out in locally developed four-wheel drive cars with the Hutchison car making its debut in the Western Cape.
The unfortunate Corbett and Balzer never finished a race last season. The car showed plenty of potential but they will be hoping for a lot more reliability this time out, and Hutchison/Bergmann will also be watched with interest with new race cars notoriously fickle.
Colin Mathews and Alan Smith will again be out in a Century Racing BAT, and will be looking to finally crack an elusive win. Mathews is a quick and aggressive driver and, with a little luck, that first win isn't far away.
Former champion Atang Makgekgenene and Geoff Minnitt (Porter) will also be hoping for improved reliability this season, while John Moore/Tom Classen (Free Spirit) also came up with a couple of impressive performances last season. Veterans Nardus Alberts and Adri Roets return to battle in the Wrapsa BAT, Naeem Moosajee will also be out in the Tyrerack Porter, and Will Battershill and Reg Sutton make a come back in the ex Marsh BAT.
On the Class B front Bez Bezuidenhout (Adenco BAT) will be hoping history repeats itself. He won last year and, on home turf, and now partnered by son Deon will fancy his chances of a repeat result.
Reigning Class B drivers champion, Louw de Bruin, has also moved to the Production Car category and this opens up the championship. Derick du Toit/Ian Pienaar (Orange Tree Development BAT) and John Telford and Christo Volschenk in the Calcamite BAT will fancy their chances, along with Katleho Makenete/Victor Ntsejke in a Zarco.
Simon Becket and Steve Harris, in the Century Racing BAT could also be consistent frontrunners in a Class that this season is without former champion Jan Kraaij and 2008 co-driver's champion Tiddo Voogt.
Former Class B champions Ernest Corbett and Warwick Goosen (Century Racing CR2) are back in action after a lengthy lay off and will turn out in Class P. The pair find themselves smack in the middle of a class that is going to be ultra competitive this season.
Reigning champions Johan and Etienne Bezuidenhout will be back in the Adenco BAT but Class P also has some other serious challengers. Brothers David and Gary White (Ruwacon BAT) won last year, as did KwaZulu-Natal star Don Thompson in a Zarco.
Former champions Richard Schilling and Chris Davies (Aceco RS) will also be hoping for more consistency, and the return to racing of John Weir-Smith could throw a cat among the Class P pigeons. Weir-Smith is paired with veteran Richard Carolin in the Men's Health Zarco, and will be as aggressive as ever.
Bodo Bertholdt, another veteran racer and father of Gary, will also be out in Class P in a new Atlas Copco car. Bertholdt will be partnered by Phillip Herselman and the scene is set for fun and games with some old hands at the game up against talented younger crews.