Carnival City 400: Pre-event news 2007-11-26

ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP PRODUCTION VEHICLE TITLES UP FOR GRABS AT FORD CARNIVAL CITY 400 Duncan Vos has won the overall drivers title and Nissan the manufacturer's championship, but there is still plenty at stake at the Ford Carnival City...

ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP PRODUCTION VEHICLE TITLES UP FOR GRABS AT FORD CARNIVAL CITY 400

Duncan Vos has won the overall drivers title and Nissan the manufacturer's championship, but there is still plenty at stake at the Ford Carnival City 400, the final round of the Absa Off Road Championship, on November 30 and December 1.

The co-drivers overall championship is still up for grabs as are the Class D and Class E championships. And it is Class D, where there is a huge dogfight, which is going to hold much of the interest.

And there are other little cameos which make sure the end of season race is not lacking in interest. Ford and Toyota will be determined to put an end to a Nissan winning streak that takes in seven successive events this season, with Toyota hoping to emulate last year's win by Bevan Bertholdt and Robin Houghton.

The win by Vos and Pitchford, in the factory Nissan Navara, on the recent Toyota Dealer 400 wrapped up the overall drivers title for Vos. But Pitchford has missed two races this season through overseas commitments, and trails team-mate Francois Jordaan by just seven points in the co-driver championship.

Vos/ Pitchford and, on occasion, Vos and deputy co-driver Richard Leeke, have had some interesting confrontations down the year's with Jordaan and veteran Hannes Grobler. Another clash between the two factory Nissan teams with a title at stake is an enticing prospect.

Ivar Tollefsen, in a third works Navara, again partnered by VZ van Zyl in the absence of the injured Quin Evans, has the inside track on third place in the driver championship. Behind him there is an interesting situation with the two Ford Ranger factory crews, former champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer, and Brandon Harcus and Juan Mohr, locked in a tie.

Newcomers Mark Ferguson and Craig West (Special Steel Ford Ranger) and the consistent Kobus van Tonder/Riaan Guelpa (Unifreight Ford Ranger) supplement the Ford challenge. Ford would love to win their event and, like Toyota, put an end to Nissan's domination.

For their part Toyota have twice come close to winning this season with Castrol Toyota Hilux pair Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin, literally, tossing away wins on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race and Amathole 500. They will be looking to end on a high note and team-mates Bertholdt and Houghton will be looking for a history repeat to salvage their season.

Back-up will come from Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, in a third Castrol Toyota Hilux, and Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn in the Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux. Both teams have performed consistently but would be surprise winners.

It is Class D, however, that will hold most of the interest. Mathematically there are seven crews who could win the title, although some of the permutations are highly unlikely.

The water is also muddied a little by Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber in the Raysonics Nissan Hardbody. Gerber missed the Sun City 400 which Labuscagne finished on his own, and that puts him third in the drivers championship with Gerber seventh in the co-driver stakes.

Ahead of Labuscagne are Cliff and Louis Weichelt (Bosal Toyota Hilux D4D) who are five points ahead of Henri and Maurice Zermatten in the Ryobi Nissan Hardbody. Impressive Toyota Hilux rookies Ramon Bezuidenhout and Stefan Lock are fourth and third respectively in the driver and co-driver championships, with Jurie du Plessis/Andre du Plessis (BB Auto Nissan Hardbody) and Harold and Tiaan Coen (Land Rover) also in the championship frame.

Only 11 points separate the first five crews and that sets the scene for a dogfight. The Zermatten's have won three times this season while consistency has kept the other teams in the picture, and anything could happen at Carnival City.

Class E also has a back to front picture when it comes to the driver and co-driver titles. Jack Peckham , in the factory Ford Ranger, leads the driver stakes from Jannie Visser in the Castrol Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux with 10 points the difference.

But on the co-driver side it is Joks le Roux, who sits alongside Visser, who leads the title race, also by 10 points, from Lucio Santoro who partners Peckham. That situation is the result of Santoro falling ill during the Amathole 500 with Peckham finishing the event on his own.

Mathematics also keeps Sharon Barkhuizen, who partners husband George in the Ruwacon Toyota Hilux, in the hunt for the co-drivers title. She is only five points behind Santoro and the battle between the three crews will be another highlight of the event.

Other crews, however, could add to the drama. Brian Martin and Ockie Fourie (Castrol Toyota Hilux) and Thomas Rundle/Brian Roberts (Barden Tyres Services Nissan Hardbody) will be looking to rescue disappointing seasons and brothers Mark and Stuart Moffatt (Bosal Toyota Hilux) are also potential winners.

ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP WINNER TAKE ALL IN SPECIAL VEHICLE CATEGORY AT FORD CARNIVAL CITY 400

It could not have been better scripted -- a winner takes all confrontation in the Special Vehicle category at the Ford Carnival City 400, the final round of the Absa Off Road Championship, on November 30 and December 1.

While two of the three championships in the Special Vehicle championship have already been settled, the prestige overall and Class A titles are still at stake. And just to make matters more mouth watering a winner takes all scenario exists between two crews.

Just five points separate leaders Nick and Ryan Harper, in the Atlas Copco BAT, and Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann, in the Motorite BAT, in the overall stakes. In the Class A championship it is even closer with just two points separating the two crews.

Adding to the intrigue is a contrast in styles. The Harpers have won once this season and like to grind away at the opposition.

Hutchison and Bergmann have won three times and are chargers. It all adds up to fascinating battle between the two teams with high stakes -- but there are more factors that add to the intrigue.

There are at least half a dozen other crews who could win at Carnival City and there is a bottleneck of teams fighting over third place in the championships. Outgoing champions Alfie Cox/Hennie ter Stege, in the second Motorite BAT, are tied with Terence Marsh/Pieter Groenewald (Regent Racing BAT) with Clint Gibson (Absolute BAT) in the thick of things in the driver's championship.

Only two points behind this group are former champion Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau in the Total Motorsport Porter. And, a point behind them, are Colin Matthews and Alan Smith, in the Century Property Development BAT, who have emerged as a powerful force over the latter part of the season.

Hutchison/Bergmann will be looking to Cox/ter Stege to run interference, and the Harpers will be hoping Atlas Copco team-mates Gary Bertholdt and Geoff Minnitt, in a Porter, can find some kind of form. But first with Henry Kirstein and now with Minnitt it has not been a happy season for Bertholdt.

Being beaten into second place by Matthews/Smith on the recent Toyota Dealer 400 in Mpumalanga hurt the Harpers -- but helped set up a dream finish to the season. It meant that in the overall championship a win for Hutchison/Bergmann at the Ford Carnival City 400, and a second for the Harpers, would leave the Atlas Copco pair a point shy of winning the title.

Over the years the Ford Carnival City 400 has earned a reputation as a wet race. But wet or dry this year the stage is set for an absolute cracker of a race.

While Hendrik and Jan Kraaij (Regent Racing BAT) wrapped up the Class B championship after five successive wins, the battle for second place is a fascinating one. The fact that only a single point separates the two teams in contention is enough to make it interesting,

But the fact that family is involved with a father trying to fight off two sons, makes it even more intriguing. Bez Bezuidenhout and Johann de Bruyn, in an Adenco BAT, are one point ahead of Johan and Etienne Bezuidenhout, who won the recent Toyota Dealer 400, in another Adenco BAT.

The Kraaij's, after a recent hiccup or two, would like to end on a high note and will start the obvious favourites. But the battle of the Bezuidenhout's is going to be a focal point and opens up some interesting thoughts in terms of team orders coming into play.

The Class S title also done and dusted could lead to something of an antic climax. Veterans Richard Schilling and Chris Davies, in the Aceco, have dominated the class throughout the season and wrapped up the title on the Toyota event.

With the title in the bag the pressure is off Schilling/Davies in another of their battles with arch rivals out going drivers champion Nic Goslar and Richard Carolin in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco. Glenn Gibson and Mark Whitehurst in the Absolute Aceco will make it an interesting three-way battle.

Class A has been hugely competitive all season and off road pundits always expected the title race to go all the way to the wire. The only real surprise is that, at the death, there are only two teams involved in the final winner take all battle.

-credit: absa/mweb.co.za

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Series Other rally
Drivers Mark White , Alfie Cox , Quin Evans , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst