Carnival: Final shootout for season finale

High Noon has arrived for championship contenders in this year's Bankfin Off-Road Championship and the final event of the season, the Carnival City Casino 400 on Friday and Saturday, is set to develop into a shootout where no prisoners will be ...

High Noon has arrived for championship contenders in this year's Bankfin Off-Road Championship and the final event of the season, the Carnival City Casino 400 on Friday and Saturday, is set to develop into a shootout where no prisoners will be taken.

The overall championships in both the Production and Special Vehicle categories will be settled, along with a number of class titles, and this sets the tone for some no holds barred confrontations. The fact that some of the title races simply could not be closer serves only to spice up some volatile situations.

The closest of all the battles is that for the overall championship in the Production Vehicle category. Locked together with the same number of points are former champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer, in the works Ford Racing Ranger, and Duncan Vos/Mike Griffiths in the factory Nissan Hardbody.

Former Bankfin Touring Car star Vos and Griffiths are in the happy position of having wrapped up the Class D championship, while Woolridge/Skjoldhammer are not yet out of the woods where the premier Class T title race is concerned. Any advantage Vos and Griffiths might have on that score is negated, however, by the fact as a Class D crew there is little likelihood of them challenging for an overall win.

That shifts the balance of power to Woolridge and Skjoldhammer, winners of last year's Carnival City Casino 400, although the pair has yet to win this season. But, and here it gets interesting, a win on the Queen Motor Spares Tarka 400 has brought veteran former champions Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke, in a factory Nissan Hardbody, into the overall championship picture.

Grobler/Leeke and outgoing champions Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan, in the second factory Nissan running in Class T, have between them won six of the seven events this season. The score is three apiece but unless Grobler/Leeke fall by the wayside early on, team orders are likely to be invoked in the Nissan squad.

The Class T waters are further muddied by the fact that another set of former champions, Apie Reyneke and Robin Houghton in the Team Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser, would like to end the season as they started -- with a win. Then there is the legendary Sarel van der Merwe who will be having a final off-road fling in the O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jeep which will be running in Class F.

Supervan will be partnered by Scott Abraham and is convinced the vehicle that has had reliability problems in the past has the potential to win overall. Van der Merwe also believes the championship permutations going on around him and Abraham, will allow them scope for a full on attack while others mull over tactics.

Vos and Griffith don't need to worry about the Class D championship, but for other crews the runners-up slot beckons. Early season pacesetter Piet Haasbroek and Christo Bosch (Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser) will want to finish with a flourish, as will Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr in the Century Property developments Isuzu.

Brothers Henri and Maurice Zermatten, in the Playstation Mitsubishi Pajero, are also main players in Class D while other crews have not lived up to expectations this season. A good performance on the final event will cure a few ills, however, and there will be plenty of knife sharpening going on prior to the event.

There will also be a few knives out in Class E where reigning champions Manfred Schroder and Jack Peckham, in the factory Ford Racing Ranger, have been unable to shake off Toyota Hilux privateers Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn. The gap between the two crews is just four points and there is an awful lot of pressure on the factory Ford crew.

Class E also has a few under achievers who will want to use the East Rand event to salvage respectability from the season. Three Lada entries, the J-P Joubert N1 4x4 Kia Sportage and a Nissan mix add variety to Class E proceedings but it is the factory Ford versus privateer Toyota battle, however, that will hold centre stage.

The overall championship in the Special Vehicle category is also up for grabs with veteran Eastern Cape crew Greg Harvey and Boy Stone, in the Castrol Queen Motor Spares Jimco, and Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain, in the Truck Time JRE, the major players.

With a 20-point lead and the Class A championship in the bag, most of the cards are held by Harvey and Stone. Like Woolridge and Skjoldhammer in the Production Vehicle category, Harvey and Stone have not won this season, and a victory this time around would arrive at just the right moment.

De Chalain has already won the Class B co-drivers championship, but in the drivers championship Taylor has not yet snuffed out the challenge from reigning champion Giel Nel in the Luk Africa Truggy. That also adds a little tension to proceedings.

With Harvey and Stone home and dry in Class A the focus here shifts to second prize with John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt, in the O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel BMW Jimco, arch rivals Atang Makgekgenene/Alec Salley in the SAM Racing Jimco and brothers Lawrence and Gerhard du Plessis (Mobil Jimco) at each others throats.

Weir-Smith and Minnitt won last time out in the Eastern Cape to break a string of wins by the du Plessis brothers and are on the warpath. Terence Marsh/Trevor Ahier (Nashua Mobile Raceco) and Brandon Harcus, with a co-driver yet to be nominated, and Billy Bond/Gerald Mundell in BAT entries also liven up matters and some heavy artillery will be unleashed.

Veteran Nel will be on home ground in his Class B scrap with Taylor, and will be hoping that this will provide him with the advantage needed to sneak back-to-back titles. While Taylor/de Chalain and Nel, like other title contenders, have shown commendable consistency, Class B also has its share of crews who have not lived up to expectations.

Rob and Gareth Wark in the O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel Mighty Mag will want to end a disappointing run of retirements and are not alone in wanting to end the season on a high note. Once again, however, it is the battle at the front of the championship that will grab most of the attention.

After a Class A outing on the Tarka 400 Greg Daus and Archie Rutherford are back in Class S in the Nashua Mobile Raceco. With Bond moving into Class A the Daus/Rutherford combination will be heavily favoured with the main opposition coming from rookies Nick Goslar and Glen Steyn in the O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco, and a string of Industrial Hardware entries led by Max Mohr and Colin Matthews.

With a tough and interesting route that is spectator friendly the Carnival City Casino 400 would, under normal circumstances, provide a relaxed end to the season. The various championship situations, however, dictate that the route through the East Rand will turn into a battleground that, at the end of the day, will be littered with scarred champions and battered casualties.

-msa-

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About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Giniel de Villiers , Sarel van der Merwe , Mark Corbett , Duncan Vos