Free State: Series preview

RESTLESS NIGHTS FOR PRODUCTION VEHICLE CHAMPIONSHIP LEADERS With only 12 points separating the three title contenders in the Production Vehicle category, there are going to be some restless nights for the crews leading up to the Human Auto 400,...

RESTLESS NIGHTS FOR PRODUCTION VEHICLE CHAMPIONSHIP LEADERS

With only 12 points separating the three title contenders in the Production Vehicle category, there are going to be some restless nights for the crews leading up to the Human Auto 400, the penultimate round of the Absa Off Road Championship, in the Free State on October 22 and 23.

Championship leaders Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (RFS Toyota Hilux) go to the Free State with an 11 point lead over reigning South African drivers champion Duncan Vos and Rob Howie in the Team Castrol Toyota Hilux, with Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race winners Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege (RFS BMW X3) a further point adrift. Two other crews in Terence Marsh/Buks Carolin (Regent Racing Nissan Navara) and Gary Bertholdt/Andre Vermeulen (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) are mathematically still in the title race - but it would need major burnout from the leading trio for them to sneak in via the back door.

The running order in the premier SP Class championship is the same. Here, however, only eight points separate the three crews.

Adding to the intrigue is the fact that the Human Auto 400 is a new event on the calendar. Crews will be venturing into unchartered waters and won't know what to expect until they have completed the Donaldson Prologue, to establish grid positions, on the Friday before the race.

One factor taken out of the championship equation is that none of the top contenders need drop a result at the end of the season. All have a 'did not finish' to their names, but all that does is add to the pressure.

The top championship contenders can only look after their own destiny, but there are several other crews who could seriously interfere with the best laid plans.

Marsh/Carolin have won this year, Bertholdt/Vermeulen are due a win and Anthony Taylor and Robin Houghton, in the second Team Castrol Toyota Hilux, cannot be left out of the equation.

The Team Ford Ranger TDCi of former champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer is also a contender for an overall win, with support from Harrismith based Kobus van Tonder and Freddie Kriel in the Uni Freight Ford Ranger. Woolridge/Skjoldhammer would like to put behind them two disappointing events in a row, while van Tonder/Kriel would love to make an impression on what for them is a 'home' event.

Three other Free State crews - Pieter Ruthven/Rudi Britz (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux), Louw de Bruin/Riaan Greyling (Ruwacon Ford Ranger) and George Barkhuizen/David van Wyck (AIM Toyota Hilux - would also like to leave their mark on the race. Ruthven/Britz and Barkhuizen/van Wyck will both be coming off encouraging Botswana results and will be high on confidence.

Other crews coming off disappointing Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race results include Thomas Rundle and Juan Mohr (Barden Tyre Services Nissan Navara); Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren (RFS Toyota Hilux) and Mike Whitehouse/Mathew Carlson in the second Regent Racing Nissan Navara. The law of averages finally caught up with brothers-in-law Whitehouse and Carlson with a roll ending an impressive finish record.

The SP Class ranks will also be bolstered by the debut of Johan de Lange and Gert Ochse in the ex Chris du Plooy RFS Toyota Hilux. After some gutsy drives in Class E the de Lange/Ochse combination step up a division or two and their progress will be watched with interest.

The SP Class has never been more competitive with half a dozen and more crews capable of winning races. The Free State's inaugural event is loaded with possibility.

An interesting situation has suddenly developed in Class D. After missing the Botswana race championship leaders Dewald van Breda and Johann du Toit (Northam Toyota Hilux) are now just three points clear of Deon Venter and Ian Palmer in the 4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux.

Palmer and Venter were impressive winners in Botswana and van Breda and du Toit are in for a fight. After two disappointing outings Louis Weichelt and Johann Smalberger (N1 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser) will be hoping for a change in fortunes, while Northern regions regulars Jack and Sarel Oosthuizen will again be out in a Land Rover.

Class E also has a highly competitive look about it. With their win on the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race rookie Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable (Team Ford Ranger) have clamped a tight grip on the championship, but the Free State race has drawn a quality entry.

Pikkie Labuschagne/Rikus Erasmus (4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) and Gerald le Roux/Willem Pretorius (Ruwacon Ford Ranger) have both won this season and pose a threat to Woolridge/Huxtable. Malcolm Kock and Johan Burger (Toyota Hilux) showed plenty of pace in Botswana and are also a threat.

The Adenco Ford Ranger pair of Etienne Bezuidenhout and Hanro Visser will be missing from the Class E line up but brothers Diederik and Danie Hattingh will be back in action in the Transcor Toyota Hilux.

The Human Auto 400 will be based at the Windmill Casino on the outskirts of Bloemfontein with race headquarters, the start/finish and designated service point all located within the complex. The Donaldson Prologue will start at 12:00 on October 22 and the race at 08:30 on October 23.

The route will be spectator friendly with numerous vantage points. Public entry to the start/finish, the designated service point and spectator points is free of charge.

CLOSE BATTLE IN SPECIAL VEHICLE CHAMPIONSHIP

It is a tad ironic that the Human Auto 400, a new event in the Free State on the Absa Off Road Championship calendar, could settle a tight battle in the Special Vehicle championship.

With the Free State race a new event the championship contenders will be playing on a level field. None of the frontrunners will quite know what to expect and that adds a touch of spice to an already intriguing menu.

As matters stand current championship leaders Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau (Team Total Porter) hold a tenuous 12 point lead over 2007 champions Kallie and Quintin Sullwald in the Elegant Fuel BAT. Class P leaders Johan van Staden and Johan Rossouw are a further 11 points in arrears with Herman and Wichard Sullwald (Sullwald Racing SVR) just one point behind the Pretoria based crew.

The situation in Class A, however, is a little different. Anomalies in off road championship scoring see Kallie and Quintin Sullwald three points ahead of Variawa/Rousseau with the second Sullwald crew, Herman and Wichard, in third place another eight points off the pace.

While Variawa/Rousseau and Kallie and Quintin Sullwald have the inside track just 24 points separate first from fourth. With 50 points to play for over the final events in the overall classification, Variawa and Rousseau are far from out of the woods.

The Team Total crew and the Sullwald teams have dominated the latter part of the season, but there are other teams who could throw spanners in the works. Outgoing drivers champion Evan Hutchison and Darryl Curtis (Motorite Revo1) looked menacing in the 4x4 car on the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race, as did Colin Matthews and Alan Smith (Century Racing CR2) before reliability problems struck once more.

Jimmy Zahos and Stefan Coetzee (Cobalt Racing Porter) have plenty of pace, as do Bevan Bertholdt and Danie Stassen in the lab88 BAT. KwaZulu-Natal crew Clint Gibson and Gary Campbell look to be good outsiders in the Gibson Racing SVR, along with the father and son pairing of Nardus and Louis Alberts in the Wrapsa BAT.

Nick Harper and Kevin Hume (Atlas Copco BAT) will want a pick me up after a disappointing Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race, while newcomers Neil Meyer and Leon Muller (Zarco Magnum) and the experienced Keith du Toit and Ashley Thorn (White Star Racing BAT) picked up encouraging results in Botswana. Meyer/Muller and du Toit/Thorn, however, now need to up the pace a little if they are to challenge for top five places.

A tight route made life difficult for the Special Vehicle runners in Botswana. The going in the Free State is likely to be much more open, and with so much at stake a more than interesting race is in the offing.

Veteran drivers dominated Class B on the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race with Coetzee Labuscagne and Giel Nel, in the Raysonics Zarco sister cars, outlasting the rest of the opposition. Championship leaders Bes and Lindie Bezuidenhout (Adenco BAT) were among those who fell by the wayside but still have a handy championship lead.

Apart from Labuscagne and daughter Sandra and Nel and Jaco Jonck, the Free State field will include the Makenete brothers Keith and Andrew (Zarco) and Northern regions regulars Johan de Klerk and Willem Pretorius in another Zarco. Also making the trip to Bloemfontein will be two UTV Racing entries from Stratford Voogt/Sidriaan de Villiers and Dwayne Voogt with a co-driver yet to be nominated.

The battle in Class P also looks to be highly competitive and could serve up some interesting battles. Van Staden and Rossouw, in the Atlas Copco BAT, still have a handy lead in the championship but were well beaten by Johan and Deon Bezuidenhout (Adenco BAT) who came up with a well nigh faultless Botswana performance.

There will be stiff competition for both crews from Swaziland pair John Thompson and Clinton McNamara (Zarco) and the Regent Racing Jimco combination of Archie Rutherford and Mike Lawrenson. Veteran Bodo Bertholdt partnered by Philip Herselman in the Atlas Copco BAT, keeps soldiering on while Marius Fourie, with wife Jolinda back in the car, was also impressive in Botswana in an ageing BAT.

John Telford/Jaco Swart will also be back in harness in the Calcamite BAT along with Glenn and Rob Gibson (Gibson Racing BAT) and Nic Goslar and Richard Carolin in the Men's Health International Zarco.

The Human Auto 400 will be based at the Windmill Casino on the outskirts of Bloemfontein with race headquarters, the start/finish and designated service point all located within the complex. The Donaldson Prologue will start at 12:00 on October 23 and the race at 08:30 on October 23.

The route will be spectator friendly with numerous vantage points. Public entry to the start/finish, the designated service point and spectator points is free of charge.

-source: sorc

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Series Other rally
Drivers Ian Palmer , Dwayne Voogt , Darryl Curtis , John Thompson , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst , Rob Gibson