Gaborone: Round four preview

NISSAN THE TARGET ON TOYOTA KALAHARI BOTSWANA 1000 DESERT RACE Ford and Toyota will be hoping the law of averages catches up with Nissan in the Production Vehicle category of the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race, round four of the Absa...

NISSAN THE TARGET ON TOYOTA KALAHARI BOTSWANA 1000 DESERT RACE

Ford and Toyota will be hoping the law of averages catches up with Nissan in the Production Vehicle category of the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race, round four of the Absa Off Road Championship, in Botswana from June 13 to 15.

Perennial champions Nissan have won the prestige event six years in a row and Toyota, in particular, would love to chalk up a long overdue victory on their event. They came close last year via Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin in a factory Castrol Toyota Hilux, and will be hoping that this year a Toyota crew will do the trick.

Factory support for Cronje and Birkin will come from Anthony Taylor and Robin Houghton, a four time winner of the Desert Race, in a second works Castrol Toyota Hilux. For Taylor his second appearance since replacing Bevan Bertholdt in the Castrol Toyota line-up could come as a culture shock -- but he is fortunate in being able to call on Houghton's vast experience.

After scoring their first Super Production Class win on the Eastern Cape 500, the Cronje/Birkin combination will have high hopes of a Botswana win. There is no doubt the Toyota Hilux V6 is competitive, and Toyota will be hoping the dollop of luck always needed to win an event like the Toyota Kalahari Desert Race will come their way.

There is strong support for the two factory crews from the consistent Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst (Castrol Toyota Hilux) and Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux) who were early frontrunners in last year's event. Both teams are experienced and enjoy Desert Race conditions.

Also out in Toyota Hilux V6 entries will be George and Sharon Barkhuizen, in Ruwacon colours and Jaco Swanepoel/Keith Solomon in the IDM Cement Hilux. Both crews have made a quantum leap from Class E and their primary aim will be simply to make it to the finish.

As ever the Nissan challenge is substantial with three crews all capable of winning. Leading the charge will be reigning drivers champion Duncan Vos, for the second year in a row, will have a stand-in co-driver.

Ralph Pitchford again has overseas commitments and young Louis Weichelt again steps in to the breach in the Sasol Nissan Navara. Last year Richard Leeke replaced Pitchford and landed a record eighth Desert Race win.

Former champion Hannes Grobler and Juan Mohr are welding into a solid combination. Their advantage is that there is nothing you can teach Grobler, who first won the event in 1984, about the Toyota Desert Race.

The highly competent Norwegian, Ivar Tollefsen, and Briton Quin Evans complete the Nissan line-up. There is, however, doubt about Evans making the trip to Africa and reigning co-drivers champion Francois Jordaan is standing by.

There is also nothing you can teach veteran Ford crew Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer about the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race. Woolridge has won three times, twice with Skjoldhammer and experience and the solid reliability of the Ford Ranger makes them good bets this year.

Mark Ferguson and Craig West, in the second factory Ford, will be another crew who will be happy to make it to the finish, as will Kobus van Tonder and Riaan Guelpa in the Unifreight Ford Ranger. Desert Race veterans Alfie Cox and Hennie ter Stege, in the Motorite SP, will be looking for their best result of the season and experience is also a trump card for them.

After missing the recent Nissan Sugarbelt 400 the father and son team of Harold and Tiaan Coen will be back in action in the ex Barker Land Rover BMW. A finish will at the top of their agenda.

A late addition to the SP Class ranks is the Feltex Imperial Toyota Hilux to be driven by Mike Tomsett and Brian Haviland who are back in racing after a two year sabbatical. The double cab has been built by Stuart Thompson and Achim Bergmann, with Tomsett and Haviland planning on competing for the rest of the season.

Two wins this season have taken Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber (Raysonics Nissan Hardbody) to the top of the Class D championship. This is also their sort of race but there are some tough challengers.

Chris du Plooy junior and Henk van Vuuren (RFS Toyota Hilux) have thrown their hat into the arena, while Henri and Maurice Zermatten (Ryobi Nissan Hardbody) won the class last year. Reigning drivers champion Cliff Weichelt and Jimmy Goch (N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux D4D) will be looking for a return to form, as will Ramon Bezuidenhout and Stefan Lock (Toyota Hilux) who have had a miserable time of it this season.

Two wins have also given Jannie Visser, brother of Chris, and Joks le Roux (Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux) a comfortable lead in Class E. The Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race is meat and drink to Visser and le Roux but they could be troubled by the factory Ford Racing pair of Jack Peckham and Lucio Santoro.

Dewald van Breda, now partnered by Pierre Mans in a Toyota Hilux, will be having his first taste of the Desert Race and it will be an eye opener. While Thomas Rundle and Brian Roberts (Barden Tyre Services Nissan Hardbody) will be out to end a disappointing run Deon Venter and Ian Palmer (4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux) will be looking to build on an encouraging Nissan Sugarbelt 400 result.

Experienced Rob Gurney and rookie Paul Gonlag (Toyota Hilux) could also come into the reckoning. It will, however, need a big effort from a crew which has made a late start to the season.

Adding a little spice to the entire scenario is the tightest SA Manufacturers Championship in many seasons. As matters stand only 10 points separate Nissan (137), Toyota (135), and Ford (127) and all three manufacturers will be looking for solid performances in the three classes.

TOUGH SPECIAL VEHICLE BATTLES SET FOR TOYOTA 1 000 DESERT RACE

All the ingredients are in place for a cracker of a race in the Special Vehicle category on this year's Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race, round four and the halfway mark of the Absa Off Road Championship, in Botswana from June 13 to 15.

A combination of tight championship positions and contrasts in styles set the scene for what is likely to turn into an intriguing race. On top of that there is the tradition Desert Race sting in the tail to take into account.

In the overall and Class A championship only four points separate Karl-Heinz and Quintin Sullwald (Sullwald Racing Zarco), last year's winners, and former South African champion Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald in the Regent Racing BAT. Both teams have a measured approach to their racing and the Desert Race will be their cup of tea.

Hermann Sullwald and Paul Helberg, in a second Sullwald Racing Zarco, will also fancy their chances as will 2006 winners Nick and Ryan Harper (Atlas Copco BAT) and co-driver turned driver Mike Whitehouse and Mathew Carlson in the second Regent Racing BAT. No one wins the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race on the first day, but there are some chargers in the field who provide the race with fascinating contrasts.

Leading the charger brigade are the likes of reigning champions Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann (Motorite BAT) and Nissan Sugarbelt 400 winners Gary Bertholdt and Andre Vermeulen in the Atlas Copco Porter. Both crews resurrected their championship hopes on the Sugarbelt and will be looking to carry the renaissance a step further.

Brandon Harcus, partnered by eight time Desert Race winner Richard Leeke in the second Motorite entry, is also a charger and Shameer Variawa/Siegfried Rousseau (Total Porter) are due for a win. Veterans Nardus Alberts/Collin Hunter (Wrapsa BAT) jumped back to form on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 and Pieter Ruthven and de Waal Boshoff will be looking for a solid performance in the Ruwacon BAT.

Former winner Mark Corbett and Rudy Balzer (Century Property Developments CR1) will be looking to get to the end and Colin Mathews/Alan Smith (BAT) and Clint Gibson/Gary Campbell (Gibson Plant Hire BAT) are good outside bets. Rob Wark, one of only three drivers to win the event in a singleseater, will also be looking for a good result along with son Gareth in the Superpave BAT.

The scene for a good race is also set in Class B where tight championship battles also add a little interest to proceedings. Louw de Bruin, reunited with Rudi Britz in the Ruwacon BAT, leads the drivers championship.

The younger crews, however, are up against some wily old campaigners. The Desert Race is the sort of event veteran Giel Nel, partnered by Deon de Kock in the LUK Africa Truggy/Zarco, relishes.

Bez Bezuidenhout and Johann de Bruyn (Adenco BAT) also have plenty of experience and will know how to pace themselves. Jan Kraaij and Tiddo Voogt (Keymax BAT) returned to form on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 and Simon Beckett/Steve Harris (Century Property Developments BAT) had a good result in KZN.

The form book in Class P, which has replaced Class S, has been turned upside down. Reigning Class S champions Richard Schilling and Chris Davies (Aceco RS) have yet to finish a race this season and Nic Goslar and Richard Carolin (Men's Health International Raceco) have not fared much better.

KZN crew Don Thompson and Don Blakey (Zarco) have come from nowhere with a win and a second giving them a comfortable championship lead. Brothers David and Gary White (Ruwacon BAT) and Johan and Etienne Bezuidenhout (Adenco BAT) have also won this season and will be full of confidence.

But you cannot buy experience. On this basis the likes of Schilling/Davies and Goslar/Carolin can be expected to bounce back after disappointing starts to the season.

-credit: absa

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Series Other rally
Drivers Alfie Cox , Ian Palmer , Ralph Pitchford , Quin Evans , Mark Corbett , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst