Gauteng 400 finale preview

DREAM FINALE TO ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP The Ford Carnival City 400 on November 18 and 19 will provide a dream finale - and a dramatic one at that - to the Absa Off Road Championship. All too often end of season events, with championship ...


The Ford Carnival City 400 on November 18 and 19 will provide a dream finale - and a dramatic one at that - to the Absa Off Road Championship.

All too often end of season events, with championship issues already settled, are doomed before they start. But not this time around.

Going into the Ford Carnival City event only one championship in both the Production Vehicle and Special Vehicle categories has been settled. And, on top of that, the prestige Manufacturers Championship, a straight fight between off road heavyweights Nissan and Toyota, is also up for grabs.

The whole situation is one geared to providing for a dramatic end to a season that has also seen South Africa added to the FIA Cross Country World Cup calendar in 2006. Adding a little grist to the mill is the fact that additional funding from Ford has enabled chief organiser Willie Prinsloo and his Koepel Club team, to come up with a route that this year utilises about 75 percent of virgin territory.

The format of the event, with a figure of eight course in operation this year, also adds a new dimension to the event. The various factors - the championship issue, new route and new format - combine to make this an event not to be missed.

On the Production Vehicle front Nissan, who lead the Manufacturers Championship by 33 points, will not only be locked in battle with Toyota, but also provide the main protagonists in the overall championship race. Just four points separate Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody team-mates Alfie Cox/Ralph Pitchford and veterans Hannes Grobler/Francois Jordaan.

Adding a little flavour to this battle is the fact that Grobler, a multiple South African off road, rally and racing champion, is scheduled to retire at the end of the year. Grobler would love to sign off with another title under his ample belt, but he and Jordaan will need to call on all their considerable experience to deny motorcycle legend Cox and Pitchford their moment of glory.

A trio of Super Production class entries, however, could make life a little difficult for Grobler/Jordaan and Cox Pitchford. Two of them will be Proudly South African Nissan entries driven by former champion Duncan Vos and Hennie ter Steege and Hungarian crew Sando Kis and Peter Czagledi, making their second trip to Carnival City.

The third SP entry will be a Castrol Toyota Hilux to be driven by Cliff Barker and Chris Birkin. The Toyota will be making its long awaited debut, with the hugely experienced Barker called into action for what Toyota Motorsport are likely to treat as an extended test session.

Another intriguing championship struggle has unfolded in Class D where, before the mandatory dropping of one result, Henri Zermatten and Bodo Schwegler (Ryobi Master Craft Mitsubishi Pajero) lead Ford Racing Ranger pair Manfred Schroeder and Alec Harris by one point. After dropping one result, however, Zermatten and Schwegler find themselves nine points in arrears.

Reliability has been the Zermatten/Schwegler formula with the pair racking up 21 consecutive finishes. While consistency has its advantages, Zermatten and Schwegler cannot match Schroeder/Harris and the Castrol Toyota Hilux entries for pace.

This gives Schroeder and Harris the advantage, but the Castrol Toyota brigade, even without the services of Mark Cronje/Chris Birkin, could rain on their parade. Cronje sits out Carnival City on medical advice after his huge crash on the Toyota Dealer 1000, but younger brother Gavin and Robin Houghton and Paolo Piazza-Musso/Ockie Fourie have the ability to push the Ford pair.

Deon Schoeman and Jan Sime (Topcar Nissan) and two other Nissan crews, Jurie and Andre du Plessis and Arnold du Plessis/John Knox, cannot be ruled out of the equation. As interesting sidelights the Nissan/Toyota battle will have a bearing on the Manufacturers Championship, and there will be a fair bit of interest in the debut of Ann Evans and Caroline Jooste who will be roses among thorns in a Pajero.

Toyota will be looking to their strong Class E line-up for valuable manufacturers points, but the class also offers an intriguing championship battle. Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst top the table after a fine performance on the Toyota Dealer 1000, and in the drivers and co-drivers championships respectively, Zane Pearce and Jaap de Bruyn face difficult tasks.

Pearce, paired again with Hennie Vosloo in a Castrol Toyota Hilux, lost his 100 percent finish record and the championship lead after the Toyota Dealer 1000, and their battle with Visser/Badenhorst could be a highlight. The de Bruyns, Hugo and Jaap, in a Castrol Toyota Hilux, will want to end a disappointing event on a high note, as will the husband and wife team of George and Sharon Barkhuizen in another Toyota Hilux.

The overall and Class A championship issue in the Special vehicle category is a straight fight between Nashua Mobile BAT crew Terence Marsh and Mike Whitehouse, and the father and son pair of Nick and Ryan Harper in another BAT. There are 13 points separating the crews and there won't be fireworks from Marsh and Whitehouse who are another team that place a premium on consistency rather than sheer speed.

Among the speed merchants will be Toyota Dealer 1000 winners Clint Gibson and Marcelle Trethewey in the Gibson Plant Hire BAT Chev, John Weir-Smith and Des Fouche in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco, Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr (Century Property Developments BAT) and Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rosseau in the Advansoft BAT Nissan. The overall winner is likely to come from the speed merchants, but from a championship point of view Marsh and Whitehouse will be quite happy to lose a battle to win the war.

Newly crowned Class B champion Evan Hutchison and Trevor Ormerod, in the Motorite BAT, are the only crew who can safely arrive at Carnival City wrapped in a comfort zone. The pair wrapped up the championship at the Toyota Dealer 1000, and can enjoy themselves while former champions Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain fight over second place with Rudi and Pierre van Graan.

A couple of Class S wins on the trot have brought Naeem Moosajee and Naazim Moti, in a Mighty Mag, into the championship picture. Class leaders Richard Schilling and Chris Davies, in the Plastotech Raceco, will have been jolted out of their comfort zone, while other crews like Nardus Alberts/Collin Hunter (Aceco) and Nic Goslar/George Bowie (Kopanong Hotel Superteam Porsche Raceco) all have the ability to influence a championship scenario where Schilling/Davies lead Moosajee and Moti by nine points.

After starting the season in Class D in the Bosal Land Rover, brothers Mark and Stuart Moffat now find themselves leading the Class F championship by four points from Andre Botha and Richard Carolin in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Chevy. This is another championship category influenced by Toyota Dealer 1000 results, and the battle between the two crews offers an interesting little cameo performance at Carnival City.

Running in conjunction with the main race will be a regional event for cars, bikes and quads. The car entry is a bit thin with just six entries, but there is a good entry of 34 bikes and 25 quads with the regional competitors required to complete only one loop of the figure of eight course.

It is appropriate that a complex like Carnival City should host an event where the stakes are so high for the main players. Championships that go all the way to the wire are always nervous affairs, and those involved in the various championship battles will all be hoping for the little touch of luck that so often turns tears into winning smiles.


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About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Alfie Cox , Ralph Pitchford , Mark Corbett , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst