DRAMA AT FORD CARNIVAL CITY 400 PROLOGUE The final event of any season usually produces a sting in the tail, and it was championship contenders Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford who suffered most in today's prologue for the Ford Carnival City 400...
DRAMA AT FORD CARNIVAL CITY 400 PROLOGUE
The final event of any season usually produces a sting in the tail, and it was championship contenders Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford who suffered most in today's prologue for the Ford Carnival City 400 tomorrow.
The event is the final round of the Absa Off Road Championship and Cox and Pitchford, leading the overall championship in the Production Vehicle category, could just have blown their title hopes. The former motorcycle legend and Pitchford rolled their Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody just three kilometres into the 52 kilometre prologue.
The upshot of it all is that Cox and Pitchford, four points ahead of team-mates Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan in a second Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody, will now start way down the field in tomorrow's race. It adds up to a mountain to climb if Cox and Pitchford are to deny Grobler, in what is probably his last race, from adding another championship to his already impressive array of off road, rally and circuit racing titles.
"We weren't going all that quickly, but the car was sliding when we hit a culvert," said Cox. "There was a fair bit of damage, but the technical crew reckon they will have us up and running for tomorrow."
The prologue was dominated by vehicles running in the Special Vehicle category with eight of the 10 quickest times coming from the Specials brigade. Fastest time of the day, however, went to Production Vehicle pair Duncan Vos and Hennie ter Steege in the Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody running in the Super Production class.
They were followed by John Weir-Smith and Desmond Fouche in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jimco. The Superteam pair were followed by Gary Bertholdt/Siegfried/Rousseau (iBurst BAT) and Gerhard du Plessis and Ferdi Seegers in a Jimco Porsche. Shameer Variawa and VZ van Zyl were fourth in the Total Motorsport Porter and championship contenders Nick and Ryan Harper completed the top five in the BAT Audi.
Special Vehicle and Class A championship leaders Terence Marsh and Mike Whitehouse, in the Nashua Mobile BAT, were 12th fastest among the specials. After nearly hitting a truck on the route, Marsh had some harsh words about the route marking.
"The route marking was the worst ever, but the car went well," said Marsh. "We have a specific task tomorrow and our only aim is to do well and clinch the title."
In the Production Vehicle category Vos and ter Steege finished three minutes ahead of Gavin Cronje and Robin Houghton running in Class D in a Castrol Toyota Hilux. Third fastest were veterans Cliff Barker and Chris Birkin who are giving the new Castrol Toyota Hilux, running in the Super Production class, its first outing.
"The vehicle was great but you won't see too many heroics from us tomorrow," said Barker who was called out of retirement to drive the Toyota Hilux. "We are treating this race as an extended test session, but if all goes well we could pick up a good result along the way."
Championship contenders Grobler and Jordaan were fourth fastest after losing six minutes. The pair also complained about the route marking and route schedule, but the irrepressible Grobler was still in buoyant mood.
"I'm looking forward to it," said Grobler. "The route marking and schedule weren't that good, but it should be a good race."
With all but one national championship in both the Production Vehicle and Special Vehicle categories still up for grabs, the race provides a nail biting end to the season. Also still up for grabs is the prestige South African Manufacturers Championship -- where Nissan lead Toyota by just 33 points -- and that adds to the tension.
The event is scheduled to start at 08h00 with crews scheduled to complete two loops of a figure of eight course. The first cars are expected back at the finish at Carnival City at around 14h30.
The main race will be run in conjunction with a regional championship event for cars, motorcycle and quads. The regional competitors will complete a single lap of the course.