Hluhluwe 400 preview

MOTORITE BAT TEAMS SEEK SECOND WIN ON NISSAN HLUHLUWE 400 A new playground on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast will add a little zest to the Special Vehicle category on the Nissan Hluhluwe 400, round two of the Absa Off Road Championship, on April...

MOTORITE BAT TEAMS SEEK SECOND WIN ON NISSAN HLUHLUWE 400

A new playground on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast will add a little zest to the Special Vehicle category on the Nissan Hluhluwe 400, round two of the Absa Off Road Championship, on April 13 and 14.

The event, formerly the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 based at Eston on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg, breaks new ground for the off road series. The route is likely to be a little more varied and a little quicker than its predecessor, but the racing will be just as competitive.

On this score the Motorite BAT crews of Evan Hutchison/Achim Bergman and reigning champions Alfie Cox/Hennie ter Steege, will be looking for a repeat of the one/two result that got their season off to a flyer in round one of the Absa Off Road Championship in the Western Cape. There is little doubt the Motorite pair will again be among the frontrunners, but there is no shortage of potential winners.

Nick and Ryan Harper (Atlas Copco BAT) fall into that category after their third place in the Nissan Dealer 400, as do former champions Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau (Total Porter) and Karl Heinz Sullwald/Paul Helberg (Sullwald Transport Zarco) after encouraging starts to the season. And, if they can add reliability to undoubted pace and talent, Gary Bertholdt and Henry Kirstein will be a major threat in the Atlas Copco Porter.

Crews like former champion Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald (Nashua Mobile BAT), Nardus Alberts and Colin Hunter (Wrapsa BAT), local Clint Gibson and Mike Brown (Absolute BAT) and Rob and Gareth Wark, in the Superpave BAT, are also among potential winners. They will all fancy their chances and new territory means a level playing ground.

A new Class A crew will be closely watched. The father and son team of Claus and Fritz Etzel, in a BAT, have put together an impressive record in KZN regional events, and their debut on the national stage will elicit plenty of interest.

On the Class B front Jan and Hendrik Kraaij (Keymax BAT) were among the finds of 2006 and their win in the Western Cape earmarks them as title challengers. Again, however, there is no shortage of opposition.

Johan and Etienne Bezuidenhout and Bes Bezuidenhout and Johan de Bruyn, with both crews out in Adenco BAT entries, are more often than not there or thereabouts. The same applies to Swaziland crew John Thomson and Clinton McNamara (Zarco) with Rudi and Pierre van Graan also threats in the Technochair Zarco.

Veteran former champion Giel Nel, partnered by Sandra Labuscagne in the Bosal Zarco, just keeps going and Marius van Vuuren/William Elliott in the Bosal Zarco are also a threat. Walter du Plessis, in the singleseater Maxi Mag cannot be ruled out and local crews Alistair Stubbs/Marc de Chalain (Viper) and Marcus Taylor/Derek Keith (JRE) will want to impress.

Down in Class S Richard Schilling and Chris Davies (Plastotech Aceco) got their season of to a convincing start by being the only crew to see out the distance in the Western Cape. That puts pressure on reigning drivers champion Nic Goslar and Richard Carolin, in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco, Glen Gibson in the Absolute Raceco and Naazim Moti and Feroze Doodha in the Tyre Rack Raceco.

A good battle is on the cards. Schilling and Davies, however, have been around the block a time or two, and vast experience is a trump card where they are concerned.

CHALLENGE FOR PRODUCTION VEHICLE CREWS ON NISSAN HLUHLUWE 400

A new location and new route will provide Production Vehicle crews with a special challenge on the Nissan Hluhluwe 400 on the KwaZulu-Natal tourism belt on April 13 and 14.

The event is round two of the Absa Off Road Championship and breaks new ground for off road racing. A new location and route provides for a level playing field, and the race should provide for some interesting racing.

There is little doubt, however, that veteran Nissan Navara crew Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan will be among the race and Super Production Class favourites. The pair won the opening round, the Nissan Dealer 400, in the Western Cape and such is their pace, experience and reliability that they will be up there again.

One can also expect former champions Duncan Vos and Ralph Pitchford, in a second Nissan Navara, to be there or thereabouts. Mark Corbett/Rudi Balzer (Century Property Development Nissan Navara) have plenty of potential and Swedish driver Ivar Tollefsen and Welsh co-driver Qui Evans, in another factory Navara, will be looking for a little more luck than came their way in the Western Cape.

Ranged up against the Nissan troops are tough challengers from the Toyota and Ford stables. Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin (Castrol Toyota Hilux) got their season off to a good start with a solid second place, but Bevan Bertholdt and Robin Houghton were among the casualties.

Cronje/Birkin will be out in a new vehicle and could again come up with the goods.

The father and son team of Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Micaren Exel Dealer Team) will make their SP Class debut, and have experience going for them. Reigning Class D champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (Tyco Trucks Toyota Hilux) will again campaign a Class D vehicle entered in the premier class.

The Ford challenge will be spearheaded by former SA champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer who will want to bounce back from a disappointing start to the season. There were encouraging results, however, for Brandon Harcus and Juan Mohr, in a factory Ford Racing Ranger, and Class E champions Manfred Schroder and Ward Huxtable in the Barloworld/Absolute Ford Ranger.

With 10 entries the SP Class is now loaded with interest. Rivalry is intense between the manufacturers and the racing will be cut-throat.

Nissan will also be looking to dominate Class D where Jurie and Andre du Plessis (BB Auto Nissan Hardbody) took the win in the Western Cape. They will have support from brother Arnold du Plessis and Johan Knox in another BB Auto entry, and the steady Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber in the Raysonics Nissan.

After a somewhat surprising exit from the season opener the consistency kings, Henri and Maurice Zermatten (Ryobi Nissan Hardbody), will want to get back in the finish groove.

Cliff and Louis Weichelt (Bosal Toyota Hilux D4D) have some reinforcements in the Toyota versus Nissan battle but the two new crews are an unknown quantity. Francois Conradie and Andrew van der Westhuizen and Ramon Bezuidenhout and Stefan Lock will be out in Toyota Hilux entries, but it looks as though the Weichelt's will have to bear the brunt of the challenge.

Down in Class E the Jannie Visser/Joks le Roux pairing in a Toyota Hilux will be looking for another win. It could be hard going.

Mark and Stuart Moffat will be reunited in the Bosal Toyota Hilux, and after modifications to the Castrol Toyota Hilux factory entry, Brian Martin and Ockie Fourie are expecting to be more competitive. The pair finished third in the Western Cape and are looking to improve on that.

The danger men will be Jack Peckham and Lucio Santoro in the factory Ford Ranger. Peckham has plenty of experience and his knowledge of local conditions will be a major factor in their favour.

Sharon and George Barkhuizen (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux) are looking to bounce back after a disappointing first outing. So will Hein Moolman, in the Roost Racing Toyota Hilux, who never made it to the start in the Western Cape after an errant motorist all but wrote the truck off outside the team hotel.

The Toyota challenge will also be strengthened by Fabio Tafani/Alun Dearling (Club Refrigeration Toyota Hilux D4D) and Jaco Swanepoel/Grayham Bishop in the IDM Cement Toyota Hilux D4D. Up against the Toyota hordes Barden Tyre Services Nissan Hardbody pair Thomas Rundle and Brian Roberts face a stiff task, but they have plenty of enthusiasm on offer.

-credit: msa

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Series Other rally
Drivers Mike Brown , Alfie Cox , Ralph Pitchford , Mark Corbett , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst