TENSE PRODUCTION VEHICLE CHAMPIONSHIP FIGHT AT TOYOTA DEALER 400 Production Vehicle championship contenders will be living on their nerves at the Toyota Dealer 400, penultimate round of the Absa Off Road Championship, in Mpumalanga on October 10...
TENSE PRODUCTION VEHICLE CHAMPIONSHIP FIGHT AT TOYOTA DEALER 400
Production Vehicle championship contenders will be living on their nerves at the Toyota Dealer 400, penultimate round of the Absa Off Road Championship, in Mpumalanga on October 10 and 11.
With only 13 points separating the top three drivers in the overall and premier SP Class standings the scene is set for a crackerjack race. And the same scenario exists in the co-driver stakes with just nine points between the two main contenders.
Reigning champion Duncan Vos (Sasol Nissan Navara) leads the driver's championship by only four points from former champion Neil Woolridge in the factory Ford Racing Ranger. Another former champion in Hannes Grobler, in a second works Sasol Nissan Navara, is a further nine points adrift and intriguing tactical battles are in the offing.
The situation in the co-driver's championship sees Kenny Skjoldhammer, who shares the Ford with Woolridge, leading Juan Mohr who sits alongside the veteran Grobler. It is a situation brought about by overseas commitments which have twice seen Ralph Pitchford, who links up with Vos, miss Absa series events this season.
The waters are further muddied by the fact that Vos and the Ford crew have 100 percent finish records so far this season, and still have to drop one event from their overall tallies. For their part Grobler/Mohr cannot afford another did not finish result and, just to make it more interesting, the championship contenders will be all too aware of the threat posed by the two factory Castrol Toyota crews.
Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin have won once this season and they, along with Anthony Taylor and Robin Houghton, would love nothing more than to pick up a win on a Toyota sponsored event. If the two Toyota crews can see out the distance without mishap that elusive second win could become a reality.
There is further incentive for Toyota crews in the situation that exists in the prestige South African Manufacturers Championship. Here Toyota has opened up a 40 point lead over arch rivals Nissan, and the Toyota Dealer 400 is the ideal platform for them to increase the margin.
The SP Class is now ultra competitive and the winners will almost certainly come from the factory entries. Ivar Tollefsen and Quin Evans, in a third Sasol Nissan Navara, could come into the reckoning and Toyota will be looking for top five finishes from crews like Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux), Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst (Castrol Toyota Hilux) and Mike Thomsett and Brian Haviland who have been impressive in the Feltex Imperial Toyota Hilux.
Chris du Plooy and Ewald van Rensburg will give the new RFS Toyota Hilux a second outing and join George and Sharon Barkhuizen (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux) and Jaco Swanepoel and Keith Solomon in the IDM Cement Toyota Hilux. For Toyota sheer weight of numbers is a plus factor in the manufacturer title race.
On the Ford side Mark Ferguson and Craig West in a second factory entry will be looking for a good result. Additional back-up comes in the form of Kobus van Tonder and Riaan Guelpa who have been models of consistency in the Unifreight Ford Ranger. The Class D situation is nowhere near as tight as in the SP Class. Here brothers Henri and Maurice Zermatten (Ryobi Nissan Hardbody) have a 15 point cushion over Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber in the Raysonics Nissan Hardbody, with Ramon and Maret Bezuidenhout (Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux) a further 20 points in arrears.
The Zermatten's will start as favourites and their biggest threat could come from the husband and wife Bezuidenhout pairing. After a dodgy start to the season they have picked up three good results in a row and are due a win.
Reigning drivers champion Cliff Weichelt and Nico Els (N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux D4D) could also be a threat. It has been a disappointing season for Weichelt but a win would go a long way towards salvaging some pride.
Experienced Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux have a tight hold on the Class E championship and the Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux pair won't be looking to perform any heroics. A solid finish and a rich haul of points will be their aim. Rookie Dewald van Breda and Johann du Toit (Potch Plastics Toyota Hilux) will fancy their chances and Jack Peckham/Lucio Santoro (Ford Racing Ranger) will be looking to rescue what has been a disappointing year.
Deon Venter and Ian Palmer (4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux) scored their first win on the recent Limpopo 400, and will be keen to come up with a repeat performance. Like Peckham/Santoro the Barden Tyre Services Nissan pair of Thomas Rundle and Rob Howie will be looking to rescue something from a disappointing season.
Vos wrapped up last year's title in Lydenburg. That won't happen this season but the Toyota Dealer 400 could go a long way towards deciding the ultimate destination of this year's overall and SP Class championships.
TOYOTA DEALER 400 A SPECIAL VEHICLE BATTLEFIELD
The Toyota Dealer 400 on October 10 and 11, the penultimate round of the Absa Off Road Championship, looks likely to turn into a battlefield in the Special Vehicle category championship.
Tight situations have developed in both the overall and Class A championships and the Mpumalanga race is hugely important for those with title aspirations. And what looked like a three horse race has suddenly seen other crews come into late contention.
After the recent Limpopo 400 the Total Porter pair of former champion Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau have taken over the lead in both championships from early pacesetters Kallie and Quintin Sullwald in the Sullwald Racing BAT. Lurking in third place have been another former champion in Terence Marsh and Pieter Groenewald in the Regent Racing BAT.
A win for Gary Bertholdt and Andre Vermeulen (Atlas Copco Porter), their second of the season, on the Limpopo 400 has brought them into the picture. On the driver side Nick Harper, partnered by son Ryan in the Atlas Copco BAT, has also thrown his hat into the ring.
The advantage still lies with Variawa/Rousseau, the Sullwald's and Marsh/Groenewald but a good result, or a disaster, for any of the top contenders could radically alter the entire situation. Then there is a further complication in that Variawa and Rousseau and the Sullwald's have 100 percent finish records so far this season and still have to drop a result.
With so much at stake it appears certain that tactical battles will emerge. And there will also be the contrast in styles between out and out chargers like Bertholdt/Vermeulen and those with a slightly more conservative approach that is a Marsh hallmark.
The leading champions contenders could, however, find themselves taking a back seat to a couple of other crews who could upset the best laid plans. Reigning champions Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann, in the Motorite BAT, fall into this category along with Colin Mathews and Alan Smith in the Century Racing BAT.
Hutchison and Bergmann have had a dreadful season and a win would go a long way towards restoring a little pride, while Mathews/Smith are knocking at the door for a maiden win. Experienced Mark Corbett and Rudi Balzer, in the radical 4x4 Century Racing CR1, will also be hoping the vehicle finally lives up to potential and sees them home.
Mike Whitehouse and Mathew Carlson (Regent Racing BAT) could also come into the picture along with Herman Sullwald and Paul Helberg in the new Sullwald Racing Zarco. John Moore and Tom Classen, in the Free Spirit, were an impressive fifth overall on the Limpopo event and they could spring a surprise.
There are also some interesting battles going on in Class B. Here 12 points separate the top three drivers with only eight points the difference between four title contenders among the co-drivers.
Louw de Bruin (Ruwacon BAT) leads the drivers from veteran Giel Nel (Luk Africa Zarco Truggy) and Bez Bezuidenhout in the Adenco BAT. Tiddo Voogt, who this season has sat alongside both Hendrik and Jan Kraaij in the Keymax BAT, leads the co-drivers with Deon de Kock, who sits alongside Nel, only five points in arrears.
A further three points off the pace are Johann de Bruyn, who co-drivers for Bezuidenhout, and Rudi Britz who partners de Bruin in the Ruwacon car. Britz missed an event earlier in the season and that set him back on his heels.
Nel and de Kock don't have the pace of the other frontrunners and sheer consistency has kept them in the title race. A similar pattern looks likely to develop on the Toyota Dealer 400 and the winner should come from either of the Keymax, Ruwacon or Adenco teams. Also capable of an upset is the Stafix Electric Fence racing pair of Marc de Chalain and Pieter de Wit. De Chalain takes over driving duties from Alastair Stubbs who sits this race out with his wife scheduled to give birth over the weekend.
The Limpopo 400 broke a logjam in Class P. Brothers Johan and Etienne Bezuidenhout, in the Adenco BAT, now have a nine point lead over brothers David and Gary White in the Ruwacon BAT, with KZN crew Don Thompson and Don Blakey a further four points adrift in the Zarco.
A non finish on the Limpopo 400 hit Thompson and Blakey where it hurts and they will be looking to immediately bounce back. There is not much to choose between the three crews but the White brothers will be on a high after their Limpopo win.
Nic Goslar/Richard Carolin (Men's Health International Zarco) are out of the championship race but could affect the fight going on between the three title contenders.
The overall and Class A titles look set for a thrilling climax. There are high stakes on the Toyota Dealer 400 and that sets the scene for what could be a dramatic race.