Moreca: Caledon 400 preview

High stakes on Caledon 400. Championship contenders will find themselves at the sharp end of the stick on the Caledon 400, round six of the Bankfin Off-Road Championship, in the Eastern Free State on September 27 and 28. As was expected some...

High stakes on Caledon 400.

Championship contenders will find themselves at the sharp end of the stick on the Caledon 400, round six of the Bankfin Off-Road Championship, in the Eastern Free State on September 27 and 28.

As was expected some tight battles, some of which are likely to go all the way to the wire, have developed in both the Production Vehicle and Special Vehicle categories. It is that time of the season, however, where championship contenders have to start looking at dropping their worst score of the season.

When the final totals are tallied up competitors score seven out of the eight events making up the championship, sponsored by Bankfin, the specialist motor vehicle finance division of ABSA Bank. Dropping a result often alters the status in tight championship battles, and there are a couple of hopefuls who are affected by the scoring system.

Among those currently affected by the drop one event ruling are Production Vehicle teams Duncan Vos and Mike Griffiths, in the factory Nissan Hardbody and fellow Class D competitors Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr in the Isuzu. In the Special Vehicle category those affected include Greg Harvey and Boy Stone in the Castrol Queen Motor Spares Jimco in Class A, Billy Bond and Anton Lombard in the Prolong Raceco in Class S and Class B frontrunners Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain in the Truck Time Ysco and Giel Nel in the Luk Africa Truggy.

Vos/Griffiths, Corbett/Mohr, Stone/Harvey and Bond/Lombard all have 100 percent finish records this season, and all are involved in overall and class championship tussles. In most cases dropping an event narrows down what looks to be a handy championship lead, and adds a dollop of pressure to proceedings.

There is, of course, added pressure for those who have failed to see out the distance on one or more occasions. For those who already have two non-finishes to their credit, the tightrope is a little thin.

In the Production Vehicle category the factory Nissan team will be shooting for their fifth overall and Class T win of the season, and will start the obvious favourites. Reigning champions Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan have won three times and team-mates Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke once. The remaining win went to Apie Reyneke and Robin Houghton who, since winning the opening event of the season, have not had much to shout about in the new Team Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser.

Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer, in the Ford Racing Ranger, have not won this season but a string of seconds and thirds has taken them to the top of the Class T championship. They are involved in the battle at the top of the overall championship, and the Caledon 400 would be a good time for them to come up with a long overdue victory.

With the Nissan factory crews showing a tendency to either win or fall by the wayside, reliability has become an issue. The Ford squad appears to have got that part right, and perhaps all that has been missing is the touch of luck so often needed in winning at this level.

Another pair to watch in Class T is the husband and wife combination of Marius and Francis Boersma in the Independent 4X4 Land Rover Defender. While all the focus has been on the big gun factory teams, the Boersmas have quietly gone about gathering in enough points to see Marius in fourth in the drivers title race and Francis fifth in the co-driver stakes.

Current overall and Class D champions Vos and Griffiths have had a golden run since a disappointing start to the season. The likes of early pacesetters Piet Haasbroek and Christo Bosch, in the Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser, the Corbett/Mohr combination, brothers Henri and Maurice Zermatten (Playstation Mitsubishi Pajero) and the husband and wife team of Marius and Tracey van Vuuren, in the Alberante Autospray Land Rover Defender, will all be hoping the law of averages will step in where Vos and Griffiths are concerned.

In Class E the father and son combination of Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn, in the Toyota Hilux, picked up their first non-finish of the season on the recent Toyota Dealer 400. They continue, however, to keep their noses ahead of reigning champions Manfred Schroder and Jack Peckham in the Ford Racing Ranger with Jurie and Andre du Plessis still in touch in the BB Auto Nissan Hardbody.

Schroder and Peckham would look to have the beating of the rest of the pack, but have made heavy weather of it on a couple of outings. Much the same can be said of Kassie Coetzee and Ockie Fourie in the Team Castrol Toyota Condor and, along with the likes of Toyota Hilux crews Piet Heunis and Coetzee Labuscagne and Hannes Steyn and Ferdi Seegers, they could do with a good result.

Entries in Class F have been a little thin but a good rivalry has sprung up between the O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jeep pair of Paolo Piazza-Musso and Scott Abraham, and Frank and Dalene de Greef in a Toyota Hilux. This time around Piazza-Musso and Abraham will run in Class T, and while reliability has not been a forte where the Jeep is concerned the Caledon 400 would appear to be an event well suited to the American import.

In an interesting development Harvey and Stone are the only Class A crew in the top five in the Special Vehicle overall championship. They also lead Class A and it is here that there is a huge dogfight behind the Eastern Cape crew.

In the drivers championship only three points separate Atang Makgekgenene (SAM Racing Jimco), Laurence and Gerard du Plessis in the Mobil Jimco and John Weir-Smith in the O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jimco. Du Plessis and brother Gerhard have won the last two events in a car bought from Makgekgenene and are suddenly the new kids on the block, and the Class A battle is a contrast of the speed of the likes of the SAM Racing Jimco, the du Plessis brothers and Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt, and the reliability of Harvey and Stone.

The Class A contingent, however, could be pushed all the way by the Class S pair of Greg Daus and Archie Rutherford in the Nashua Mobile Racing Raceco. Bond and Lombard are factors in the class championship, but along with Nick Goslar and Glen Steyn in the O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco and Frikkie Botha in the Sandton Off Road Accessories WPP may not have the pace to match the Class A cars.

Daus, who made a storming start to the season, is second to Harvey in the overall drivers championship and the Caledon outing is an important one for him. It is equally important for Taylor and the veteran Nel who lead the Class B contingent. While de Chalain would appear to be home and dry in the co-drivers championship, Taylor and Nel are neck and neck in the drivers title race with the "one drop" ruling very much a factor.

There are a couple of crews who could throw a spanner in the Class B works, among them the father and son combination of Rob and Gareth Wark in the O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel Superteam Mighty Mag. The Warks are due for a good result, but the focus remains on the clash between Taylor/de Chalain and the veteran Nel.

The Caledon 400 is one of the few events on the calendar that also caters for a round of the motorcycle and quad national championships. This adds spice to proceedings with the event always one of the more festive on the off-road calendar.

Underneath the festival atmosphere, however, will be an air of tension that always builds as the season enters the home stretch. For some the trip into the nether regions of the Free State will be profitable, and for others it will fall into the dead loss category.

-msa-

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Series Other rally
Drivers Giniel de Villiers , Mark Corbett , Duncan Vos