Mpumalanga 400 preview

HIGH STAKES FOR PRODUCTION VEHICLE TITLE CHALLENGERS Two sets of highly experienced former South African champions will go head to head on the Toyota Dealer 400 on October 27 and 28, the penultimate round of the Absa Off Road Championship, in a...

HIGH STAKES FOR PRODUCTION VEHICLE TITLE CHALLENGERS

Two sets of highly experienced former South African champions will go head to head on the Toyota Dealer 400 on October 27 and 28, the penultimate round of the Absa Off Road Championship, in a clash that could decide the destiny of the Production Vehicle overall and Super Production Class championships.

The vagaries of the off road scoring system have seen to it that Proudly South African Nissan Navara pair Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan lead the overall championship. The SP Class stakes, however, are led by Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer, in the Ford Racing Ranger, and the Lydenburg based event could tip the scales either way in both championships.

It is an intriguing situation and a clash between two such highly experienced crews, with high stakes, is something to relish. There are other factors, however, which add to the recipe and make for a far more enticing menu.

Toyota has not had an overall victory for some time and will be looking to end the drought on what is their own event. This places a great deal of pressure on Mark Cronje/Chris Birkin and Bevan Bertholdt/Robin Houghton, in the factory Castrol Toyota Hilux V6 entries.

The works Toyotas, it must be said, have shown much improved form in the last two events. So much so that a Toyota win in Mpumalanga does not look out of reach -- a situation that is a far cry from the early season form book where both crews were plagued with problems.

Grobler/Jordaan and Woolridge/Skjoldhammer will have support from crews who will also be looking to upset an applecart or two. South African champions Duncan Vos and Ralph Pitchford, in the second factory Nissan Navara, and Rob Gurney/Graeme Stainbank, in the second Ford Racing Ranger, will have winning aspirations of their own.

Vos and Pitchford have won this season and will be a major threat -- of that there is no doubt. There is little to choose between the top teams but there is one factor that could trouble Woolridge and Skjoldhammer.

The Ford pair -- comfortable winners of the recent Sun City 400 - have finished every event this season, and will be worried that the law of averages will catch up with them. With quality crews in quality vehicles chasing high stakes the Toyota Dealer 400 has the makings of turning into the sort of race that will be a talking point in seasons to come.

In Classes D and E the championship situations are not as fluid. In both classes, in fact, the leading crews will be looking to turn comfort zones into unassailable leads.

Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, in the Tyco Trucks Toyota Hilux, have a comfortable lead over two crews -- former Class E champions Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn, in the Castrol Toyota Hilux, and Coetzee Labuscagne/Johan Gerber in the Raysonics Nissan Hardbody. Visser and Badenhorst had a winning streak halted on the Sun City 400, proving how quickly yesterday's winners can be turned into today's losers, but a good performance on the Toyota Dealer 400 could put the championship issue beyond doubt.

The de Bruyn's won the Sun City 400 and will want a repeat performance, while Cliff and Louis Weichelt (Bosal Toyota Hilux), after two events they will want to forget, will be looking to get matters back on an even keel. Toyota crews have won every event so far this season with Visser/Badenhorst winning four times with a lone win apiece for the de Bruyn's and the Weichelt's.

It is a situation the Nissan crews will want to remedy, and Labuscagne and Gerber have the added incentive of pulling away from the de Bruyn's in the championship. The two BB Auto Nissan crews of Arnold du Plessis and Johan Knox and Jurie and Andre du Plessis will also be looking for some reward from so far disappointing seasons.

Last season Manfred Schroder wrapped up the Class D drivers championship on the Toyota Dealer event, and will be looking to do the same this year in Class E. Schroder and Ward Huxtable, in the factory Ford Racing Ranger, are comfortably ahead in the driver and co-driver title races, and are the team to beat.

Schroder and Huxtable will also be full of confidence after a first in class and third overall on the Sun City 400. Behind them, however, matters could turn into a free for all between a horde of Toyota entries and Thomas Rundle and Brian Roberts in the Barden Tyre Service Nissan Hardbody.

Mark and Stuart Moffat (Bosal Toyota Hilux) and Jannie Visser/Joks le Roux (Toyota Hilux) made it to the finish of the Sun City 400 but the likes of Brian Martin/Ockie Fourie (Castrol Toyota Hilux), Fabio Tafani/Mike Baron (Club Refrigeration Toyota Hilux), Jaco Swanepoel/Grayham Bishop (IDM Cement Toyota Hilux) and George and Sharon Barkhuizen (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux) all fell by the wayside and will be looking to make amends.

Douw de Boer/Ben Kruger (Mahindra) fall into the same boat and will also be looking for a change in fortunes. Schroder/Huxtable are the outright favourites, but if they come unstuck the class will be wide open.

Where the manufacturer's championship is concerned, Toyota have nosed ahead of perennial rivals Nissan. They will want to use their own event to widen the gap even further, and there will be a concerted effort from Toyota.

CRUNCH TIME FOR SPECIAL VEHICLE TITLE HOPEFULS

Special Vehicle title challengers will find themselves at the sharp end of the stick on the Toyota Dealer 400, the penultimate round of the Absa Off Road Championship, on October 27 and 28.

With matters in the various categories tightly contested the Mpumalanga event, based in Lydenburg, could make or break a couple of title challenges. It is going to be white knuckle time for those involved in title fights, while for those who feel they have under achieved the weekend provides a late opportunity to make a statement.

Going into the Mpumalanga event the drivers championship appears to have developed into a two-horse race between Motorite BAT team-mates Alfie Cox and Brandon Harcus. Motorcycle legend Cox has a 15 points cushion over Harcus, the only two-time winner so far this season, with reigning champion Terence March (Nashua Mobile BAT) a further 18 points in arrears.

On the co-drivers front Hennie Ter Stege, who partners Cox, has a healthy 33 point lead over reigning champion Mike Whitehouse, who sits alongside Marsh. Given the vagaries of motor racing, points positions fluctuate, and no one knows this better than competitors, with the Toyota Dealer 400 an opportunity to either consolidate or make a late run at those on top of the points pile.

It is a given that Cox/Ter Stege and Harcus and Marcelle Trethewey, who won the recent Sun City 400, will again be among the frontrunners. They will be joined by team-mates Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann and a string of crews who are all capable of winning.

Gary Bertholdt and Henry Kirstein, in the Atlas Copco Porter, have the raw pace to dominate while Nardus Alberts/Collin Hunter (Wrapsa BAT), former champion Shameer Variawa and VZ van Zyl (Total Porter), Clint Gibson/Mike Brown (Absolute BAT) and Toyota Desert Race winners Nick and Ryan Harper (Kartek BAT) could all upset the applecart. Rob and Gareth Wark will be looking for better luck second time out in the recently purchased Superpave BAT singleseater, and crews like Lesotho pair John Moore and Ashley Thorn (Leo/Connix Internet Koloi) are capable of producing something unexpected out of the hat.

Class A these days is hugely competitive and picking winners is a risky business. The three Motorite BAT cars have, however, been up front throughout the season and will again be major challengers, as will Bertholdt and Kirstein.

On the Class B front a hugely interesting scenario -- and one that looks like going to the wire - has developed. Only 10 points separate the first three crews and the Mpumalanga outing carries high stakes for all three.

Jan and Hendrik Kraaij (Keymax BAT), in the first season of off road racing, go to Lydenburg with a five point advantage over veterans Ernest Corbett/Warwick Goosen (Century Property Development BAT) who have won twice in a row. Corbett/Goosen, in turn, lead Bes Bezuidenhout/Johan de Bruyn (Adenco BAT) by five points and all three crews will be living on their nervou Corbett and Goosen are the form team, while the Kraaij and Bezuidenhout/de Bruyn combinations have performed consistently throughout the season. Once again, however, there is no shortage of challengers.

Rudi and Pierre van Graan (Technochair Zarco) have won this season, the Bosal crews of veteran Giel Nel/Johann Smalberger (LUK Bosal Truggy) and Marius van Vuuren/Johan Coetzee (Bosal Zarco) are consistent finishers and Johan and Etienne Bezuidenhout (Adenco BAT) and Swazi pair John Thompson and Clinton McNamara are capable of producing wins.

One can also not dismiss the claims of the likes of Alistair and Hamish Stubbs (Viper) and the season's biggest under achievers in former champions Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain in the JRE. But, with a great deal at stake and so many potential winners, the Class B battle in Mpumalanga is going to be hugely interesting.

Class S sees Nic Goslar (Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco) suddenly enjoying a comfort zone in the drivers championship, with reigning champion Chris Davies now under pressure in the co-drivers championship. Two wins in a row have lifted Goslar 29 points clear of reigning champion Richard Schilling (Plastotech Aceco) who needs to pull something out of the bag.

Schilling and Davies, who now leads Richard Carolin by just seven points, were excluded from the results of the Sun City 400 and will want to bounce back. Goslar and Carolin will be equally determined and a good battle looks to be on the cards.

Archie Rutherford and Craig Doubtfire (Nashua Mobile Raceco) were also among the Sun City 400 exclusion casualties, and they will also want to get matters back on an even keel. In a straight fight one would tend to go with the experience of Schilling/Davies, but they have to throw caution to the winds and in those circumstances anything could happen.

With so much at stake the Toyota Dealer 400 has the makings of turning into the most exciting event of the season. For some crews it could turn out to be the most important race of the year.

-credit: msa

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Mike Brown , Alfie Cox , John Moore , Ralph Pitchford , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst