O'Hagan's Kopanong Mmabatho preview

MSA Off-Road Car Championship Hots Up A novel feature of this weekend's O'Hagan's / Kopanong Hotel 500, and the remaining three rounds of the 2001 MSA Off-Road Car Championship, is a new award announced by the event's new sponsors that...

MSA Off-Road Car Championship Hots Up

A novel feature of this weekend's O'Hagan's / Kopanong Hotel 500, and the remaining three rounds of the 2001 MSA Off-Road Car Championship, is a new award announced by the event's new sponsors that recognises the driver/co-driver combination that makes up the most places during the event.

This year's championship has been characterised by some stirring come-from-behind performances. A typical example is a competitor who experiences a problem in the Friday time trial and is forced to start almost at the back of the field for Saturday's race. The challenge of picking off the field in front of him (sometimes as big as 80 vehicles), often having to cope with dust and poor visibility and narrow tracks with little or no room for overtaking, is daunting and the new award will be welcomed by those who successfully make it from the back into the top 10 at the finish.

The O'Hagan's / Kopanong Hotel 500 is based as usual in Mmabatho at the Tusk Resort and starts with a 45-km time trial on Friday at 13h30. This will determine the starting order for Saturday's race, which consists of two 250-km loops. The main event starts at 07h00 on Saturday, with the first competitor expected to finish at around 13h15.

The 500-km route includes the notorious riverbed section used many years ago and this could prove to be the nemesis of many crews. A significant section of the route is new and the organisers, the Mafikeng Motor Club, say it is a lot tighter and sandier than usual.

There is a strong entry in both the Special Vehicle and Production Vehicle categories and competition in all the classes is expected to be tough. Gaining a podium finish in any class is a major achievement these days.

The father and son team of Franz Czepek senior and junior (Vee Motors Chenowth) will start as favourites in class A of the Special Vehicles after their four successive wins so far this season. Among their chief rivals will be John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt (O'Hagan's / Kopanong Hotel Raceco), Greg Harvey and Boy Stone (Queen Motor Spares Jimco), Atang Makgekgenene and Evan Hutchison (Hellmann Worldwide Jimco) and father and son team Gary and Bodo Bertholdt (M&E Glass Dirtco).

Reigning class B champion Giel Nel (Luk Africa Truggy), who leads the championship after four rounds, will be under pressure from Kwazulu Natalians Gavan Gray and Graham Cunningham and newcomers to the class Henry Kirstein and Renier Jooste (Deeds Drilling Services Sandmaster), who have moved down from class A.

No less than 17 crews will contest the increasingly competitive class D in the Production Vehicle category. This is turning out to be a Nissan/Toyota/Isuzu battlefield with Shumie van Vuuren (Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser) leading the points after winning the first three events. Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr(Petronas Syntium Isuzu KB) won the last event, closely followed by reigning champions Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo (Valid Value Nissan Hardbody). Van Vuuren will want to reassert his authority.

Former touring car driver Duncan Vos and works Nissan team-mate Mike Griffiths will be looking for good results in their Valid Value Hardbody double cabs.

Class E is an even more closely contested affair with Andrew and Chris Birkin (Castrol Toyota Hilux) currently lying third after two successive non-finishes. Privateers Coetzee Labuschagne and Piet Heunis (Raysonic Toyota Hilux) lead by just five points from Manfred Schroeder and Jack Peckham (works Ford Ranger). All three crews have tasted success and have the class title in their sights. The Castrol Dealer Team Toyota Condor of Kassie Coetzee and Okkie Fourie has improved with every outing in its first season of off-road racing.

The real war - the one that attracts the fans in their droves - is being waged in class T where the four manufacturers and a gaggle of privateers are locked in battle with their awesome Super Trucks.

Toyota 1000 Desert Race winner and reigning champion Neil Woolridge (Ford Ranger), Nissan Sugarbelt 400 winner and former touring car champion Giniel de Villiers (Nissan Hardbody), Mitsubishi Barberspan 500 winner and former national production car champion Hannes Grobler (Nissan Hardbody), and Lichtenburg 400 winner and top privateer Cliff Barker (Land Rover BMW) are all in with a chance of victory.

Reigning special vehicle co-driver champion Buks Carolin (Mitsubishi Pajero) has yet to win, but leads the class from Grobler, De Villiers and Woolridge after four consistent points-scoring runs. Also not to be discounted is former champion Apie Reyneke in the works Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser, who has been plagued by mechanical problems to date.

The Vacation Vans Jeep is always a dark horse and has the capability to win outright and cannot be discounted. It is a firm favourite of the fans and this time the monster American-built truck will be in the hands of Arthur Abraham and Stratford Voogt, with Scott Abraham occupying the co-driver's hot seat.

-MSA-

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Series Other rally
Drivers Duncan Vos