Privateers special feature

PRIVATEERS THE BACKBONE OF OFF ROAD RACING Privateers are the backbone of off road racing and make up the bulk of the field in both the production and special vehicle categories of the Absa Off Road Championship. They compete for the sheer ...


Privateers are the backbone of off road racing and make up the bulk of the field in both the production and special vehicle categories of the Absa Off Road Championship.

They compete for the sheer enjoyment of driving their lovingly prepared off road vehicles and socialising with their fellow competitors and their families.

The advent of the manufacturer entries has raised the professionalism - and the media exposure - of these long distance races in the South African countryside, often far from urban habitation. As a result the chances of winning against the might of the manufacturer-prepared entries, with their big budgets and professional technical back-up crews, are lessened.

Privately entered teams have had to up the ante themselves and seek bigger sponsorships than they needed in the past.

These are some of the privateers entered in the Lesotho Sun 400, which will take place on August 5 and 6:

Henri Zermatten and Bodo Schwegler have established an enviable finishing record in national championship off road racing. They have completed the last 18 races they have entered in their Master Craft/Ryobi Mitsubishi Pajero and are currently fourth overall in the championship for production vehicles and first in class D for near-standard six-cylinder vehicles.

Also competing in the hotly-contested class D are Coetzee Labuschagne and Johan Gerber in their Raysonics Nissan Hardbody. Formerly members of the three-car Gearbox Services Racing Hardbody team and now the sole representatives of GBS, they have struggled to achieve the results they are capable of so far this season.

Their best result has been a seventh in class and 10th overall in the tough Sun City 400 in July.

Richard Schilling (Plastotech Aceco) is a veteran of the special vehicle category and a former national champion, who has recently returned to the sport he loves. He is looking forward to the Lesotho Sun 400 and a return to the mountain kingdom where he has won the Roof of Africa Rally three times.

He enjoyed his first success there with Fred Levesque in 1990, again with Rob Wark in 1991 and then with Ashley Thorn in 1992. He and current co-driver and off road motorcyclist Chris Davies will be looking for win number four this year after joining forces for the first time in last year's race.

Thomas Rundle and Stavros Yiannakis are the rookies in class E (for near standard four-cylinder production vehicles) in the Barden Tyre Services Nissan Hardbody, a well-travelled vehicle previously campaigned by the BB Auto team from Polokwane.

This youthful pair has shown great promise in their first season, plagued by mechanical problems and are yet to complete an event, a situation they aim to remedy in Lesotho.

Bevan Bertholdt, a member of a well-known off road racing family, is one of the more colourful of the special vehicle competitors. Always fast and with an aggressive approach to his sport, he and co-driver Nick Selamolela started the season well with an overall win in the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 in KwaZulu Natal in their Advansoft iBurst BAT.

But they have suffered from a combination of over-enthusiastic effort and some mechanical problems and will be hoping to make up for two non-finishes in the last three events.

Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr are potential overall winners in their Century Property Developments BAT when business commitments allow Corbett to compete. They moved to the special vehicle category after some success in an Isuzu KB pickup in the production vehicle category.

With Corbett unavailable because of business commitments, Mohr turned his hand to driving for the recent Sun City 400 and, with Jason Bruwer in the co-driver's seat, qualified a very respectable third in the prologue and finished an excellent third overall before being disqualified because Bruwer was not wearing his helmet at a marshal point.

Giel Nel is another old hand at off road racing and this year switched from his much-loved LUK/Ate-supported Truggy single-seater special, in which he won the class B title in 2003, to the bigger two-seater class A Bosal-backed LUK/Ate Truggy Zarco.

While yet to enjoy the success he had in class B, Nel and co-driver Peter Newbery are having fun with the extra power of the Zarco, with three points-scoring results in the last four events and two top-10 finishes.

Former quad racer Evan Hutchison and co-driver Trevor Ormerod are top contenders for the class B title among the special vehicles. They enjoyed a dream debut together in the Motorite Racing BAT-Nissan by winning class B in the opening event of the season, the Nissan Sugarbelt 400, and are currently just one point behind reigning class B champions Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain (JRE) after also winning their class in the recent Sun City 400.


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Series Other rally
Drivers Mark Corbett