Sugarbelt 400: Nissan preview

NISSAN AIM FOR HAT-TRICK AT NISSAN SUGARBELT 400 The Donaldson Nissan Navara factory team will be hot favourites to make it three in a row in the Production Vehicle category at the Nissan Sugarbelt 400, round three of the Absa Off Road ...

NISSAN AIM FOR HAT-TRICK AT NISSAN SUGARBELT 400

The Donaldson Nissan Navara factory team will be hot favourites to make it three in a row in the Production Vehicle category at the Nissan Sugarbelt 400, round three of the Absa Off Road Championship on 15 and 16 May.

Reigning drivers champion Duncan Vos and Ralph Pitchford scored polished victories on the Adenco 400 and the Eastern Cape 400, and the pair are the form team. As a driver Vos is equally at home on the fast and more technical routes, with the Nissan Sugarbelt likely to fall into the latter category.

But while Vos/Pitchford are the form team, the Nissan squad boasts two other crews capable of winning. Veteran Hannes Grobler and Juan Mohr, the reigning co-drivers champion, can never be written out of the equation while Norwegian Ivar Tollefsen and Briton Quin Evans are now seasoned campaigners in the Absa series.

The Nissan squad, however, faces some stiff competition from the Castrol Toyota and Ford Racing works teams. In particular the senior partners in the Ford team, former champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer, would love nothing better than a win in KwaZulu-Natal.

The race is again based at the Beaumont Eston Farmers Club which is a driver and a nine iron away from Woolridge's Pietermaritzburg base. With top crews able to adapt to prevailing conditions home ground advantage is not always what it is made out to be -- but support from the locals and family provides home ground teams with a major lift.

Both Woolridge/Skjoldhammer and Thomas Rundle/Hennie ter Stege will be out in the new Ford Ranger 3.2L TDCI twin turbo diesel models. Rundle/ter Stege are fresh off a great second in the Eastern Cape although that result was achieved in a petrol Ford Ranger.

The Castrol Toyota Hilux works assault will be in the hands of Anthony Taylor and Robin Houghton and Hein Lategan, who has had a fiery baptism to his off road career, who is paired with Chris Birkin. Both crews have had their ups and downs so far this season, but in between both have showed the potential to win events.

The Nissan, Ford and Toyota factory teams will all be supported by privateer teams with Toyota having a big numerical advantage. Stand-out crews in the Toyota ranks are Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst (RFS Toyota Hilux), Hugo/Jaap de Bruyn (Micaren Excel Toyota Hilux) and Gary Bertholdt/Andre Vermeulen in the Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux.

Visser/Badenhorst currently lie third in the championship, the de Bruyn's led the Eastern Cape 400 before being hit by a gearbox problem and Bertholdt/Vermeulen made an impressive SP Class debut. George and Sharon Barkhuizen (AIM Toyota Hilux) also produced their best showing so far, while Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren (RFS Toyota Hilux) will want to bounce back after illness forced du Plooy to call it a day midway through the Eastern Cape race.

Jaco Swanepoel and Keith Solomon, in the IDM Cement Toyota Hilux, complete a Toyota line-up that has depth and quality. Toyota, the reigning champions, will also be keen to wipe out a 16 point deficit to Nissan in the SA Manufacturers Championship.

The Nissan factory crews have top quality back-up in the form of Terence Marsh/Pieter Groenewald (Regent Racing Nissan Navara) who will want to put an Eastern Cape non finish behind them. On the Ford front the dependable Kobus van Tonder and Riaan Guelpa, in the Uni Freight Ford Ranger, and Graham Leith/Mike Lawrenson (Transcor Ford Ranger) are in the same boat.

After two wins in a row the father and son combination of Cliff and Louis Weichelt will start favourites in Class D in the N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux D4D. Stiff competition will come from Dewald van Breda and Johan du Toit in the Northam Toyota D4D and Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber in the Raysonics Nissan Hardbody.

After two disappointing outings the experienced Labuscagne, who once played rugby for the Blue Bulls, and Gerber will be desperate to get some points on the board. It is a situation which is likely to bring out the best in the pair.

An extra string to the Toyota bow comes via Johan and Werner Horn in the Malelane Toyota Hilux. Still missing from the Class D line-up are Ramon and Maret Bezuidenhout who are busy building a new Toyota Hilux.

Deon Venter and Ian Palmer (4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux) have also picked up two wins in a row and are the form crew in Class E. There was a good result for team-mates Pikkie Labuschagne and Rickus Erasmus last time out, while KZN pair Baphumze Rubuluza and Khuliele Vakaliza (Ford Racing Ranger) will be keen to do well on home territory.

For reigning champions Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux (RFS Toyota) it has been a disappointing start to the season. They are another crew who will be looking to get their title challenge back on track while circuit and kart racer Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie (Ferodo Nissan Hardbody) and Louw de Bruin/Riaan Greyling (Ruwacon Racing Ford Ranger) will be looking to bounce back after disappointing results last time out.

A highly interesting addition to the Class E field is Lance Woolridge, son of Neil, who will be partnered by Kevin Christie in a Ford Ranger. Young Woolridge has been competing at regional level and, by all accounts, appears to be a chip off the old block.

The Friday prologue to determine race positions will start at 13h00. The race on Saturday will start at 08h00 with the start/finish and designated service point all at the Beaumont Eston Farmers Club.

HUTCHISON/BERGMANN ARE NISSAN SUGARBELT 400 FAVOURITES

After two wins in a row in the new Motorite Revo1 4x4 it is not surprising to see former champions Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann installed as the Special Vehicle favourites on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400, round three of the Absa Off Road Championship, on Friday, 15 and Saturday, 16 May.

While there was a touch of fortune to their win on the Adenco 400 in the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape 400 saw the pair power their way to a commanding win. The Motorite Revo1 4x4, designed and built by Bergmann, has proved to be an impressive piece of machinery and on an event like the Nissan Sugarbelt all-wheel drive will be an added advantage.

There is, however, no shortage of challengers. There are at least half a dozen crews who have the potential to win the overall and Class A battle, and an intriguing race is one the cards.

Colin Matthews and Alan Smith (Century Property Racing BAT) are quick but erratic. By contrast Mike Whitehouse and Mathew Carlson (Regent Racing BAT) have so far this season proved to be solid and reliable, and lie second in the championship.

The father and son combination of Nick and Ryan Harper (Atlas Copco BAT) are likely to find the Nissan Sugarbelt route to their liking, while former champions Shameer Variawa and Siegfried Rousseau (Total Porter) have a menacing look about them. Naeem Moosajee and Mohammad Moultson (TyreRack Jimco) were off the pace on the Eastern Cape 400 but will also relish Sugarbelt conditions and local crew Clint Gibson and Gary Campbell (Gibson Racing BAT) will be keen for a good result on home soil.

It has been a difficult start to the season for reigning champions Kallie and Quintin Sullwald, in the Sullwald Racing BAT, but a win would see them back on an even keel. Herman and Wichard Sullwald, in the Sullwald Racing Zarco, have also had a dodgy start to the season, and the Sullwald family would relish a change in fortunes.

Where the other 4x4 vehicle in the field is concerned Mark Corbett and Rudi Balzer (Century Property Racing CR1) will be hoping the law of averages finally falls in their favour. The car has shown huge potential but has so far failed to finish a race.

In a Special Vehicle field loaded with potential the likes of newcomers Jimmy Zahos and Stefan Coetzee (Mountain Dew Porter), and Nardus Alberts and Geoff Minnitt add to the mix.

There were no Class B finishers on the Eastern Cape 400 and that keeps Bes Bezuidenhout and son Deon (Adenco BAT) at the top of the championship standings. Simon Becket and Steve Harris (Century Property Racing BAT), after missing the last event, will be back to provide some stiff opposition.

Cape crew Derick du Toit and Ian Pienaar (Orange Tree BAT) are also potential winners with John Telford and Jaco Swart (Calcamite BAT) capable of an upset. Also in the mix will be the Makenete brothers and local crew Marcus Taylor and Derek Keith, and the class has the makings of producing some interesting battles.

Class P also has the makings of some interesting racing. Jan and Hendrik Kraaij (Keymax BAT) won last time out but face stiff competition from reigning champions Johan and Etienne Bezuidenhout (Adenco BAT) and the White brothers, David and Gary, in the Ruwacon Racing BAT.

Johan van Staden and James Rossouw (KEC BAT) threw their hat into the championship ring with an impressive Eastern Cape performance, while local crew Don Thompson and Don Blakey (Zarco Lite) have the pace to blitz the opposition. Charger John Weir-Smith and Richard Carolin (Men's Health International Zarco) and former champions Richard Schilling and Chris Davies also come into the equation in what is a highly competitive category.

-credit: sa nissan

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Series Other rally
Drivers Ian Palmer , Ralph Pitchford , Quin Evans , Mark Corbett , Duncan Vos , Japie Badenhorst , Leeroy Poulter