Sun City 400 preview

SUN CITY 400 WILL BE A GAMBLE FOR ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP HOPEFULS The Absa Off Road Championship reaches its midway point with the Off Road SA organised Sun City 400 on July 1 and 2 and the stakes will again be high as many...

SUN CITY 400 WILL BE A GAMBLE FOR ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP HOPEFULS

The Absa Off Road Championship reaches its midway point with the Off Road SA organised Sun City 400 on July 1 and 2 and the stakes will again be high as many Production and Special Vehicle crews gamble everything in their quest for overall and class victories.

With the exception of the Production Vehicle category, where championship leaders Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan (Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody) have a comfortable lead, the Absa Special Vehicle Championship and the rest of the classes are wide open.

With the launch of the new Super Production Class, which will see Nissan, Ford and Toyota go head-to-head with similar specification vehicles, delayed until a later date all eyes will be on the high stake battle for overall honours between Proudly South African Nissan teammates Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan and Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford who have each won a round of the Absa Off Road Championship in their Class F (formerly Class T) Nissan Hardbody pickups.

It is interesting to note that Class D vehicles have featured prominently on the podium due, in the main, to there only being two Class F vehicles in the field and much the same situation will apply on the Sun City 400.

Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin's performance in the four cylinder Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i on the Toyota 1000 deserves closer analysis. The former Class E champions were only 2m19s slower than Cox in the 40km Prologue, trailed him by a mere 6m30s at the designated service point on Racing Section 1 and started 13m47s behind him on Racing Section 2. The margin was that small that a puncture could have robbed Cox of the lead.

Much the same situation applied to the Class D leaders Manfred Schroder and Alec Harris (Team Ford Racing Ranger) but unfortunately they retired with a blown motor in Racing Section 1 with Cronje and Birkin retiring with gearbox problems in Racing Section 2.

Consistency, however, is the key to success and this was proven on the Toyota 1000 by Henri Zermatten and Bodo Schwegler (Master Craft Ryobi Mitsubishi) and Gavin Cronje and Robin Houghton (Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i) who finished second and third overall respectively.

Other Class D crews who could finish on the podium include Paolo Piazza- Musso and Ockie Fourie (Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i) who started 58th and finished 6th on the Toyota 1000, Polokwane based Arnold du Plessis and Johan Knox (BB Auto Nissan Hardbody), brothers Jurie and Andre du Plessis (BB Auto Nissan Hardbody), Coetzee Labuschagne and Johan Gerber (Raysonics Nissan Hardbody) and the consistent Mark and Stuart Moffat in the Bosal Brospeed Land Rover.

Class E championship leaders Zane Pearce and Hennie Vosloo (Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i), who only finished one event last year, have changed tactics and proved that consistency is the name of the game. The pair is one of five crews that have finished each event in the 2005 Absa Off Road Championship and have the pace to finish high up in the overall rankings on the Sun City 400.

Reigning Class E champions Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i), had a rare non-finish in Botswana, are more than capable of taking the fight to the big guns and finishing in the top five, as they did on the Nissan Dealer 400 and Toyota 1000 last year.

Other Class E contenders to watch will be Nissan Dealer 400 winners Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (Tyco Trucks Toyota Hilux 2.7i), newcomer George Barkhuizen and Rod Hering (AIM Toyota Hilux 2.7i) who finished second in their first outing in Class E on the Toyota 1000, Team Ford Racing's Development crew Baphumze Rubuluza and Khulile Vakalisa (Team Ford Racing Ranger), father and son duo Dirk van Reenen senior and junior in the Savannah Ford Ranger and Thomas Rundle and Stavros Yiannakis (Barden Tyre Services Nissan).

It's anyone's guess as to who will win the Special Vehicle category..

Last year's Sun City 400 winners and two times Toyota 1000 winners Atang Makgekgenene and Buks Carolin (Total Jimco) will be missing from the line- up, which leaves the way open for at least ten Class A crews to fight it out for the overall win.

Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau (Advansoft iBurst BAT) have been the dominant force in Class A this season. They won the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 convincingly and led the next two events until front suspension problems forced them into retirement.

Their biggest threat will no doubt come from Shameer Variawa and VZ van Zyl (Total Porter) who finished second in Botswana and third in last year's Sun City 400, John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt (Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jimco) who were third on the Toyota 1000 until they were forced to quit with an overheating problem and Bevan Bertholdt and Nick Selamolela (Advansoft iBurst BAT Spec-1) who have the pace but lack consistency.

Last year's Sun City 400 runner-up Nick Harper, who has teamed up with son Ryan this season, has the ability to start virtually last and finish on the podium in the Audi V8 powered BAT. The Toyota 1000, where he finished second overall after starting 52nd, is but one example of his consistency and the odds of a win in the Pilanesberg are good.

Nissan Dealer 400 winners Terence Marsh and Michael Whitehouse (Nashua Mobile BAT Spec-1) certainly have the vehicle to win but they will be under pressure from Class A newcomers Will Battershill and Reg Sutton in the Jimco that Marsh campaigned in 2003 and 2004. The KwaZulu-Natal crew finished second in their debut in the Western Cape.

Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr (Century Property Developments BAT), father and son Robert and Gareth Wark (Superpave Chenowth), Clint Gibson and Marcelle Trethewey (Gibson Plant Hire BAT) and John Moore and Graham Maclachlan (Connix Chenowth) are also serious contenders for overall honours but keep a look out for Giel Nel and Peter Newbery (Bosal Luk ATE Zarco). Typically, Nel relies on consistency and the fact that he and Newbery are third in the Class A Championship is sufficient proof that they are good for a top six finish.

The dark horses in the field include Henry Kirstein and Renier Jooste (Atlas Copco BAT), husband and wife Ge' and Caroline Jooste (Atlas Copco Sandmaster) and Gerhard du Plessis (Jimco Porsche) who have not raced in the Absa Off Road Championship since the 2004 Carnival City 400.

Class S for vehicles fitted with trailing arm front suspensions has been poorly supported despite the fact that there are at least a dozen of these vehicles gathering dust in Gauteng. Former champion Richard Schilling raised the stakes when he imported and American Aceco, which is a match for the Class A vehicles when it comes to handling. Schilling and Chris Davies could well grab a podium position in the Plastotech Aceco but will have to fend off Archie Rutherford and Vincent Horn (Ruthcon Raceco), reigning Class S drivers champion Nic Goslar and Jacques Robbertze (Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco), Thierry and Ferdinand Hecq (Raceco) and Wolf-Peter Pfumfei (WPP).

Predicting a winner in Class B is as difficult as it is in Class A and it would be best to spread one's bets.

There have been three different winners and championship leaders this year with Evan Hutchison and Trevor Ormerod (Motorite Racing BAT) winning the season opening Nissan Sugarbelt 400, veteran Ernest Corbett and son-in-law Warwick Goosen (Century Property Developments BAT) the Nissan Dealer 400 and reigning champions Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain (JRE) the Toyota 1000.

They, along with brothers Rudi and Pierre van Graan (Technochair Zarco), John Thomson and Clinton McNamara (Mormond Zarco), David White (Truggy) are quite capable of winning. So too are Don Thomson and Wally Pooler (Sandmaster), who led the Toyota 1000 only to be involved in a collision with Hannes Grobler and Paolo Piazza-Musso shortly after the restart on Sunday. It took them a while to repair their vehicle but they fought back and finished a fine second.

The Sun City 400 gets underway with a 45km Prologue at 13h00 on Friday, July 1 and the main event starts at 08h00 on Saturday at the Sun City Sports and Recreation Club near the resort.

-msa-

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Series Other rally
Drivers Alfie Cox , David White , Gavin Cronje , Mark Corbett