Tarka:: Test of character for championship challengers

Bankfin Off-Road Championship challengers face a test of character on the Queen Motor Spares Tarka 400, the penultimate round of the series, in the Eastern Cape on November 1 and 2.  Not even a rescore of the championship -- following an ...

Bankfin Off-Road Championship challengers face a test of character on the Queen Motor Spares Tarka 400, the penultimate round of the series, in the Eastern Cape on November 1 and 2. 

Not even a rescore of the championship -- following an administrative oversight that was at odds with the Motorsport South Africa 2002 Handbook -- could do away with the fact that a number of championship issues look to be going all the way to the wire. The tense title situations in both the Production Vehicle and Special Vehicle categories mean that championship contenders face a weekend that will be charged with nervous energy and adrenalin.

Just to make life a little more difficult for those in positions to win championships, is the fact that a number of them are teetering on the brink of disaster brought about by the ruling that all competitors must drop one result at the end of the season. Competitors who have already featured in the "did not finish" column on previous events, will be walking a thin line and simply cannot afford not to see out the distance this time around.

Points will be at a premium in the Eastern Cape, and nowhere is the championship issue tighter than in the overall drivers and co-drivers championships in the Production Vehicle category. Former champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer (Ford Racing Ranger -- Class T) and former Touring Car star Duncan Vos and Mike Griffiths (Nissan Hardbody -- Class D) are neck and neck with 152 points each.

Woolridge and Skjoldhammer have not won an event this season, but four seconds and a third have taken them to the top of the leader board. Vos and Griffiths, on the other hand, have picked up a couple of Class D wins but, like other championship challengers, both crews now face interesting tactical decisions.

The choices are a conservative approach aimed at securing vital points, or a full out assault that could have make or break results. The two leading crews are 13 points clear of Piet Haasbroek and Christo Bosch (Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser -- Class D) who will probably opt for the all out assault option, but tactical considerations serve only to add to the potential drama.

In the Class T championship Woolridge and Skjoldhammer are nine points clear of Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke in the Nissan Hardbody. Former champions Apie Reyneke and Robin Houghton, in the Team Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser are third, 20 points adrift of the leaders, with reigning champions Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan (Nissan Hardbody) level pegging with Marius and Francis Boersma in the Independent 4x4 Land Rover Defender.

Between them Grobler/Leeke and de Villiers/Jordaan have won five of the six events run so far this season, with the other win going to Reyneke/Houghton. The fact that de Villiers and Jordaan have mixed three wins with a similar number of non-finishes tells its own story, and again underlines the fact that consistency is a key factor when it comes to winning championships.

The two Nissan crews will start as the obvious favourites to win the Queen Motor Spares Tarka 400. Woolridge and Skjoldhammer could not pick a better moment to score their first win of the season, and Reyneke and Houghton could do with a victory in a vehicle that is improving with each outing.

The knives will be out in Class D where Vos/Griffiths lead Haasbroek/Bosch by seven points with Mark Corbett/Juan Mohr (Century Property Developments Isuzu) and the Zermatten brothers, Henri and Maurice, in the Playstation Mitsubishi Pajero still in contention. It is a volatile situation in a category of racing that is highly competitive and a class win is highly important for all four crews.

That sets up a hugely interesting confrontation. Haasbroek and Bosch were quick out the starting blocks in the early part of the season, then went through a tricky patch and now need to take the fight to Vos and Griffiths with Corbett/Mohr and the Zermattens also needing to apply a little pressure.

At the start of the season most off-road pundits would have been willing to place a bob or two on reigning champions Manfred Schroder and Jack Peckham, in the Ford Racing Ranger, having a reasonably comfortable time of it in Class E. As matters have turned out the factory crew have had the devil of a time trying to shake of the father and son combination of Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn in a privately entered Castrol Toyota Hilux.

In something akin to a David and Goliath battle the Ford pair lead the Toyota pair by just one point. For both teams the Queen Motor Spares Tarka 400 is hugely significant and their personal fight will attract a great deal of interest.

On the Special Vehicle front the Queen Motor Spares Tarka 400 is also hugely important for local Eastern Cape crew Greg Harvey and Boy Stone in the Castrol Queen Motor Spares Jimco. They lead the overall and Class A championships and an event sponsored by Harvey's group of companies will have a significant effect on both title chases.

Harvey and Stone look to be a shoe-in where Class A is concerned, but in the overall championship they are under some pressure from Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain in the Truck Time JRE. The KwaZulu-Natalians are only five points adrift of the Eastern Cape pair, and Harvey and Stone will be hoping that local knowledge will give them an advantage.

As is the case with Woolridge and Skjoldhammer in the Production Vehicle category, Harvey and Stone have not won this year. Their own event would be a good place to end the drought, but a string of crews would love to make up for earlier disappointments in a category that has of late been dominated by Schweizer Reineke brothers Laurence and Gerhard du Plessis in the Mobil Jimco.

They have won Class A three times on the trot but will be under fire from Harvey/Stone, Atang Makgekgenene and Alec Salley (SAM Racing Jimco) and John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt in the O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel Superteam BMW Jimco. The SAM Racing and Superteam entries have not lacked for pace all season, with both teams scoring wins early in the season.

That set up high hopes for both squads, but these have gradually been deflated. Reliability problems have dropped them out of contention, but there is a fierce rivalry between Makgekgenene and Weir-Smith and both would love to get back into the winners enclosure.

There are one or two Class S entries that could also prove a worry for the Class A brigade. Greg Daus (Nashua Mobile Racing Raceco) has been hit by the rescoring of the championship, and he and Archie Rutherford will carry some extra motivation into the Eastern Cape outing. Billy Bond and Anton Lombard (Prolong Raceco) have been consistent all season but have not been able to match Daus for pace, and the pair need a good result to stay in the Class S championship race.

Another who needs a good result in the Eastern Cape is East Rand veteran Giel Nel in the Luk Africa Truggy. The reigning Class B champion has slipped behind Taylor in the drivers championship -- the deficit has grown to 13 points -- and Nel will be fighting for a championship lifeline.

De Chalain, who sits alongside Taylor, has the Class B co-drivers title sewn up, but there are one or two other crews in the class who need to bounce back from disappointing seasons. Among them are Rob and Gareth Wark in the O'Hagan's/Kopanong Hotel Superteam Mighty Mag with the pair unable to match the likes of Glenn Claasen/Tim Smook (Radflo Bomber) and Gerald Mundell (Raceco) in terms of consistency.

The Queen Motor Spares Tarka 400 was a late replacement on the calendar for the Lichtenburg 400. The event adds to the geographic spread of the championship sponsored by Bankfin, the specialist vehicle division of ABSA Bank, but at the end of the season it's contribution could be highly significant in terms of who wears South African championship crowns when the 2003 season gets underway.

-msa-

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About this article
Series Other rally
Drivers Giniel de Villiers , Mark Corbett , Duncan Vos