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ABSA South African Championship 2007 Special-Newssection

This is the single-news section of the special of the ABSA South African Offroad Championship series 2007. To see all news please use the link under the article or navigate with the left main-navigation.

ABSA 2007: Ford and Toyota to put Nissan under Pressure.

Absa Vehicle and Asset Finance is proud to bring the Ford Motorite 400 to Limpopo Province. Absa is one of the leading providers of vehicle and asset finance, and there is no better way to demonstrate the qualities of racing 4x4's than the Absa Off Road Championship.

Marcel de Klerk, managing executive of Absa Vehicle and Asset Finance, said that from the point of exciting racing action to choosing and buying your next vehicle, 4x4 or any other asset, Absa Vehicle and Asset Finance is able to offer the complete finance solution to get you on the road in no time at all. The Ford Motorite 400 in Limpopo on September 7 and 8 could make or break a couple of championship challenges in the Production Vehicle category in this year’s Absa Off Road Championship.

Three wins in a row, two of them with regular co-driver Ralph Pitchford, have seen Duncan Vos, in the factory Nissan Navara, take a healthy lead in the overall and Super Production Class driver’s championship. Pitchford, who missed the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, does not enjoy the same comfort zone in the co-driver standings, but all crews will be well aware that they have to drop one result at the end of the season.

Pitchford, however, again has overseas commitments and will miss the Limpopo event. Vos will again be partnered by veteran Richard Leeke with whom |he won the Toyota 1000 Desert Race.

This puts pressure on teams and even Vos, who has a 100 percent finish record this season, will be aware of the need for reliability over the remaining three events. Some tight battles have developed throughout the classes, and for those crews with one or two non finishes already on the scorecard the pressure is even greater. Nissan Navara crews, with reigning champions Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan picking up two wins, have won all five events so far this season. With back-up from African Heritage Cross Country winners Ivar Tollefsen and Quin Evans in a third factory Navara and Mark Corbett/Rudy Balzer (Century Property Development Navara) the Nissan challenge is a formidable one.

Twice, however, Vos has been the recipient of some good fortune with Castrol Toyota Hilux pair Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin crashing when in sight of victory. Such charity may not come their way again this season. Cronje and Birkin managed to crash only a kilometre from the finish on the recent Amathole 500, but will have taken heart from the fact that they dominated for 499 kilometres. There is no doubt both Cronje/Birkin and team-mates Bevan Bertholdt and Robin Houghton have the potential to end the Nissan dominance.

Bertholdt/Houghton have had a dreadful season and their luck has to change at some stage. They are due a good run and this event could be the turning point for them. Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn, in the Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux, took a good third on the Amathole 500 while Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst, in a third Castrol Toyota Hilux, have performed as consistently as ever since joining the SP Class brigade. With a win long overdue there will be plenty of confidence in the Toyota camp.

The Ford camp will also fancy their chances in a race they co-sponsor with Motorite. Former national champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer have loads of experience and a varied and technical route will be more to their liking.

Brandon Harcus, in the second factory Ford Ranger, has quickly settled down after the switch from special vehicles, and he and co-driver Juan Mohr have the potential to weld into a formidable combination. For the Ford Motorite 400, however, Harcus will be paired with Marcelle Trethewey with who he has raced in the past. The experienced Manfred Schroder and Ward Huxtable (Barloworld /Absolute Ford Ranger) also have the potential to win races and they could upstage the factory entries.

The Ford challenge is bolstered by Kobus van Tonder and Riaan Guelpa in the Unifreight Ranger who picked up valuable experience on the African Heritage Cross Country invitation race where they won the Production Vehicle category. They are still coming to grips with the SP Class, but could finish in the points. Despite Nissan’s winning streak, the SP Class is now ultra competitive and, as Cronje and Birkin have proved, a single mistake can be fatal. Expect a terrific scrap to emerge in Limpopo and don’t be surprised to see a Toyota or a Ford in the winner’s circle.

The Class D battle could also be fascinating, and is made more interesting by a tight championship issue. Harold and Tiaan Coen (Land Rover) still lead the driver/co-driver standings but are under intense pressure.

Newcomers Ramon Bezuidenhout/Stefan Lock (Toyota Hilux) have suddenly emerged as championship challengers and will be full of confidence after a good African Heritage Cross Country/Amathole 500 showing. Henri and Maurice Zermatten Ryobi Nissan Hardbody have won two races in a row to suddenly be only nine points adrift of the Coen’s who use consistency as their major weapon.

Also still very much in the championship picture are the likes of Jurie and Andre du Plessis (BB Auto Nissan Hardbody) and Arnold du Plessis/Johan Knox, in a second BB Auto Hardbody. Coetzee Labuscagne/Johan Gerber (Raysonics Nissan Hardbody) also come into the equation and the scene is set for an interesting tussle with the Zermatten’s on a roll and looking menacing.

Some tight championship issues have emerged in Class E and here, too, the pressure is mounting. Jack Peckham (Ford Racing Ranger) leads the drivers championship by 10 points from Jannie Visser (Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux) but has a 100 percent record and still has to drop a score. Visser’s co driver, Joks le Roux, leads the co-drivers title chase by 10 points from Lucio Santoro, who sits alongside Peckham. Santoro missed out on points when he fell ill on the Amathole 500 and Peckham was forced to finish the race on his own.

A crash saw George and Sharon Barkhuizen (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux) also miss out on points and they, too, dropped down the pecking order. Suspension problems also sidelined Brian Martin/Ockie Fourie in the Castrol Toyota Hilux and, like the Barkhuizen’s, they will need to bounce back.

Mark and Stuart Moffatt (Bosal Toyota), Jaco Swanepoel/Grayham Bishop (IDM Cement Toyota Hilux) and Fabio Tafani/Alun Dearling (Club Refrigeration Toyota Hilux) add weight to the Toyota challenge. Joining Ford in tackling the Toyota hordes are Thomas Rundle/Brian Roberts (Barden Tyres Services Nissan Hardbody) who have shown encouraging form of late. The battle up front in the SP Class is going to be a feature of the Ford Motorite 400. If they manage a sixth win on the trot Nissan will have done it the hard way.

Absa marketing head William James said the Absa Off Road Championship was growing in terms of both spectators and TV viewership, and now ranked as one of the top motorsport series in South Africa. "We are highly satisfied with our involvement and are excited about the future of the sport," James said. "With so much competition there is going to be some exciting action to look forward to."

The event headquarters will be at the Meropa Casino and Entertainment World in Polokwane where documentation and scrutineering will take place on the morning of September 7. Later in the day a 50 kilometre prologue will be run to determine start positions for the Ford Motorite 400.

The race will begin at 08h00 on September 8 with the start and designated service point at the Meropa Casino and Entertainment World. This gives spectators plenty of opportunities to see the cars before, during and after the race.

2007/09/03 | 10:39 CET | Editor: MR/HS/Charmaine Fortune

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