|ABSA 2010: Duncan Vos chases four wins in a row in Botswana ABSA Rally.|
Reigning South African champion Duncan Vos chases a little motorsport history as the Production Vehicle championship enters a critical phase at the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race, round six of the Absa Off Road Championship, in Botswana from September 24 to 26.
Vos will be looking to score an unprecedented fourth victory in a row in the desert classic which this year celebrates its 29th birthday. Wins from 2007 to 2009 all came for Nissan with three different co-drivers in eight time winner Richard Leeke, Louis Weichelt and Ralph Pitchford.
This year Vos will be paired with another co-driver in Rob Howie, and will be competing in a factory Team Castrol Toyota Hilux. Fresh from a first win this year for the Castrol Toyota squad, Vos and Howie will be full of confidence for the only marathon event on the Absa championship calendar.
While Vos chases personal glory there is a championship to be won and lost and the Botswana outing could be critical in this respect. Only 33 points separate the first six crews in the overall championship with 18 points the difference between current leaders Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst (RFS Toyota Hilux), Vos/Howie and four time winner Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege in the RFS BMW.
Visser/Badenhorst are the only double winners this season with the other wins going to former champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer (Team Ford Ranger TDCi), Terence Marsh and Buks Carolin (Regent Racing Nissan Navara) and Vos/Howie. All four crews will obviously be among the favourites, but it is shaping up as the most open Desert Race in years.
With the Nissan challenge, after eight years of factory team dominance, now in the hands of privateers the odds on Toyota finally winning their own blue chip event are better than they have been over the last decade. Vos/Howie and the second factory entry in the hands of Anthony Taylor and four time winner Robin Houghton, along with Visser and Badenhorst, give Toyota a powerful hand.
This is further strengthened by Gary Bertholdt and Andre Vermeulen in the Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux. Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren (RFS Toyota Hilux) finished on the podium last year, while George Barkhuizen/David van Wyk (AIM Toyota Hilux) and Pieter Ruthven/Rudi Britz (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux) are fresh from strong performances on the 4x4 Mega World 400.
In an interesting development reigning Class E champions Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux will make their first appearance of the season in the Toyota Hilux campaigned earlier this season by Ramon and Maret Bezuidenhout. The hugely experienced Visser, brother of Chris, and le Roux may compete for the rest of the season – depending on the Bezuidenhout’s business commitments.
On the Ford front former champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer have won this event twice, and will fancy their chances if they can stay clear of mechanical niggles. Much the same applies to Grobler, the only other driver to have won this race three times in a row, and ter Stege in the other diesel powered vehicle in the premier SP Class.
The Ford cause has been hit by the absence of Kobus van Tonder and Freddie Kriel in the Uni Freight Ford ranger. On the credit side Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling have come up with encouraging performances of late in the Ruwacon Ford Ranger.
The threat posed by the Nissan privateers could be more serious than rival teams expect. With someone in the Regent Racing squad like Buks Carolin, who has won three times as a driver and co-driver, experience is not a problem.
Carolin and driver Terence Marsh revel in the marathon format and Regent Racing Nissan Navara team-mates Mike Whitehouse and Mathew Carlson have turned reliability into a personal forte. On a race where the ability to see out the distance is perhaps more important than sheer pace, the Regent Racing entries cannot be written off.
Much the same applies to Thomas Rundle and former winner Juan Mohr in the ex Vos factory Barden Tyres Services Nissan Navara. Inconsistency is a problem for the pair but a clean run could see then emerging as strong podium challengers.
Another Nissan crew are an unknown quantity. Botswana pair Ausman Sadiq and Shaukat Fazaldin will have local knowledge going for them, but one cannot see them troubling the establishment.
The Nissan cause was given a late boost with an entry from former winner and SA champion Alfie Cox. The off road legend will team up with German co-driver Jurgen Schroder in a Nissan Navara built for the Dakar Rally.
Class D will be without current championship leaders Dewald van Breda and Johann du Toit in the Northam Toyota Hilux. That shifts the spotlight to Deon Venter and Ian Palmer in the new 4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux, and Louis Weichelt and Johann Smalberger in the new N1 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser.
Two Northern Regions championship crews in Jack and Sarel Oosthuizen, in a Land Rover, and Johan Steyn and Paul Jonker, in a Toyota Hilux, make the step up to national competition and will be closely watched. Arnold Mabille and Reginald Molomo, in a Nissan Hardbody, add a touch of local colour to the entry.
With an interesting championship fight developing between current leaders Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable (Team Ford Ranger) and Pikkie Labuschagne and Rikus Erasmus (4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) the battle in Class E will also be closely watched. Teenager Woolridge will be having his first taste of the Desert Race and will draw heavily on input from father Neil and the experience Huxtable.
Hein Moolman and JD Wolfaardt, in a second 4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux, and Gerald le Roux and Willem Pretorius (Ruwacon Ford Ranger) also come into the picture with Johan de Lange and Gert Ochse in a Nissan Hardbody. Malcolm Kock, whose father won overall way back when, also makes an annual appearance with Johan Burger in a Toyota Hilux.
In a departure from the norm race headquarters, the start/finish and the designated service point will this year all be located Kumakwane which is 25 kilometres west of Gaborone. The 72 kilometre Donaldson Prologue to determine grid positions will start at 12:00 on Friday, September 24.
The race itself will start at 08:00 on Saturday, September 25. Day one survivors will again set off at 08:00 on Sunday, September 26 for the final leg
2010/09/21 | 11:21 CET | EDITOR: MR/HS/FORTUNE