|ABSA 2010: Production Vehicle Championship heading for tight finish.|
The 4x4 Mega World 400 at Carnival City on August 27 and 28 takes the South African Absa Off Road Championship into the second half of the season with a tight championship issue brewing in the Production Vehicle championship. After four events so far this season - with three of them won by privateers - only 23 points separate seven crews. Two wins and a gutsy finish on the recent Sun City 400 keep RFS Toyota Hilux crew Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst at the top of the table, but behind them there is a bun fight.
Visser and Badenhorst have a 13 point lead over reigning drivers’ champion Duncan Vos and Rob Howie (Team Castrol Toyota Hilux) who are just one point ahead of former champions Hannes Grobler/Hennie ter Stege (4x4 Mega World BMW) and Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer in the Team Ford Racing Ranger TDCi. A win at Sun City has lifted Terence Marsh and Buks Carolin (Regent Racing Nissan Navara) into fourth and behind them Gary Bertholdt/Andre Vermeulen (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) and Mike Whitehouse/Mathew Carlson (Regent Racing Nissan Navara) are locked together.
The situation at the top of the table and in the premier SP Class is indicative of the highly competitive nature of the Absa Off Road Championship. It also makes predicting winners a risky business.
Adding to the intrigue is the fact that five of the top seven have non finishes to their names, and cannot afford another failure to see out the distance. Only Woolridge/Skjoldhammer and Whitehouse/Carlson have 100 percent finish records, although the Ford crew missed the opening event of the season.
Visser/Badenhorst and Bertholdt and Vermeulen, who won this event last year, are obvious choices as frontrunners. There is a question mark over the reliability of the BMW, which has 4x4 Mega World backing for this event and which will be having only its third outing, and damage control will be the name of the game for Grobler and ter Stege.
After winning the Toyota Dealer 400 in their first appearance of the season Woolridge/Skjoldhammer have been hit by little niggles. The pair are also former winners of the event and the compact route should suit the diesel Ford Ranger.
The two Regent Racing Nissan Navara crews will again rely on grinding down the opposition. The Sun City win for Marsh/Carolin came from left field while Whitehouse/Carlson have relied on an enviable finish record to regularly gather in points.
Of the more fancied crews those with the toughest job at Carnival City are the Team Castrol Toyota pairings of Vos/Howie and Anthony Taylor and Robin Houghton. With Toyota’s two wins this season coming from privateers Visser/Badenhorst there is mounting pressure on the Toyota factory team to produce a victory. A return to form at Sun City by Thomas Rundle and Juan Mohr in the Barden Tyres Nissan Navara also elevates them into the bracket of potential winners. Sun City produced plenty of evidence that the Barden team has come to grips with the ex Vos car, and confidence will be high.
The Team Ford and Team Castrol Toyota factory teams have plenty of other support from privateer outfits. On the Ford front Kobus van Tonder and Freddie Kriel (Uni Freight Ford Ranger) produced their best result of the season at Sun City, with Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling, in the Ruwacon Racing Ford Ranger looking to bounce back after losing their 100 percent finish record in the Pilanesberg.
The ever improving Toyota Hilux crew of Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren, also with 4x4 Mega World backing for this event, will be looking at a top five finish, with Bloemfontein pair George Barkhuizen/David van Wyck (AIM Toyota Hilux) also looking to bounce back after a disappointing Sun City 400. Inconsistency has been a problem for the Free State crew.
Willem and Dana Vos (Vossies Toyota Hilux) will also want to bounce back after a huge accident at Sun City. A non finish in the Pilanesberg sees Graham Leith and Mike Lawrenson in much the same boat in the Transcor Ford Ranger.
The battle at the front of the SP Class is going to be intriguing - and it could be decided on the 60 kilometre Donaldson Prologue to determined grid positions. A good grid position is imperative on a compact event like this, and none of the top contenders will want to get involved in rearguard actions during the two 175 kilometre loops that will make up the race.
New cars will add a dollop of interest to the Class D battle. Reigning champions and current championship leaders Dewald van Breda and Johann du Toit (Northam Toyota Hilux), will be joined by Louis Weichelt and Johan Smalberger in the new N1 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser and Deon Venter and Ian Palmer in the 4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux.
Weichelt and Smalberger will be making their first outing of the season, while Venter/Palmer took a win at Sun City in a 4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux that was running close to Class E specifications. An interesting contest is in the offing.
A good battle is also on the cards in Class E where teenager Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable top the championship table in the factory Team Ford Ranger. The rookie driver and the experienced Huxtable have won twice this season to open up a 16 point lead over Pikkie Labuschagne and Rikus Erasmus in the 4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux.
A technical infringement on this event last year cost Labuschange and Erasmus the Class E championship, and they will be keen to make amends. The pair have also won this season as have third placed Gerald le Roux and Willem Pretorius in the Ruwacon Racing Ford Ranger, and with a healthy rivalry building between the leading trio.
Cape crew Etienne Bezuidenhout and Hanro Visser (Adenco Ford Ranger) will also make their second appearance of the season, but are likely to be a little ring rusty. Also looking to make an impression will be Diederik and Danie Hattingh in the Transcor Toyota Hilux while reigning co-drivers’ champion Joks le Roux returns to action with Pieter du Plessis in a Toyota Hilux.
Race headquarters, the start/finish and the designated service point will all be located at the Carnival City complex. Public entrance to these areas is free of charge with the Donaldson Prologue scheduled to start at 11:30 on Friday, August 27 and the race at 08:00 on Saturday, August 28.
The route is again spectator friendly with numerous viewing points all within 40 kilometres of Carnival City. Public access to these areas is also free of charge with a request from the organisers for enthusiasts to respect the environment.
2010/08/24 | 10:44 CET | Editor: MR/HS/FORTUNE