|ABSA 2011: Bumper season for Production Vehicle Championship in ABSA.|
Anyone bold enough to predict a bumper Production Vehicle season when the South African Absa Off Road Championship gets underway with the Adenco 400 in the Western Cape on March 11 and 12, is on pretty safe ground.
The surprise announcement on the eve of the Adenco race that current South African champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst have joined the factory Ford Racing team, has added impetus to the start of a season dripping with the potential for drama.
After more than a decade of competing together, former SA champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer will hand over the Ford Racing Ranger to Visser and Badenhorst who won three races on the way to winning last year’s championship in the Visser Transport Toyota Hilux.
Quality fields and half a dozen or more potential race winners at each of the eight championship events provide the makings of another highly competitive and interesting season. That championships will go all the way to the wire is almost a foregone conclusion, with the Adenco 400 likely to identify early title candidates.
After winning just three of last season’s races between them the factory Castrol Toyota Hilux and Ford Racing Ranger teams will be under pressure to put the privateers in their place. It is also all change in the Castrol Toyota squad with the team racing against time to have their new SP Class challengers ready for battle in Darling.
Toyota has also lost stalwart Robin Houghton and Anthony Taylor will be partnered by the experienced Chris Birkin. Former champion Duncan Vos and Rob Howie stay together in the second factory entry, and with only two wins last season - one apiece for Vos and Taylor - team principal Glyn Hall will be hoping for a better return this year.
Although hurt by the loss of Visser and Badenhorst, the Toyota factory effort is backed up by a solid band of privateers, and Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux crew Gary Bertholdt and Andre Vermeulen are also potential race winners. Malcolm Kok and Johan Burger could develop into a formidable combination, while Pieter Ruthven and Rudi Britz (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux) and Dana and Willem Vos (Vossies Toyota Hilux) had their moments last season along with George Barkhuizen and David van Wijk in the AIM Toyota Hilux.
There will still be a member of the Visser family in the Toyota ranks. Former Class E champions Jannie Visser, brother of Chris, and Joks Le Roux will campaign the championship winning Toyota Hilux in the Western Cape.
Visser and Badenhorst have all the attributes to do well at Ford Racing, and with Woolridge pulling the strings in the background the team will be looking for more than the single win they managed last year. The factory crew will also have some solid back-up from Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling, in the Ruwacon Ford Ranger, and Kobus van Tonder and son-in-law Freddie Kriel in the Uni Freight Ford Ranger.
The RFS BMW team has a pair of jewels in former champions Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege. Their win on the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race was a highlight of last season, and experience could see them develop into immediate championship contenders.
A second RFS BMW X3 is also in the pipeline for Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren. They will run a Toyota Hilux in the Western Cape and will be looking for a steady start to their campaign.
Terence Marsh and Buks Carolin were surprise winners of the Sun City 400 last year, and the two-car Regent Racing Nissan Navara squad will also aim at consistency and regular top five finishes. Marsh will this year be partnered by George Smalberger while Mike Whitehouse and Mathew Carlson continue an association that has seen them build a reputation for reliability.
With around 20 SP Class entries at each race the competition is going to be cut throat. That augurs well for am season loaded with drama.
The early focus on Class D will be the battle between reigning champions Deon Venter and Ian Palmer in the 4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux, and teenager Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable in the Ford Racing Ranger. Sarel and Jack Oosthuizen will be running interference in a Land Rover, but it is the Toyota/Ford scrap that will attract the most interest with Woolridge taking a step up into Class D.
With Woolridge and Huxtable out of the Class E equation the favourites at the opening race will be Gerald le Roux and Willem Pretorius in the Ruwacon Ford Ranger. The pair scored a win on debut in this event last year, and will fancy their chances of a repeat dose.
Newcomers Piet Kotze and Salomon Victor will be an unknown quantity, and the major opposition for the Ruwacon crew is likely to come from the experienced Diederik Hattingh in the Transcor Toyota Hilux. Hattingh will this year be partnered by Kristo Bosman and they will be keen on a fast start to the season.
Race headquarters, the start/finish and designated service point will all be located at the Darling Club. The Donaldson Prologue to determine start position will start at 13:00 on March 11 and the race at 8.30am on March 12.
Public access to the start/finish and designated service point is free of charge. There is also no charge for public entrance to spectator points located within easy reach of the Darling Club.
2011/03/04 | 14:54 CET | ARTICLE: MR/SY/FORTUNE