|ABSA 2011: Level playing field sets up enticing Production Vehicle duels.|
A level playing field sets up an enticing situation in the Production Vehicle category at the Atlas Copco 400, round three of the South African Absa Off Road Championship, in the Dundee area.
The level playing field comes courtesy of shifting the event from Eston, on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg, to the historic battlefields area in the Dundee region. Even the KwaZulu-Natal crews will be short on knowledge of local conditions and the door is open for an interesting race.
Two Nissan crews at the top of the overall and premier Class SP championships bring back memories of the halcyon days of the now defunct Nissan factory team. That places a modicum of pressure on the Ford Racing and Castrol Toyota factory teams who between them have a lone podium place in the two races run so far this season.
Thomas Rundle and Juan Mohr (Barden Tyre Services Nissan Navara) lead the championship from Toyota Dealer 400 winners Mike Whitehouse and Mathew Carlson (Regent Racing Nissan Navara), with Adenco 400 winners Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege (RFS BMW X3) in third place.
Terence Marsh/George Smalberger (Regent Racing Nissan Navara) and Gary Bertholdt/Andre Vermeulen (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) are tied for fourth place and the first of the factory crews, reigning champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (Team Ford Ranger), share fifth place with Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux in the International Toyota Hilux.
The Barden Tyres Services and Regent Racing teams will be brimming with confidence, while veterans Grobler and ter Stege will be looking to bounce back after being part of the high attrition rate on the Toyota Dealer 400 in Mpumalanga. Two second places have taken the Barden team to the top of the overall and SP Class title races, and Rundle and Mohr will be conscious of the role consistency plays in winning championships.
Consistency is a commodity that has so far eluded the Ford Racing and Castrol Toyota crews. A third place on the Mpumalanga event will have been a boost for Visser and Badenhorst.
Visser/Badenhorst have not enjoyed the best of luck this season, and a win would be just what the doctor ordered for crew and team. Good results for SP Class rookie Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable, in the second factory Ford Ranger TDCi, and privateers Kobus van Tonder/Freddie Kriel (Uni Freight Ford Ranger) would be an added bonus for Ford .
A win would also be just what the doctor ordered for the Castrol Toyota squad. The Castrol Toyota rally team picked up a one-two on the recent Sasol Rally, and a repeat performance from the off road squad would see the wheel turn full cycle.
The new Castrol Toyota Hilux double cab entries, in the hands of Duncan Vos/Rob Howie and Anthony Taylor/Chris Birkin, have shown plenty of potential. But the time has come for the team to turn potential into results.
Veterans Grobler and ter Stege will be keen to get back among the points, as will team-mates Chris du Plooy and Henk Jansen van Vuuren in the new petrol powered BMW X3. Du Plooy and van Vuuren were also among the Toyota Dealer 400 casualties and did not last long enough for any judgment to be made on the BMW’s capabilities.
The one crew who will be more than anxious to produce a good result will be Bertholdt and Vermeulen in the Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux. A sponsor’s expectations is a heavy burden to carry in a highly competitive arena, and a podium finish would be first prize for the crew.
Other privateer Toyota crews have the ability to take advantage of slips from more fancied runners. Jannie Visser/Joks le Roux (International Toyota Hilux) already have a podium finish to their names, while Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Atlas Copco/Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux), Willem and Dana Vos (Vossies Toyota Hilux) and Malcolm Koch and Johan Burger (Toyota Hilux) have the ability to rise to the occasion.
The Toyota challenge is further bolstered by newcomers Johan Ferreira and Nico Kotze. Fereira and Kotze will be out in a Toyota Land Cruiser.
Jack and Sarel Oosthuizen, in a Land Rover, are the new Class D championship leaders after two steady performances lifted them clear of reigning champion Deon Venter and Ian Palmer in the 4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux). The Oosthuizen’s can expect a backlash from Venter and Palmer with consistency their best weapon.
Two other Toyota crews in Louis Weichelt and Francis Boersma, in the N1 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser, and Mpumalanga based brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Malelane Toyota Land Cruiser) could upstage the Oosthuizens and Venter/Palmer. Weichelt and Boersma will be making their first appearance of the season and add spice to the Class D mix.
Dirk Putter and Koos Claasens (Toyota Hilux), winners first time out on the Toyota Dealer 400, will be out to extend their championship lead in Class E. Stern competition will come from Diederik Hattingh and Kristo Bosman, in the Transcor Toyota Hilux, with the pair due a good result.
Brothers Ian and Gene Boshoff will wage a family feud in Class E in a pair of LG Toyota Hilux entries. Ian will be partnered by Douw Grobler and Gene by Lotter Klein with both crews having only their second national championship outing.
With just four points separating them the event also takes on added importance for current SA Manufacturers Championship leaders Nissan and Toyota. An interesting duel is also starting to develop between third placed Ford and BMW who are separated by only four points.
Proceedings will get underway at 12:00 on Friday, May 20 with the Donaldson Prologue to determine start positions for the race. The race will start at 08:30 on Saturday, May 21 with race headquarters, the start/finish and designated service point all located at the Battlefields Lodge near Dundee.
Public access to race headquarters, the start/finish and the designated service point is free of charge. There is also no entry fee at spectator points along the route, and spectator guides will be available at race headquarters.
2011/05/17 | 20:39 CET | ARTICLE: MR/SY/FORTUNE