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ABSA 2012: Production Vehicle Category wide open at rd2 Toyota Dealer 400.




The combination of quality and quantity in the premier SP Class makes it impossible to predict Production Vehicle category winners at the Toyota Dealer 400, round two of the South African "ABSA Off Road Championship", in Mpumalanga this weekend (April 13 and 14).

Closeted among the more than 20 SP Class vehicles are at least half a dozen crews who will fancy their chances, with another half dozen all capable of producing surprises. It adds up to an inflammable situation that sets the scene for an intriguing race packed with action and drama.

After a thoroughly convincing win on the opening event of the season the Ford Racing pair of former champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst will start as pre-race favourites for many pundits. With Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable picking up second place on the RFS Magalies 400 in the second Ford Ranger TDCi, confidence is a commodity that will not be lacking among the Pietermaritzburg based team.

The Castrol Toyota Hilux team will feel they under achieved on the RFS Magalies event and Duncan Vos/Rob Howie, freshly installed as top 10 finishers on the Dakar Rally, and Anthony Taylor and Chris Birkin will want to steady the ship. The fact that this is a Toyota backed event adds a little pressure on team principal Glyn Hall and his squad.

The Castrol Toyotas are probably the biggest threat facing the Ford entries, but there are other potential dangers. Reigning champions Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux (International Truck Toyota Hilux), Pikkie Labuschagne/Rikus Erasmus (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux) and Gary Bertholdt, now partnered by Ralph Pitchford in the Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux, will want to put first event woes behind them.

Then there are the two Regent Racing Nissan Navara entries spearheaded by Terence Marsh and George Smalberger who got their season of the a solid start with a podium finish on the RFS Magalies event. Mike Whitehouse and Matthew Carlson scored a maiden national win on the Toyota Dealer 400 last year but a reshuffle brings Archie Rutherford into the squad.

Rutherford, the reigning Class P champion in the Special Vehicle category, replaces Whitehouse and makes his Production Vehicle debut. Rutherford is widely experienced but will be under a little pressure in a team waiting to take delivery of two new cars with V8 power.

The Nissan challenge will be bolstered by Thomas Rundle and Juan Mohr, who missed the opening event, in the Barden Tyre Services Nissan Navara. The pair were championship challengers throughout last season, and are listed among those crews who fancy their chances of an upset.

The two RFS BMW X3 entries, crewed by Hannes Grobler/Hennie ter Stege and Christiaan du Plooy/Henk Janse van Vuuren, also come into the picture. Both made solid starts to the season with du Plooy/van Vuuren starting to show a maturity that augurs well for their season.

The BMW challenge is boosted by the debut of the Vossies X3 crewed by the Rustenburg father and son team of Willem and Dana Vos. New car niggles will be their biggest problem and the crew will be happy just to see out the distance.

A trio of Ford privateers will also be happy to see out the distance. Louw de Bruyn/Riaan Greyling (Ruwacon Ford Ranger), Kobus van Tonder/Freddie Kriel (Uni Freight Ford Ranger) and Graham and Trevor Leith, in the Transcor Ford Ranger, will be more than satisfied with top 10 finishes.

Toyota privateers Malcolm Kock/Johann Burger (Kock and Sons Hilux) and Hugo de Bruyn and Henri Hugo (Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux) also fall into the capable of upsets category. Both crews saw out the distance on the RFS Magalies but this time around will be hoping for runs free of the niggles that plagued them on the opening event.

Class D also holds interesting possibilities with former champion Cliff Weichelt back from Australia for a second successive event. Weichelt and Johann Smalberger (N1 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser) will be after a second successive win but there is some tough opposition. Weichelt’s son Louis and Maret Bezuidenhout will be out in a second N1 4x4 Land Cruiser, along with local brothers Johan and Werner Horn in the Malelane Land Cruiser.

Toyota Hilux opposition will come from teenagers Jason Venter and Vincent van Alleman (4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) and Northern Region series graduates Jaco Visser/Werner Weiss in the Vossies Toyota Hilux. A move up in class and a non finish on the opening event puts young Venter and van Alleman under the microscope.

After a convincing win on the RFS Magalies 400 the Toyota Hilux pair of Dirk Putter and Koos Claasens will be hot favourites in Class E. Diederik Hattingh/Buks Cilliers (Transcor Toyota Hilux) will again rely on consistency with Absa series newcomers Rowan Lamb/Lyle Parker (Ford Ranger) and Johan Griffioen/Willem Marais (Force Fuel Toyota Hilux) looking to build on encouraging starts to the season.

Race headquarters and the designated service park will be at Lydenburg Toyota on the road to Long Tom Pass. Public access to these areas and to 14 spectator points along the route is free of charge, and spectator guides will be available at race headquarters.

The Donaldson Prologue on Friday, April 13 to decided grid positions for the race will start at 12:30 and the race at 08:30 from outside Lydenburg Toyota on Saturday, 14 April.

2012/04/10 | 15:27 CET | ARTICLE: MR/SY/FORTUNE











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