|ABSA 2012: Titles at stake in Production Class at ABSA Championship finale.|
A pair of factory heavyweights will slug it out with two national Production Vehicle titles at stake, and an old warrior will ride off into the sunset on the Gold 400, the final round of the Absa Off Road Championship, on the West Rand this weekend (November 23 and 24).
Taking each other on in fights for the overall Production Vehicle and premier SP Class titles will be championship leaders Duncan Vos and Rob Howie, from the Team Castrol Toyota Hilux corner, and Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst from the Ford Racing Ranger stable. With an overall championship lead of 18,5 points and 25 to play for over the weekend the odds are on the Toyota team – but this is motor racing and anything can happen.
Against the background of the Toyota/Ford battle a touch of nostalgia will infiltrate proceedings when old warrior Hannes Grobler comes under starting orders for the last time in the RFS BMW X3. Multiple South Africa track, rally and off road champion Grobler will retire after a career spanning more than three decades.
The Gold 400 is also the final event to be run under the Absa banner. An 11 year association between Absa and off road racing ends this weekend with new sponsors on board for next year.
Former champion Vos and Howie have been at the sharp end of the overall and SP Class championship battles throughout the season. Matters have not gone that smoothly for Visser and Badenhorst, and it has taken a pair of successive victories on the 4x4 Mega World 400 and Human Auto 400 to propel them back into the title contention.
As is so often the case in title races of this nature both championships at stake could ultimately be settled by crews other than the two teams locked in battle. This is particularly true where Vos and Howie are concerned.
Nothing but a win will suffice for Visser and Badenhorst and Vos/Howie will be looking to team-mates Anthony Taylor and Chris Birkin and other Toyota Hilux runners to run interference. For their part Visser and Badenhorst will be asking for a supreme effort from team-mates Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable in the second factory Ford Ranger.
Upstaging the title combatants and taking a farewell win would, of course, be a fairytale farewell for Grobler and Hennie ter Stege. They are among a string of crews in a highly competitive SP Class who could end up on the top step of the podium – and that simply adds to the intrigue.
Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren won the Sun City 400 in the second RFS BMW X3 and Gary Bertholdt/Ralph Pitchford would like to end a disappointing season on a high note in the Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux. Louw de Bruin/Riaan Greyling (Ruwacon Ford Ranger) have come up with some solid performances this season and Deon Venter and Ian Palmer return to action in the 4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux.
A strong challenge will also come from the Regent Racing Nissan Navara entries in the hands of Mike Whitehouse/Matthew Carlson and Terence Marsh/George Smalberger. Whitehouse and Marsh are brothers in law and with three points separating them in the championship a little cameo performance is on the cards.
Two other Regent Racing entries won’t feature in the title battles but add a little spice to the menu. Archie Rutherford will be partnered by cricket legend Jonty Rhodes in the SA Warranties Nissan Navara, and German driver Jurgen Schroder will team up with Gerhard Schutte in the SP Laser Nissan Navara.
A final twist is the fact that the Gold 400 battle will be fought on ‘neutral’ territory. The race is the third this season to be run in virgin territory and provides a level playing field for a dramatic end to the Absa series.
Both the Class D and Class E championships have been settled and here the action will be of academic interest only. Australian resident Cliff Weichelt and Johan Smalberger (N1 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser) wrapped up the Class D championship on the Human Auto 400, and Dirk Putter and Koos Claasens (4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) did the same in Class E.
With six wins and a second in seven starts so far Putter/Claasens are the standout crew of the season. Another win would cap a remarkable championship for the pair.
Race headquarters, the start/finish and the designated service park will all be located 70 kilometres from Johannesburg at the Kloof Country Club in Glenharvie. Public entry to these areas and spectator points along the route is free of charge.
The Donaldson Prologue to determine race grid positions will start at 12:30 on November 23 and the race at 08:30 on November 24.
2012/11/19 | 12:53 CET | ARTICLE: MR/HS/FORTUNE