|ABSA 2012: Tough competition in Production Vehicles - Nissan/Toyota/Ford.|
More of the same is what the pundits will be expecting from the Production Vehicle brigade when this year’s South Africa´s "Absa Off Road Championship" gets underway with the RFS Magalies 400 at Tarlton International Raceway on Friday and Saturday (March 9 and 10).
Last season’s title race saw no fewer than seven teams go into the final event with a chance of winning the overall Production Vehicle championship. Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux (International Truck Toyota Hilux) eventually prevailed, without winning a race, and a glance through the entry list for this year’s opener gives a clear indication that this year’s title chase is going to be equally competitive.
More than a third of the 20 strong premier SP Class have tasted victory and there are a couple of other crews all capable of winning races. It adds up to a potentially explosive start to the season with everyone with title aspirations looking to get off to a fast start.
Visser and le Roux will again rely on consistency along with the likes of the two Regent Racing crews, Terence Marsh/George Smalberger and Mike Whitehouse/Mathew Carlson, in Nissan Navaras that will be replaced by new cars later in the season. Thomas Rundle/Juan Mohr (Barden Tyres Services Nissan Navara) will be looking to add consistency to their repertoire along with Gary Bertholdt and new navigator Siegfried Rousseau in the Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux.
Privateers have won the last two Production Vehicle championships and this puts pressure on the Team Ford Ranger and Castrol Toyota Hilux factory teams. For Glyn Hall’s Toyota squad there is the added burden of having to fulfil expectations after the Imperial Toyota team’s Dakar successes.
Ford will again be served by former champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst and Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable, while there is also continuity in the Toyota team via former champion Duncan Vos and Rob Howie and Anthony Taylor and Chris Birkin. Winning isn’t easy in the Absa series, but both the Ford and Toyota crews will be expected to win more regularly than has been the case in recent history.
Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege (RFS BMW X3) will also fancy their championship chances. They won last year’s RFS Magalies and will again have support from team-mates Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Jansen van Vuuren.
Former Class E champions Pikkie Labuschagne and Rikus Erasmus (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux) were last season’s surprise package. They will also make life uncomfortable for the factory teams with the likes of Malcolm Kock/Johan Burger (Kock and Sons Toyota Hilux); Hugo de Bruyn/Henri Hugo (Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux) and Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux) all capable of surprises.
An interesting addition to the SP Class ranks is the 4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux of former Class D champions Deon Venter and Ian Palmer. Their progress will be carefully monitored.
The Ford entries will be bolstered by Kobus van Toner and Freddie Kriel in the Uni Freight Ford Ranger and Graham and Trevor Leith in the Transcor Ford Ranger. Toyota, in turn, will additionally be served by Dewald van Breda/Johann du Toit (Potch Plastics Toyota Hilux) and Hennie de Klerk/Keith Solomon in the ex RFS Toyota Hilux.
On the Class D front champions Jack and Sarel Oosthuizen will be back in action in a Land Rover and can expect a tough time from youngsters Jason Venter and Vincent van Alleman (4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) who move up a notch from Class E. A second Toyota Hilux also sees Jaco Visser and Werner Weiss move up from the Northern Region ranks into national competition.
Late entries from Louis Weichelt and Maret Bezuidenhout and Cliff Weichelt and Johann Smalberger, both of them out in N1 4x4 Toyota Land Cruisers, provides the class with an added boost. Both crews will be serious challengers for class honours.
Another pair of Northern Region graduates, Johan Griffioen and Willem Marais, will campaign the Force Fuel Toyota Hilux in Class E. They will do a full season of national racing and will be joined by rookies Rowan Lamb and Lyle Parker in a Ford Ranger.
Reigning drivers’ champion Diederik Hattingh will again be partnered by Buks Cilliers in the Transcor Toyota Hilux with co-drivers’ champion Koos Claasens again sitting alongside Dirk Putter in the Sizwe Toyota Hilux. With Venter and van Alleman moving into Class D the Hattingh/Cilliers and Putter/Claasens combinations will be early season favourites.
Race headquarters and the designated service park will be located at Tarlton International Raceway and public access to these areas and spectator points along the route will be free of charge. The Donaldson Prologue to determine grid positions will start at 12.30pm on March 9 and the race at 8.30am on March 10.
2012/03/02 | 17:43 CET | ARTICLE: MR/SY/FORTUNE