The question uppermost in anyone’s mind who follows the Absa Off Road Championship must be whether or not Ford can end Nissan’s winning streak and whether or not Special Vehicle championship leader Atang Makgekgenene can be beaten on the Mafikeng 500, which takes place on September 24 and 25.
In the Production Vehicle category each of the Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody crews has had a turn at winning this season with Production Vehicle championship leaders Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke emerging the winners on the Nissan Dealer 400 and the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan winning the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 and the Sun City 400 and Duncan Vos and Hennie ter Stege scoring their maiden win on the Lesotho Sun 400.
Team Ford Racing’s Neil Woolridge and Ken Skjoldhammer have finished in the runners-up spot on three occasions this year but have yet to capitalise on their 2003 Carnival City Casino 400 victory. The former champions have the ability and the vehicle to put an end to Nissan’s dominance and with only 18-points separating the top four teams in the Production Vehicle championship they stand a good chance of moving into the lead, provided they can pull off that elusive win.
Class D championship leaders and contenders for the overall title Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford have chalked up four successive class wins in their Arnold Chatz Cars Nissan Hardbody. The veteran motorcyclists have finished third overall on two occasions and are the likely Class D winners on the Mafikeng 500.
However, there are a number of teams out to unseat the Nissan pair. Castrol Toyota’s Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin have yet to pick up a win in their Hilux 2.7i and along with teammates Paolo Piazza-Musso and Rod Hering, who were the Class D winners on the Nissan Dealer 400, will be going all out to beat Cox and Pitchford and stave off any attack from a host of other Nissan crews.
The GBS Racing squad of reigning Class D champions Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo, Johan Gerber and Coetzee Labuschagne and JP Augustin and Johan Doubell as well as Arnold du Plessis and George Baker in the BB Auto Nissan can be counted upon to mount an attack on the Castrol Toyota crews provided they have sorted out the reliability problems on their vehicles.
Manfred Schroder and Jack Peckham have not had the best of seasons in the Team Ford Racing Ranger. Despite having led the class on at least one occasion in each race they have only managed to finish twice with their best result a second on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400.
Henri Zermatten and Bodo Schwegler is the only crew that has completed all five events to date and are the dark horses in Class D. The incredibly reliable Master Craft / Playstation Pajero is now in its 5th year of competition and quite capable of finishing on the podium.
The Bosal / N1 4x4 team fields two vehicles in Class D with both crews capable of a good result. Father and son Cliff and Louis Weichelt seem to have got their new V6 powered Toyota Hilux sorted out and had a good outing on the Sun City 400 while brothers Mark and Stuart Moffat have not had the best of seasons in the Land Rover.
Class E for two litre, four-wheel drive vehicles with limited modifications is dominated by Toyota with Hugo and father Jaap de Bruyn the runaway leaders in the Class E championship after three class wins in five outings in the Castrol Toyota Hilux.
The Castrol Toyota team fields one Hilux 2.7i and one Hilux KZ-TE for Gavin Cronje and Robin Houghton and Zane Pearce and Hennie Vosloo respectively. Cronje missed the first round because his vehicle wasn’t ready and has only finished one event this year with his most recent non-finish being when he crashed in spectacular style on Don’t Cough Pass during the Lesotho Sun 400. Pearce has had his fair share of incidents and has also managed only one finish. He rolled during the Lesotho Sun 400 but recovered to lead the class to within six kilometres of the finish when an upper control arm failed on the Toyota.
Lichtenburg 200 winners and Class E winners on the Sun City 400, Hein Moolman and Cecil Fincham, (4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux KZ-TE) farm in the North West Province and should be quite at home with the terrain on the Mafikeng 500.
Nissan’s challenge will come from husband and wife Neels and Zelda van der Walt who have finished in the runners-up spot on three occasions this season and brothers Jurie and Andre du Plessis in the BB Auto Nissan.
Class F for unlimited two-wheel drive vehicles has not had much support this year with Andre Botha and Beans Heydenrych (Kopanong Hotel Superteam Chevy) lone figures at most events.
The Special Vehicle category has the makings of an all out war between championship leaders and winners of three and two events respectively, Atang Makgekgenene and Buks Carolin (Total Jimco) who will have to face an onslaught from at least six Class A crews who are all capable of winning the Mafikeng 500.
Nissan Sugarbelt 400 winners and leaders for much of the Lesotho Sun 400, Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr and Lesotho Sun 400 winner, John Weir-Smith and a co-driver still to be named, because regular co-driver Geoff Minnitt will be climbing Mt. Kilamanjaro at the time of the race, will spearhead the attack.
Reigning Class A champion Gary Bertholdt has decided to move back to the Special Vehicle category after a four-race stint in a Class D Nissan Hardbody. He and sponsor, Siegfried Rosseau, who is enjoying his first season in off road racing, are confident that they can bring the Advansoft BAT across the line first.
Terence Marsh and Mike Whitehouse had a good run in the Nashua Mobile Jimco on the Lesotho Sun 400 where they finished third overall and can be expected to challenge for the lead while Frikkie Botha and Blackie Swart (Procoat Jimco), who have the speed but not the reliability to date, will be keen to chalk up a finish and possibly a place on the podium. The consistent Nick Harper and Andrew Chalupsky (BAT) can also be expected to pull off a podium finish.
The battle lines will also be drawn in Class B where former Class B champions Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain (JRE), who grabbed the Class B championship lead away from Adri Roets and Deon de Kock (Global DAD WPP) on the Lesotho Sun 400, intent on picking up another class win.
Class B winners on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, Hamish and Alistair Stubbs (Fence Erect Viper), Will Battershill and Reg Sutton (JRE), reigning Special Vehicle driver’s champion Giel Nel (Luk/ATE Truggy), Colin Matthews (WPP) who won the class on the Sun City 400, Ernest Corbett and son-in-law Warwick Goosen (Century Property Developments BAT, brothers Hendrik and Louis Fourie (Zarco Lite), Glenn Classen and Matthew Ludick (Radflo Zarco Lite) and Warren Classen and Kim Dixon (Radflo Zarco Lite) have the talent and the machinery to upstage Taylor and de Chalain.
Only three crews have managed to win in Class S but with one of them, Nic Goslar and Warren Bowie (Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco) out of action following a high-speed crash on the Sun City 400 and another, Class S winners on the Lesotho Sun 400 Nardus Alberts and Collin Hunter (Wrapsa Raceco) not entered it will be down to a handful of crews to fight it out. Also missing from the line-up will be Richard Schilling and Ashley Thorn in the Plastotech Raceco. Schilling will be overseas at the time of the Mafikeng 500.
Class S winners on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, Mohammed Noble and Richard Hope (Abe’s Furniture Raceco) from Botswana have the pace to outrun any Class S contender and barring any problems should be the runaway winners in the class.
The Mafikeng 500, which is sponsored by Total, Atlas Copco, ATS / First Prize Trophies, O’Hagan’s and the North West Parks and Tourism Board, gets underway with a 35-kilometre Prologue at 13h00 on Friday, September 24 with the main event starting at 08h00 on Saturday, September 25. The first car is expected at the finish at 14h00.