Like last year the Carnival City 400, which takes place on November 19 and 20, promises to be a nail-biting finale to the Absa Off Road Championship except that this year the fight for the Overall Production Vehicle Championship and not the Special Vehicle Championship will be watched with keen interest.
Atang Makgekgenene and Buks Carolin (Total Jimco) clinched the Special Vehicle Drivers and Co-drivers Championships respectively on the recent Toyota Dealer 400 in Lydenburg while Vryburg based Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn won their second Class E title in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i.
The Production Vehicle category promises to be a no holds barred affair with reigning champions Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke in the Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody intent on winning back-to-back championships. However, teammates and former champions Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan also have a second championship in their sights and with no team orders coming into play theirs should be a scrap to behold.
The dark horse in the equation is the Team Ford Racing Ranger of former champions and last year’s Carnival City 400 winners Neil Woolridge and Ken Skjoldhammer. It would be wise for the Team Ford pair to keep the pressure on the Nissan teams in the hope that they falter, as they did last year, and steal the championship from under their noses.
An interesting entry is the Technosport Hungary crew of Sandor Kis and Pieter Czegledi, who have rented one of the Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody pickups for the Carnival City 400. The Dakar veterans can be expected to give a good account of themselves, although they are only here to gain some experience of local off-road racing conditions in the South African-built Nissan.
Another crew who could upset the applecart is Cliff Barker and Vic Campher who will be entering the MGM Motors Land Rover, which is ideally suited to the high-speed nature of the Carnival City 400 route. Mike Tomsett and Brian Haviland’s progress in the immaculate AK Stone Guards Mitsubishi Colt will be watched with interest.
Up until the Toyota Dealer 400 it appeared as if the Class D title would go to Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford in the Arnold Chatz Cars Nissan Hardbody who had notched up five successive class wins but a troubled run saw them finish way down the order and allowed reigning Class E champions Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i to close the gap. Cronje’s determination and race craft could see him and veteran Chris Birkin walk away with the Class D title. But the wily Cox, renowned for his courageous, never-say-die performances on his KTM in the Dakar Rally, can be counted on to fight to the bitter end.
Other Class D contenders to watch out for are father and son Cliff and Louis Weichelt in the Bosal / N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux, brothers Mark and Stuart Moffat in the Bosal / N1 4x4 Land Rover, Chris Fick and Rob Knight in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Land Rover and Henri Zermatten, Bodo Schwegler in the Master Craft / Playstation Pajero, Hein Grobler / Gerhard Prinsloo, Johan Gerber / Willie van Straaten and JP Augustin / Roelof van Heerden in the GBS Racing Nissan Hardbody pickups, Paolo Piazza-Musso and Rod Hering (Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i), Manfred Schroder and Jack Peckham in the Team Ford Racing Ranger and Arnold du Plessis and George Baker in the BB Auto Nissan Hardbody.
With the pressure now off the de Bruyn’s in Class E, one can expect them to pile on the pressure, as they did in the early part of the season, and outrun some of the more fancied Class D crews. However, they could elect to play a spoiling role by keeping Team Ford Racing’s development team, Baphumze Rubuluza and Khulile Vakalisa, at bay and allowing Gavin Cronje and Robin Houghton in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i to win and secure the runners-up spot in the Class championship.
Needless to say such a ploy could easily backfire because Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (Tyco Trucks Toyota Hilux 2.7i), Zane Pearce and Hennie Vosloo (Castrol Toyota Hilux KZ-TE), Hein Moolman and Cecil Fincham (4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux KZ-TE) and Dirk van Reenen and Dirk van Heerden Jr. (Ford Ranger) are all hungry for a class win and would not subscribe to such tactics.
Class F has effectively been a one-horse race this season with Andre Botha and Beans Heydenrych the lone entrants in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Chevy. However, some regional championship Class F crews are expected to enter the Carnival City 400 and provide them with much needed competition.
There is absolutely no doubt that the Special Vehicle category, and especially Class A for unlimited space framed vehicles, is going to be a war zone.
Newly crowned Special Vehicle and Class A champions Makgekgenene and Carolin should be relieved that they are no longer under pressure to perform because there are at least nine crews who will be vying for the runners-up spot or overall victory.
Nissan Sugarbelt 400 winner Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr in the Century Property Developments BAT want to finish the season with a win on the Carnival City 400 and clinch the runners-up position in the championship. Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau in the Advansoft BAT will be aiming to repeat Bertholdt and Brandon Harcus’ feat of last year by being the first vehicle across the line. Harcus, competing against Bertholdt this year in his new BAT single seater, also has another win on this event in his sights. Lesotho Sun 400 winners John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt are hell bent on winning in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jimco and on securing the runners-up spot in the championship.
Clint Gibson and Mike Brown (Praesidium Financial Services BAT) want to shed the bridesmaid’s mantle and score a debut win to secure the runners-up spot in the championship. Veterans Henry Kirstein and Renier Jooste have the pace in the Atlas Copco BAT but a series of damaging off road excursions have not helped their cause. Frikkie Botha and Blackie Swart finally have the Procoat Jimco sorted out and will be out to capitalise on their third place finish on the Toyota Dealer 400 by winning the Carnival City 400 overall. Shameer Variawa and Nadeem Dudhia need to show the true potential of the radical Oven Fresh Biscuits Porter by pulling off a win on home turf, while Terence Marsh and Mike Whitehouse have had a dismal season in the Nashua Mobile Racing Jimco with minor problems sidelining them on all but three events this season.
Based on current form the Class B win and the championship title should go to former Class B champions Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain in the JRE but they too have a hoard of hopefuls out to unseat them.
Reigning Special Vehicle and Class B Drivers Champion, Giel Nel (LUK/Ate Truggy) need only finish ahead of Taylor to secure the Class B Drivers title for the umpteenth time while in the Co-drivers battle it will be up to Adri Roets in the Global DAD WPP to ensure that he and Deon De Kock finish ahead of Taylor and de Chalain to secure the Co-drivers title for de Kock.
There is a lot at stake for the three crews and they can expect a strong challenge from brothers Hamish and Alastair Stubbs in the Fence Erect Viper, the Zarco Lites of brothers Hendrik and Louis Fourie, Glenn Classen and Steve Parker and John Thomson and Clinton McNamara, father and son Bes and Etienne Bezuidenhout in the Adenco Sandmaster, the Ultimo entries of George Barkhuizen and David White, Ernest Corbett and son-in-law Warwick Goosen in the Century Property Developments BAT and newcomers Evan Hutchinson and Claudia Bevilacqua in a brand new Nissan powered BAT.
Class S for unlimited space frame vehicles with trailing arm front suspensions should make for a good scrap with championship leaders Zane Noble and Richard Hope from Botswana the team to beat in the powerful Abe’s Furniture Aceco. Veteran Nardus Alberts and Collin Hunter (Wrapsa Raceco) won the class on the Lesotho Sun 400 and Archie Rutherford and Evan Hutchinson (Ruthcon Raceco) took home the laurels on the Toyota Dealer 400 and will be more than a match for the Gaborone based crew.
A touch of international competition, many championships still to be decided and a number of personal scores to be settled make for an intriguing Carnival City 400, which will be a fitting finale to the Absa Off Road Championship.
The Carnival City 400 gets underway with a Prologue, which will comprise three laps of the 6km stadium course at the complex, at 12h00 on Friday, November 19 with the main event, which consists of three laps of a 135km route, starting at 08h00 on Saturday, November 20. The first motor vehicle is expected to finish at 13h30.