The chips are down in the Production Vehicle championship and there will be some white knuckles around at the Toyota Dealer 400, penultimate round of the Absa Off Road Championship, in Lydenburg on October 10 and 11.
Nissan and Ford crews will go head to head on a Toyota event with high stakes in both the driver and co-driver title races in both the overall and premier SP Class. Only 13 points separate three drivers in their little battle with nine points the difference between the two main protagonists in the co-driver stakes.
On the driver front reigning champion Duncan Vos (Sasol Nissan Navara) has a slender four point cushion over former champion Neil Woolridge in the factory Ford Racing Ranger. Another former champion, Hannes Grobler in a second works Sasol Nissan Navara, is a further nine points of the pace with two wins in a row bringing the wily old veteran back into the championship picture.
The co-driver situation is a little different. Here Kenny Skjoldhammer, who partners Woolridge, has a slight advantage over Juan Mohr who sits alongside Grobler. In third place, 21 points off the pace, is Ralph Pitchford, who partners Vos but who has missed two events this season via overseas commitments.
Adding to the intrigue of a tight championship situation is the fact that among the drivers Vos and Woolridge both still have to drop one event from the scoring. The same applies to Skjoldhammer among the co-drivers.
While Vos has picked up three wins, with Pitchford and Louis Weichelt alongside him, the Ford crew – although winless so far this year - have been models of consistency. With a huge amount of experience on tap among the leading championship contenders, some hugely interesting tactical battles are likely to emerge in Lydenburg and at the last event of the year.
On top of that both the Nissan and Ford camps will be aware of the roles the Castrol Toyota crews of Mark Cronje/Chris Birkin and Anthony Taylor/Robin Houghton, along with Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn in the Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux, could play over the last two events. Cronje/Birkin have won once this season and mathematically are still in the title race, but the Toyota crews will be going all out for a win on their own event and could well influence what happens in terms of their Nissan and Ford rivals.
There is another reason for possible Toyota interference in the championship chase. Toyota has eked out a 30 point lead over Nissan in the prestige SA Manufacturers Championship, and will be looking to increase their margin.
In both the Class D and Class E championships the leading crews find themselves in a slight comfort zone. Of the two teams it is Class D leaders Henri and Maurice Zermatten, in the Ryobi Nissan Hardbody, who are more precariously placed.
A couple of good results have earned the Zermatten’s a 15 point cushion over Coetzee Labuscagne and Johan Gerber in the Raysonics Nissan Hardbody. Although they are out of the title picture, good recent results have also lifted the husband and wife team of Ramon and Maret Bezuidenhout (Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux) above Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Jansen van Vuuren in the RFS Toyota Hilux.
The experienced Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux have a tight grip on Class E. Visser/le Roux (Team Barberspan Toyota Hilux) have a 37 point lead over newcomers Dewald van Breda and Johan du Toit, in the Potch Plastics Toyota Hilux, and look to have the championship in the bag.
Reigning drivers champion Jack Peckham and Lucio Santoro, in the factory Ford Racing Ranger, have not had a happy season in third place, and are now coming under a little pressure from Deon Venter and Ian Palmer in the 4x4 Megaworld Toyota Hilux.
Venter/Palmer scored their maiden win on the recent Limpopo 400.