The event is the sixth round of the Absa Off Road Championship, and is the first time the series has ventured so far north. Organised by the Koepel Club in conjunction with the Pietersburg 4 x 4 Club, the Ford Motorite Limpopo 400 breaks new ground for crews, and no one really knows what to expect on an event that is highly important for championship hopefuls in both the Production Vehicle and Special Vehicle championships.
"One or two of the competitors have done rally events in the area in the past but, for the most part it is foreign territory for off roaders," said clerk of the course Willie Prinsloo. "That levels the playing field, and we are in for a highly interesting event.
As usual the mission for rival teams in the Production Vehicle category will be to stop the Nissan juggernaut. Reigning champions Hannes Grobler and Francois Jordaan currently hold a 10 point lead over Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody team-mates Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford, but still have to drop an event after so far putting together a 100 percent finish record this season.
Cox and Pitchford have had a string of recent wins, but on an event where the unknown is going to be a major factor, one would tend to opt for the experienced Grobler and Jordaan. Nissan, however, have added another element to the equation by giving their new Super Production vehicle a debut outing in the hands of Duncan Vos and Hennie ter Steege.
Barring mechanical maladies the Nissan trio would appear to be a shoe in, and much of the interest will revolve around the Class D battlefield. Manfred Schroeder and Alec Harris (Ford Racing Ranger) have won twice this season, as have former Class E champions Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i.
The other win this season went to Henri Zermatten and Bodo Schwegler (Master Craft Ryobi Mitsubishi) who took the Toyota Desert Race. Consistency is the Zermatten/Schwegler forte, and one doubts they have the pace to stay with the likes of Schroeder/Harris, Cronje/Birkin and the younger Cronje, Gavin, and the highly experienced Robin Houghton in another Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i.
Cronje and Houghton, who has rally experience in the Polokwane area, will be keen to bounce back from a disastrous Lesotho Sun 400, and Houghton's 'local' knowledge could be a factor in their favour. A third Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i, in the hands of Paolo Piazza-Musso and Ockie Fourie, could also be among the frontrunners.
Piazza-Musso also has rally experience to call on and this could be a major advantage for the pair. After a disappointing season so far, Piazza-Musso and Fourie will be looking for a change in fortunes.
Dark horses in Class D could be Polokwane based Arnold du Plessis/Johan Knox, in the BB Auto Nissan Hardbody, and team-mates Jurie and Andre du Plessis. Coetzee Labuschagne/Johan Gerber (Raysonics Nissan Hardbody) and scribe Deon Schoeman in the Topcar Nissan have had their moments this season and cannot be left out of the mix.
Current championship leader Zane Pearce, again teamed with Hennie Vosloo in the Castrol Toyota Hilux, will be a hot favourite in Class E. Pearce has a 100 percent finish record this season, and has yet to finish out of the top three.
Pearce and Vosloo, however, can expect some stiff opposition from two other Toyota crews. Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (Tyco Trucks Toyota Hilux) and reigning champions Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn. The Toyota runners, however, could have their applecart upset by Ford crews who will be desperate for good results on their own event.
Dirk Snr and Dirk Jnr van Reenen, in the Savannah Ford Ranger, have produced a couple of good performances this season, and will fancy their chances. The Ford development pair of Baphuma Rubuluza and Kulile Vakalisa, out in a Ford Racing Ranger, are still in a learning curve but could spring a surprise.
Class F stalwarts Andre Botha and Richard Carolin in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Chevy have so far had matters all their own way in Class F. That could change, however, with the consistent Mark and Stuart Moffat switching from Class D in the Bosal Land Rover to Class F. The clash between the two crews could provide one of the event highlights.
On the Special Vehicle front picking a winner is a highly risky business. It could boil down to an interesting contrast between crews who like to take the bull by the horns, and others who prefer to adopt a more cautious approach.
Consistency has paid off this season for current Class A and Special Vehicle overall leaders Terence Marsh and Michael Whitehouse in the Nashua Mobile BAT Spec 1. The same applies to the father and son combination of Nick and Ryan Harper, also out in a BAT, who won the Lesotho event to give the elder Harper his first win in 10 years.
Among the chargers the Bertholdt brothers, Gary and Bevan, will be looking to convert pace into points scoring finishes. Gary, partnered by Siegfried Rosseau in the Advansoft BAT, and elder brother Bevan and Nick Selamolela (iBurst BAT) have at times set a blistering pace only to run into mechanical maladies.
If they can see out the distance both crews are potential winners. In the same category is Brandon Harcus, in the Motorite BAT, who will be partnered by Sport Illustrated editor Steve Smith who is in for an interesting weekend.
Smith has never before sat in an off road vehicle. It could be en eye-opener for him in more ways than one!
Also in the mix will be veteran former Class B champion Giel Nel, in the Bosal ATE Luk Zarco who, after years of soldiering on single-handedly in his faithful Truggy, is enjoying the luxury of having a co-driver in Peter Newbery. Nel is also coming to grips with the new car, and his experience is a factor that cannot be discounted.
Will Battershill and Reg Sutton in the ex Marsh Jimco, and Clint Gibson and Marcelle Trethewey will be looking for clean runs, and could trouble some of the more fancied crews. At the end of the day, however, it is going to be a fascinating battle between the more adventurous and those who opt for a more measured approach.
The Class B battles sees Evan Hutchison and Trevor Ormerod start favourites in the Motorite BAT. Hutchison has performed wonders in his first year of off road, already has two wins under his belt and will be carrying most of the smart money in Polokwane.
Looking to derail the Hutchinson/Ormerod challenge will be reigning champions Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain in the JRE. The pair have been plagued by gearbox problems all season, but a clean run could see them pick up their second win of the season.
Consistency has also been a major weapon for Swaziland pair John Thompson and Clinton McNamara in the Mormond Zarco. They could improve on a string of third places and a fifth in Lesotho, with brothers Hendrik and Louis Fourie, in the Zarco Lite, in the same boat.
Hendrik is the designer and builder of the Zarco race cars, and must have been happy with third place in Lesotho. That will have given them a morale booster, and they could be Polokwane dark horses.
A couple of old stagers will be the out and out favourites in Class S. Former SA champion Richard Schilling and Chris Davies, in the Plastotech Aceco, have all the experience in the world and have a comfortable championship lead over Archie Rutherford and Vincent Horn in a Sandmaster.
Other top contenders in Class S will be Nic Goslar and Jacob Robbertze in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco. Goslar is back to full fitness after a major accident at Sun City last year, and will be keen to get back among the major points scorers.
Crews will get a taste of what to expect in the race during a 50 kilometre prologue from 13h00 on September 9. The race on September 10 will consist of three loops of around 140 kilometres, with the route meandering on either side of the Silica Road.
Race headquarters will be at the old Polokwane airport, but there are at least 10 good spectator vantage points along the road. The vantage points are all easily accessible and enthusiasts should be in for some memorable action.