Nissan Motorsport, unbeaten in this year’s ABSA Off Road Championship, faces the final hurdle in the Carnival City 400 November 19 and 20, as the firm favourite to make it a clean sweep and record its fourth successive production vehicle championship. Nissan has already clinched its fourth straight manufacturers’ title.
2001 champions Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan and reigning champions Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke, will be aiming to make it another Nissan 1-2 in their Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody pickups, with a nail-biting contest between the two top crews for overall honours and the 2004 title.
De Villiers holds a slim two-point advantage over Grobler at the top of the points standings after winning the Toyota Dealer 400 in Mpumalanga last month. For Grobler to win his second successive title he must finish in front of his team-mate.
Also in with a mathematical chance are former champions and winners of the 2003 Carnival City 400 Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer in their Ford Ranger V6, who are 39 points behind the leaders. They have a tough task as they must win outright with the two Nissans both failing to finish.
Nissan Motorsport general manager Glyn Hall responds to questions about team orders with a smile: “Throughout the season our team has prepared identical cars with the aim of winning each race. Each of our three drivers (De Villiers, Grobler and Duncan Vos) has enjoyed the fruits of overall victory. This weekend is no different. We’re in the happy position of having two drivers in with a chance of taking our fourth championship.”
For the record, De Villiers and Grobler have each won three times this year with Vos, winning one round with co-driver Hennie ter Stege.
While the final outcome of the class T championship for modified vehicles rests with the three former champions, the class D championship for near standard six-cylinder vehicles will also be resolved this weekend. Currently leading after five class wins in their Arnold Chatz Cars Nissan Hardbody are Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford, but their advantage over second-placed Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin (Toyota Hilux) is just 16 points. Cronje and Birkin won the class in the last event after Cox and Pitchford had enjoyed five consecutive wins, so the scene is set for another gripping contest.
Cox, a multiple national off road and enduro motorcycle champion and star of the Dakar Rally, has made a most successful switch to four wheels and is determined to win his class in only his second season.
“We’ve had a really great year with a pickup that has been amazingly reliable, fast and tough. I made a mistake in the last event which cost us a sixth victory and I don’t intend to let this happen at Carnival City,” vowed Cox.
Also contesting class D will be Nissan privateers and reigning class champions Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo in their GBS Racing Hardbody. With only three finishes from seven events, Grobler’s defense of his title is over for another year, but he and Prinsloo will be looking for a successful end to the season.
Teammates JP Augustin and Johan Gerber will be giving maximum support in their Hardbody pickups, as will Arnold du Plessis and George Baker in their BB Auto Hardbody.
The battle for class E for near standard four-cylinder production vehicles has already been won by Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Toyota Hilux), but there is sure to be a scrap for the minor placings with Nissan privateers Jurie and Andre du Plessis (BB Auto Hardbody) prominent.