The Lesotho Sun 400, the fifth round of the Absa Off Road Championship, which takes place in Lesotho on August 20 and 21, marks the return of the off road car racing fraternity to the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho for the first time since the Roof of Africa in 2000, and presents competitors with a real challenge.
Veteran competitors, many of whom are strong contenders in the Production and Special Vehicle categories, will not be fazed by the challenge but newcomers will more than likely be filled with trepidation.
The defending Production Vehicle Driver’s Champion and Class T leader, Hannes Grobler (Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody) won the Roof of Africa in 1986 and 1988 together with the President of the MSA Off Road Car Racing Commission, Piet Swanepoel while Grobler’s navigator, Richard Leeke, shared the cockpit of the Toyota Hilux with Kassie Coetzee when they won overall in 1993. Grobler and Leeke are currently in a commanding position in the championship and along with their team-mates and Nissan Dealer 400 and Sun City 400 winners, Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan must start as favourites to win.
Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjöldhammer (Ford Racing Ranger) would like to win this event, as both of them are two times winners of the Roof of Africa. Woolridge and Skjoldhammer won the motorcycle category in 1984 and 1976 respectively with Skjöldhammer winning in 1989 in the Durex Raceco driven by Robin Yates and Woolridge and Paul Vermaak winning overall in a Mitsubishi Pajero in 1999.
An interesting entry is that of Cliff Barker and Mike Reddin in the BMW M3 powered Land Rover Defender. Barker and Reddin won the 1994 Roof of Africa in a Land Rover Defender and are more than capable of pulling off an upset win on the Lesotho Sun 400.
Another Roof of Africa veteran, Alfie Cox, who has won the Roof a record nine times and has notched up three successive Class D wins with former off road motorcycle champion Ralph Pitchford in the Arnold Chatz Cars Nissan Hardbody. The pair knows the Mountain Kingdom better than most and will put their combined knowledge of the terrain to good use.
The Class D struggle is getting serious with Henri Zermatten, who is known for always getting his vehicle to the finish line, and navigator, Bodo Schwegler (Master Craft/Playstation Pajero) chasing Cox and Pitchford.
Castrol Toyota’s Mark Cronje will no doubt be filled with trepidation as this will be his first visit to Lesotho but co-driver Chris Birkin has completed a number of Roofs with brother Andrew Birkin, which should provide the youngster, who wants to regain the Class D championship lead, with some comfort.
Other Class D entries to look out for are the GBS Racing Nissan Team consisting of reigning Class D champions, Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo, Johan Gerber together with Wiley Harrington in the navigator’s seat and JP Augustin and Johan Doubell. Manfred Schröder and Jack Peckham are still experiencing niggling problems with the new Team Ford Racing Ranger, which failed to finish the last two events while Paulo Piazza-Musso and Rod Hering (Castrol Toyota Hilux) finished three of the four events so far.
Hugo de Bruyn and his father, Jaap, (Castrol Toyota Hilux 2,7i) did not have the best of outings at the recent Sun City 400, but kept their lead in Class E and are currently fourth in the overall Production Vehicle Championship, but can expect a fight from Sun City 400 winners, Hein Moolman and Cecil Fincham (4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux KZ-TE). Although quite far behind the Class E leaders but second in this class championship, the ever consistent van der Walt couple, Neels and Zelda (Nissan Hardbody) would like to better their overall position.
The Ford Racing Ranger development team, Baphumze Rubuluza and Khulile Vakalisa, who have finished all but one of the events in their debut season, will no doubt put the van der Walt’s under pressure as will the Castrol Toyota Hilux teams of Zane Pearce and Hennie Vosloo and Gavin Cronje and Robin Houghton. Apie Reyneke and Houghton won the Roof of Africa in 1996 and Houghton’s familiarity with the terrain will be an advantage.
After their first Class F victory this season, André Botha and Beans Heydenrych (Kopanong Hotel Superteam Chevy) are now leading this class and would like to strengthen their position by scoring points in Lesotho. Whether or not the rather large Chevy will make it through some of the narrow sections of the route remains to be seen.
In the Special Vehicle category, the Nissan Dealer 400, Toyota Desert Race 1000 and Sun City 400 winner, Atang Makgekgenene (Total Jimco) would like to score a hat-trick together with navigator, Buks Carolin. Although Carolin has participated in many a Roof of Africa, he has never won in Lesotho and for Makgekgenene it will be his first visit to Lesotho.
Mark Corbett and Juan Möhr won the last Roof of Africa in which the motor vehicles participated in 2000. Corbett and Gavin Kelsey (Century Property Developments BAT) won the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 and finished second at the opening round of the Absa Off Road Championship in the Western Cape, but could not finish a race since then.
After consistent performances in their BAT Nick Harper and Andrew Chalupsky have moved to second overall in the Special Vehicle championship while Clint Gibson and Mike Brown (Praesidium Financial Services BAT), who have scored points only twice this season, are in fourth place.
The son of well-known off-road veteran Arthur Harcus who won the Roof in 1978, Brandon, will return from overseas to compete in the Lesotho Sun 400. Harcus is undecided as to whether he will race a twin seater BAT or his new single seater BAT that he intends to race in the Baja 1000 in Mexico later this year.
Class A outsiders who showed huge potential this season, are former Special Vehicle champion Shameer Variawa and Nadeem Dudhia (Oven Fresh Biscuits Porter), Terence Marsh and Mike Whitehouse (Nashua Mobile Racing Jimco) and John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt (Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jimco).
In Class B the battle will be on between the defending Special Vehicle Driver’s Champion, Giel Nel (Luk/Ate Truggy) and former Class B champions, Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain (JRE) with the Stubbs brothers, Hamish and Alistair in the Viper. The locally designed and built Zarco Lite vehicles of brothers Hendrik and Louis Fourie and Glen Classen and Matthew Ludick should fare well in Lesotho. Ernest Corbett and son-in-law Warwick Goosen will also be strong contenders in the Class B Century Property Developments BAT.
Veterans Richard Schilling and Lesotho national, Ashley Thorn, (Plastotech Raceco) are both multiple winners of the Roof of Africa. Schilling won with Fred Levesque in 1990, with Rob Wark in 1991 and Thorn in 1992 while Thorn won as the co-driver to Stanley Illman and Frans Stangl in 1999. Thorn will be officiating on the event so off road motorcyclist Chris Davies will co-drive for Schilling. The highly experienced pair will be difficult to beat in Class S and stand an outside chance of pulling off the overall win in the Special Vehicle category.
The Gibson family will be out in force in Class S with entries for Clint Gibson’s father, Rob and Clint Barnard and his brother Glenn who will both be competing in Praesidium Raceco’s.
The Lesotho Sun 400 gets underway at 12h00 on Friday, August 20 with a 4km Special Stage at the Maseru Race Course, or Pope’s Stadium as it is commonly referred to, followed by a 40km Prologue, which starts in Roma and finishes in Matsieng. The main event on Saturday will comprise two laps of a 170km course in the lowlands South East of Maseru with the first car starting at Matsieng at 07h00.