ABSA OFF ROAD CHAMPIONSHIP Heading the entry list for the fifth round of the championship in the production vehicle category are championship leaders Hannes Gobbler and Francois Jordaan in their Proudly South African Nissan Hardbody. They will be looking to make up for Grobler’s disappointment in Lesotho last year, when he and co-driver Richard Leeke, were forced to retire with power steering problems while lying second to eventual winners and team-mates Duncan Vos and Hennie ter Stege.
Their main challenge will come from Proudly South African Nissan team-mates Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford, winners of the last two events and currently second overall in the championship, 16 points behind the leaders.
Third overall by just six points and second in class D are Gavin Cronje and Robin Houghton in the Castrol Toyota Hilux. Cronje is having his best year in off road racing and, helped by the experienced Houghton, a multiple past champion in the overall co-drivers’ category, will be looking for another good result.
Hot on their heels are the ever-consistent Henri Zermatten and Bodo Schwegler (Mastercraft Ryobi Mitsubishi Pajero), aiming for an unprecedented 18th consecutive finish.
With only two vehicles contesting the top class in the production vehicle category (this will change with the new Polokwane event in Limpopo Province in September, when Ford, Nissan and Toyota are expected to debut their new 4-litre pickups in the newly-created Super Production class), class D teams have been vying for podium positions in recent events.
Only 17 points separates the top four contenders in the class, with joint third-placed crews, in the overall championship, Manfred Schroder/Alec Harris (Team Ford Racing Ranger) and Mark Cronje/Chris Birkin (Castrol Toyota Hilux) only seven points adrift of Zermatten and Schwegler. A race-long battle can be expected among these four, for both class D honours and a possible podium position, on Saturday.
Other class D contenders in with a good chance of success are the Coca Cola-backed BB Auto team from Polokwane consisting of brothers Arnold and Jurie du Plessis in their red Nissan Hardbody pickups. Both are enjoying their best seasons for some time and Jurie, with third brother Andre as his co-driver, will be fiercely defending a two point advantage over Arnold and co-driver Johan Knox.
Paolo Piazza-Musso and Ockie Fourie (Castrol Toyota Hilux), Coetzee Labuschagne and Johan Gerber (Raysonics Nissan Hardbody) will also hope to be in contention in Lesotho.
Leading class E at the halfway stage of the championship after good finishes in each of the first four events is Zane Pearce and Hennie Vosloo (Castrol Toyota Hilux). They can expect stiff competition from reigning class E champions Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn, who have struggled a bit this year and will want to finish the Lesotho Sun 400 after scoring no points in the last two events.
Other class E contenders to watch are Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (Tyco Trucks Toyota Hilux), winners at Sun City last month, father and son combination Dirk snr and Dirk jnr (Savannah Ford Ranger), Team Ford Racing’s Baphumze Rubuluza and Khulile Vakalisa (Ford Ranger) and Thomas Rundle/Stavros Yiannakis (Barden Tyre Services Nissan Hardbody).
The Special Vehicle category has seen four different overall winners in the four events run so far, so predicting a winner is far from a certainty. Terence Marsh and Michael Whitehouse (Nashua Mobile BAT Spec-1), winners of the Nissan Dealer 400 in the Western Cape in April, have been the most consistent and lead class A by six points from Botswana’s Atang Makgekgenene and Buks Carolin, winners of the Toyota 1000 Desert Race in June in their Total-backed Jimco.
The latter pairing will not be contesting the Lesotho event and neither will Sun City 400 winners Gerhard du Plessis/Ferdie Seegers (Jimco), leaving the way open for third-placed Giel Nel/Peter Newbery (Bosal LUK Ate Zarco) and fourth-placed Will Battershill/Reg Sutton (Jimco) to improve their championship positions.
Father and son Nick and Ryan Harper (BAT-Audi), Gary Bertholdt/Siegfried Rosseau, winners of the season-opening Nissan Sugarbelt 400 in March in their Advansoft iBurst BAT) and Bevan Bertholdt/Nick Selemolela (Advansoft iBurst BAT Spec-1) will also be keen to stake their claims.
The strong field of contenders for the top class includes Shameer Variawa/VZ van Zyl (Total Porter), father and son team Rob and Gareth Wark (Superpave Chenowth) and Clint Gibson and Marcelle Trethewey (Gibson Plant Hire BAT).
The experienced duo of Richard Schilling and Chris Davies (Plastotech Aceco) lead class S by 16 points and will start as favourites for a third successive class win, but they can expect a good run for their money from Archie Rutherford and Vincent Horn (Sandmaster), whose second place in the Sun City 400 was their best result to date.
There’s a battle royal shaping up in a closely contested class B. Reigning champions Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain (JRE) enjoy a slender one-point lead over championship debutantes Evan Hutchison/Trevor Ormerod (Motorite BAT-Nissan). Each pairing has a win to its credit so far and both have finished three of the last four events.
Also in with a chance are brothers Rudi and Pierre van Graan (Technochair Zarco), John Thomson and Clinton McNamara (Mormond Zarco Lite), and David White in the ex-Giel Nel championship-winning single-seater Truggy.
The Lesotho Sun 400 will start in the mountain kingdom on Friday, August 5 at 13h00. This will be followed immediately by a 32-km prologue. The main race will start at 08h00 on Sunday, August 6 from Matsieng, near Maseru, which will also serve as the designated service point (DSP) and the finish.