The event, again based at the Eston Club just outside Pietermaritzburg, is round two of the Absa Off Road Championship, always comes up with something a little out of the ordinary. That could again be the case this year, but such is the quality and depth of the Class A field that in trying to pick an winner one might be best served by the blindfold and pin method.
The opening event of the season, the Nissan Dealer 400 in the Western Cape, produced a stunning performance from Brandon Harcus in the Motorite BAT singleseater. Harcus, who has since become the proud father of a daughter, pulverized the Class A field.
Harcus, however, is unlikely to come up with a repeat performance for the simple reason that the Sugarbelt route is always technically demanding and handling driving and navigating duties is biting off more than you can chew. For all that Harcus will be a threat on an event where one would tend to favour crews who adopt a more cautious approach to their racing.
Reigning champions Terrence Marsh and Mike Whitehouse, in the Nashua Mobile BAT, fall firmly into this category and betting men would favour a flutter on the pair at any odds. Chargers like Gary Bertholdt/Henry Kirstein (Atlas Copco BAT), Evan Hutchison/Achim Bergman (Motorite BAT) and Alfie Cox/Hennie ter Steege (Motorite BAT) all showed plenty of pace at some stage or other on the Western Cape opener.
A variety of mechanical failures sidelined the lot of them. The likes of Nick and Ryan Harper (BAT), Rob and Gareth Wark (Superpave Chenowth) and Clint Gibson and Mike Brown, in the Absolute BAT, were also hit by mechanical dramas but all have the potential to win the Nissan Sugarbelt 400.
One also needs to add to the Nissan Sugarbelt mix, however, a string of crews who missed the opening event of the season. Included in this number are Herman and Bertha Sullwald and Karl-Heinz Sullwald/Paul Helberg, with both crews out in Sullwald Transport Zarcos, Nardus Alberts and Collin Hunter in a new Wrapsa BAT and John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt in a Jimco.
John Moore and Ashley Thorn, in the Koloi Chev Chenowth, were an impressive fourth in the Western Cape and Giel Nel and Johan Smalberger look as though they could weld into a useful combination in the Bosal LUK Truggy. Given the severity of the Sugarbelt route and the vagaries of motor racing, this is one event where one would fancy those crews who adopt a softly, softly catchee-monkey approach to outscore the brigade of chargers.
The Class B field is also full of quality entries and should provide for some good racing with one or two crews out to prove a point after disappointing starts to the season. Former champions Marcus Taylor and Marc de Chalain, on home ground in the Cle` JRE, fall into this category and will have a battle on their hands against impressive Western Cape winners Bez Bezuidenhout/Johan de Bruyn, in the Adenco Sandmaster, and Ernest Corbett and Warwick Goosen in the Century Property Developments BAT.
Rudi and Pierre van Graan, in the Zarco Lite, also come into the picture along with John Thompson and Clinton McNamara, in another Zarco, and David White in the Ruwacon Truggy. There will be a great deal of interest in the return to racing of experienced Marius and Tracy van Vuuren who will be out in a Bosal backed Zarco.
As was the case in the Western Cape where Bezuidenhout and de Bruyn finished fifth overall, the Class B contingent will be out to upset a few Class A applecarts. It would come as no surprise to see three or four of the Class B runners finish in the top 10.
Top 10 finishes will also be an incentive for Class S runners where the crew to beat, after an impressive seventh overall on the Nissan Dealer 400, look to be Archie Rutherford and Craig Doubtfire in the Nashua Mobile Raceco. Reigning champions Richard Schilling and Chris Davies (Plastotech Nissan) will want to get their season back on track after a disappointing first outing – with years of experience their biggest weapon.
Naeem Moosajee and Naazim Moti, in the Tyre Rack Mighty Mag, also pose a threat with Nic Goslar and George Bowie (Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco) completing the numbers in a class that has the potential for some interesting encounters. At this early stage, however, Rutherford and Doubtfire look to be the frontrunners.
There was never any doubt before the start of the season that the Special Vehicle category, and particularly Class A, was going to be a war zone. The opening event simply confirmed the status quo, and there will be no prisoners taken on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400.