SA Off-Road finale heats up
GOING DOWN TO THE WIRE: The Absa Off-Road championship is closely contested and it seems anything could happen at the last race for this season.
Two factory heavyweights will slug it out with two National Production Vehicle titles at stake and an old warrior will ride off into the sunset after the Gold 400, final round of the 2012 Absa Off-Road championship, on the West Rand over November 23/24.
Fighting for the overall Production Vehicle and premier SP Class titles will be championship leaders Duncan Vos and Rob Howie, (Hilux) and Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (Ford Ranger). With an overall championship lead of 18.5 points and 25 to play for over the weekend the odds are on the Toyota team – however this is motor racing and anything can happen.
Against the background of the Toyota/Ford battle a touch of nostalgia will infiltrate proceedings when old warrior Hannes Grobler (BMW X3) comes under starter's orders for the last time. Multiple SA rally and off-road champion Grobler will retire after a career lasting more than three decades.
Former champion Vos and Howie have been at the sharp end of the overall and SP Class battles throughout the season. For Visser and Badenhorst matters haven’t gone that smoothly and it's taken successive victories on the 4x4 Mega World 400 and Human Auto 400 to propel them back into the title contention.
Both championships at stake could ultimately be settled by crews other than the two teams locked in battle. This is particularly true where Vos and Howie are concerned.
Nothing but a win will suffice for Visser and Badenhorst while Vos/Howie will be looking to team mates Anthony Taylor and Chris Birkin and other Toyota Hilux runners to run interference. For their part Visser and Badenhorst will be asking for a supreme effort from team mates Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable in the second factory Ford Ranger.
Upstaging the title combatants and taking a win would, of course, be a fairytale farewell for Grobler and Hennie ter Stege. They are among a string of crews in a highly competitive SP Class who could end up on the top step of the podium.
Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren won the Sun City 400 in the second RFS BMW X3 and Gary Bertholdt/Ralph Pitchford would like to end a disappointing season on a high note in the Toyota Hilux. So far coming up with solid performances this season is Louw de Bruin/Riaan Greyling (Ford Ranger) and Deon Venter and Ian Palmer return to action in the Toyota Hilux.
NEUTRAL PLAYING GROUND
A strong challenge will also come from the Nissan Navara entries in the hands of Mike Whitehouse/Matthew Carlson and Terence Marsh/George Smalberger.
A final twist is the Gold 400 battle will be fought on “neutral” territory. The race is the third this season to be run in virgin territory and provides a level playing field for a dramatic end to the series.
Both Class D and Class E championships have been settled and here the action will be of academic interest only. Australian resident Cliff Weichelt and Johan Smalberger (Toyota Land Cruiser) wrapped up the Class D championship on the Human Auto 400, and Dirk Putter and Koos Claasens (Toyota Hilux) did the same in Class E.
With six wins and second place in seven races so far, Putter/Claasens are the standout crew of the season. Another win would cap a remarkable championship for the pair.
Race headquarters, the start/finish and the designated service park will all be located 70kms from Johannesburg at the Kloof Country Club in Glenharvie. Public entry to these areas and spectator points along the route is free of charge.
The Donaldson Prologue to determine race grid positions will start at 12:30pm on November 23 and the race at 08:30am on November 24, 2012.