JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng - They say the best is often kept for last; that could well apply to the Production Vehicle category at the Atlas Copco Gold 450, the final event on the 2014 South African Cross-Country championship.
The overall championship, along with the title races in Class T, Class S and the fledgling Class G, or Side-by-Side, category will be settled one way or another at an event which will again have its HQ at the Kloof Country Club in Glenharvie, KZN.
In 2013 it was the Special Vehicle championship that went all the way to the wire - this time the roles are reversed.
There are two horse-races in the overall, Class T and Class G categories with three drivers and two co-drivers fighting for top honours in Class S. That situation developed when Deon Venter (Toyota Hilux) swopped co-drivers mid-season with Jaco van Aardt replacing Ian Palmer.
The overall and Class T – cars over four litres with independent rear suspension – title chases are a straight race between reigning champions Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy (Hilux) and Mpumalanga brothers Johan and Werner Horn. The champions lead the Horns by 14 points in the overall championship and fourth will be enough to give them back-to-back honours.
TITLE ON A COUNT-OUT?
The situation in Class T is slightly different: here the factory crew needs third or better to take the title. In an unlikely scenario Leeroy Poulter/Rob Howie (Hilux), if they win and Taylor/Murphy finish out of the points, could tie their team mates.
Taylor/Murphy would take the title on a count-out but the danger over the race weekend for the Toyota crew is the dreaded ‘did not finish’ entry in the final scoring. Taylor/Murphy have had two non-finishes through 2014; another lapse would open the door for the Horn brothers who have performed wonders in their first season in the premier category.
While Taylor/Murphy have a tactically open-ended race the Horns will be forced to go for broke. But, as usual, there are other teams that might influence the outcome of the overall and Class T championships.
Chief among them are Poulter/Howie and the Ford Ranger teams of Gary Bertholdt/Siegfried Rousseau and former South African champions Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst. All three teams will do Taylor/Murphy a huge favour if they finish ahead of the Horns, who will have to do away with the conservative approach that has been a hallmark of their season.
BACK IN STYLE
Bertholdt/Rousseau are assured of at least fourth in the overall championship but a good result on their own event would provide a huge boost in confidence and a perfect finish to a good season. Visser/Badenhorst were in contention to win 2013’s championship but neck surgery this season kept Visser out of action until the Vryburg 400.
Visser, reunited with Badenhorst, bounced back in style with a win in North West and the pair will be hungry for more of the same. A little further incentive for themr is that Badenhorst leads Howie by only two points in the co-driver championship.
Apart from the four factory crews and the Horns, no one else has emerged during the season as a major threat. Johan van Staden/Mike Lawrenson (Navara) are preparing for the Dakar, Mike Whitehouse (Navara) is waiting for a new car, Christiaan du Plooy/Henk Janse van Vuuren (Ford Ranger) have had a disappointing season and, after a bright start, Kobus van Tonder/Freddie Kriel (Ranger) have faded away.
A final little cameo that will hold some interest, however, will focus on youth versus experience in the drivers' championships. Youngster Jason Venter, partnered by Vince van Alleman in a Hilux, leads Terence Marsh (Navara) by three points with another Celebrity Challenge co-driver set to partner Marsh.
MAKING IT MORE INTERESTING
Class S, for cars up to four litres with solid axle rear suspension, is delicately poised with three drivers and two-co-drivers in the title chases. Free State crew Louw de Bruin/Riaan Greyling (Ranger) have a one-point lead over former South African champions Jannie Visser/Joks le Roux (Hilux).
And, just to make it more interesting, Deon Venter is another nine points back in the drivers' championship. The cancellation of the Thaba'Nchu event provided some relief for De Bruin and Greyling but the situation is one in which the slightest mishap could see the status quo swing to and fro.
Pieter Ruthven/Hansie Rheeder (Hilux) have a win to their credit this season while there has been a shake-up in the Regent squad. Archie Rutherford will be partnered by the experienced Mathew Carlson, who will be having his first outing of the season, while Gerhard Schutte teams up with Sean Reitz who switches from the Special Vehicle category.
The Class G title races have also developed into two-horse races. A strong run of results in the second half of the season has taken Gareth Woolridge (Polaris) to the top of the drivers' standings, 18 points ahead of Brian Capper (Polaris).
Where the co-drivers are concerned, the boot is on the other foot. Jaco Swart, Capper's navigator, has a five-point lead over Boyd Dreyer who sits alongside Woolridge.
There is, however, a twist to the situation. Swart will miss the Atlas Copco outing and be replaced by Michael Abramson who has spent most off the season sitting alongside Jurgen Schroder in a Class T vehicle.
Race HQ, the start/finish and the designated service park will again be located at the Kloof Country Club in Glenharvie. Public access to these areas and spectator points along the route will be free.
The qualifying race to determine grids will start at 11.30am on Friday November 28, the race at 8.30am on November 29.