CHAMPIONSHIP LEADER: Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie in their Toyota Hilux will look to add a second win at the Sugarbelt 450. Image: Supplied
PIETERMARITZBURG, KwaZulu-Natal - The Ford Performance team will be hoping for a fairy-tale scenario in the production category at the Sugarbelt 450, round two of the South African Cross-Country championship in KwaZulu-Natal over May 8/9.
The race will be based at the Beaumont Eston Farmers' Club, not far from Ford's Performance HQ in Pietermaritzburg, and offers the squad an important home-ground advantage in the on-going factory rivalry with Toyota. Each top contender in the Production Vehicle category has Sugarbelt appearances behind it and, in terms of what to expect from the route and conditions, the playing field is level.
Ford will, however, be hoping to exploit the incentive and passion that lifts an entire team on home ground and in former SA champions Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst and Pietermaritzburg-based Lance Woolridge/Ward Huxtable, each pair in a Ford Ranger, it has the weapons to spike Toyota's guns.
FORD VS TOYOTA
A win for Leeroy Poulter/Rob Howie (Hilux) and a third for reigning champions Anthony Taylor/Dennis Murphy, scored a points victory in the works team battle on the recent Endurance race in the Free State. After missing the 2014 season while Woolridge recovered from back surgery, the Woolridge/Huxtable combination took a workmanlike second place with Visser/Badenhorst fifth after a troubled start to the season.
Two highly professional works teams going head to head over a course that will be tight and tricky is an enticing prospect. There is little to choose between the two squads; it's in such circumstances that a little added incentive can tip the scales.
There are, however, some talented and determined privateers who could throw a spanner in the works. Gary Bertholdt/Siegfried Rousseau (Ford Ranger) were part of the Ford factory environment in 2014 and, on their day, are capable of out-running anybody.
Johan and Werner Horn (Hilux) will be looking to recapture the form that made them a standout combination a year earlier and Jason Venter/Vince van Allemann ((Hilux) will go into the Sugarbelt on a high. The young North West pair won the Dakar Challenge in the Endurance to win free entry into the 2016 Dakar in South America and are starting to show the maturity that comes with experience.
EX-BOK CAPTAIN IN CELEBRITY SEAT
Johan van Staden/Mike Lawrenson have already had a bite of the Dakar cherry and lead the Regent Nissan Navara challenge in the premier Class T for cars over four litres with independent rear suspension. Back-up comes from team leader Terence Marsh and ex-Springbok rugby captain John Smit, who makes another appearance in the Imperial Auto Celebrity Challenge.
The brother/sister combination of Jacques/Lizelle van Tonder (Ranger) made a steady start to the season on the Endurance but for Hennie de Klerk/Johann Smalberger (BMW X3) it is back to the drawing board. De Klerk/Smalberger are potential top-five runners but failed to finish the 2015 opening race so need to bounce back immediately.
A whole slew of teams need to bounce back in Class S for cars up to four litres with solid-axle rear suspension. Tough conditions on the Endurance saw only two Class S finishers with Portuguese pair Rómulo Branco/João Serôdio taking a debut win in their Navara.
With a high rate of attrition on the Free State race it was a somewhat fortuitous win for the Portuguese pair who, after starting in the pack at the back of the field, came home ahead of team mates Sean Reitz/Gerhard Schutte. The likes of Deon Venter/Jaco van Aardt (Hilux) and the husband/wife combinations Marius/Jolinda Fourie (Hilux) and Freddie/Sune Kriel (Ranger) each need to recover quickly.
TWO 160KM LOOPS
Race HQ, the start/finish and the service park will each be located at the farmers' club with free public entry to these areas and spectator points along the route.
The 100km qualifying race to determine start positions will start at 11.30am on May 8 and the race, to be run over two 160km loops with a 20-minute service halt after the first lap, will start at 8:30am on May 9.
Spectator guides and catering facilities from race HQ.
SWIFT PAIR: Rómulo Branco and João Serôdio raced their Nissan Navara to a debut win in Class S. Image: Supplied