- Tense three-way battle at the top of Class T in Production Vehicle category
With the season entering the home stretch with the Harrismith 400 on July 28 and 29, fourth round of the South African Cross Country Series (SACCS), matters have gone pretty much as expected in the Production Vehicle category.
The two Toyota Gazoo Racing SA entries in the FIA Class are top of the overall standings and have preserved an unbeaten record that dates back to 2015, and an interesting tussle has developed in the Class T championship. The Harrismith 400 is a new event on the SACCS calendar and takes crews into virgin territory, but it is unlikely the status quo at the sharp end of the overall championship will change.
Reigning champions Leeroy Poulter/Rob Howie and Giniel de Villiers/Denis Murphy in the Toyota Hilux models running in the FIA Class, will start as outright favourites in the eastern Free State. Johan van Staden/Mike Lawrenson (Elf Renault Duster) have put together tidy results since joining the FIA Class ranks with Lawrenson, who has a family commitment, replaced this time out by the experienced Juan Mohr.
Red-Lined Nissan Navara team principal Terence Marsh, paired with celebrity co-driver Brent Lindeque, will also be back in action after the team’s recent Chinese adventure, and Hennie de Klerk moves into the FIA Class after winning the Dakar Challenge on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race. Achim Bergman is overseas taking part in the Red Bull Romaniacs Enduro, and de Klerk will have Adriaan Roets doing co-driver duty but the signs point to another Toyota Gazoo Racing victory.
The situation at the top of Class T is an interesting one, with the bottom line that none of the contenders can afford a bad race. Brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Hilux) currently lead the class ahead of Lance Woolridge/Ward Huxtable and Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer in a pair of Ford NWM Puma Lubricants Rangers.
Both Woolridge brothers trail the Horns by 22 points but for the trio it is a situation fraught with both dangers and high rewards. The 22 point margin is a precious cushion for the crew from Mpumalanga, but none of the trio can afford a non-finish and the Harrismith 400 is a race which could define the entire season for the Horns and the Woolridge brothers.
Henk Lategan and Barry White, in a third Ford NWM Puma Lubricants Ranger, have proven themselves to be super quick in their rookie year but have a couple of non-finishes to their credit. That has hurt them in the championship standings but they are a major threat to the Horns and their team-mates.
Reigning Class T champions Jason Venter and Vince van Allemann and father Deon Venter and Jaco van Aardt, in the 4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux entries, also found some form on the Desert Race and will be keen to build on encouraging results. But for other crews the Botswana weekend did not offer much by way of confidence building.
Former South African champion Chris Visser emerged pointless from the Botswana race and will be partnered this time out by Philip Herselman in the Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux. There were also disappointing results for Free State based Jacques van Tonder/Leander Pienaar (Ford Ranger) and Brian Baragwanath/Leonard Cremer (Ford Ranger), with Wayne and Laura Plit (OEM Lubricants/Motul BMW X3) deciding to give the only marathon race on the SACCS calendar a miss.
There is also a return to action for Luke Botha and Andre Vermeulen, in the Red-Lined Nissan Navara, after disappointing results on the first two events of the season. The Red-Lined outing in China also saw them miss the Desert Race and they will have a point to prove.
Former SA champion Jannie Visser and son Chris, in a Toyota Hilux, will be outright favourites to win Class S. The Vissers have won both races they have entered this season showing the opposition a clean pair of heels.
David Huddy will again be partnered by Gerhard Schutte, who navigated for Marsh in China, in a Nissan Navara, with rookies Richard Leeke junior and Henry Kohne out in a Ford Ranger. With a youth versus experience feel about it the battle between the two crews should be interesting.
Competitors will tackle a 45 kilometre qualifying race for grid positions starting at 14:00 on Friday, July 28. The race the following day starts at 08:00 and will be run over a compact 200 kilometre route to be completed twice, with a compulsory 20 minute service halt and re-bunch after the first lap.
Race headquarters, the start/finish and designated service park will all be situated at the Eeram Farmers Club with ample parking. The local Vroue Landbou Unie and farmers will supply an array of meals, buffet snacks and beverages throughout the weekend.
Cross country enthusiasts can also follow the fortunes of their favourite teams at home or in the office on the RallySafe app, downloaded free of charge, for iOS or Android systems. The app is user friendly and enthusiasts can follow the race via maps which chart the progress of each car with overall times and results.
With the added bonus of round four of the KwaZulu-Natal and Northern Regions championship, spectators can look forward to a bumper weekend of cross country motor racing within easy reach from KZN and Gauteng along the N3 highway.