Mooi River, KwaZulu-Natal - The battle between the Production Vehicle factory teams will resume at Round 2 of the SA Cross Country championship on 4 and 5 April, at the Toyota Dealer 450 in Mooi River.
Reigning champions Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy, and Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie got the Toyota squad's 2014 campaign off to a rollicking start with a 1-2 in the RFS 450, and would love to hang out the 'Business as Usual' signs on a Toyota sponsored event.
Mooi River is home territory for the Pietermaritzburg based Ford Racing squad but it's a new addition to the calendar, which rules out home-turf advantage.
Manfred Schroder will again deputise for Chris Visser, who underwent pre-season neck surgery, alongside navigator Japie Badenhorst in the lead Ranger, with team newcomers Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau hoping for a clean run, after a promising start in the season opener fizzled out.
Kobus van Tonder and Freddie Kriel (Ford Ranger) were the RFS surprise package with a memorable fourth place, and will be looking for more of the same on the short trip down the N3 from their home base in Harrismith.
Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson (Nissan Navara) were as steady as ever on the RFS 450 while Class T newcomers Jason Venter and Vincent van Alleman (Toyota Hilux), and brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Toyota Hilux) showed plenty of promise.
After a solid Dakar Rally debut Thomas Rundle, partnered by newcomer Brett Cummings, returns to action in his Toyota Hilux, while Sarel van Biljon and Phillip Herselman (Toyota Hilux) provide back-up for Van Staden and Lawrenson.
The Regent Racing Navara challenge will be headed by Mike Whitehouse and George Myburgh, and Terence Marsh and Springbok rugby giant AJ Venter, while Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren (Ford Ranger) will be looking to kick-start their season, as will the three BMW X3 crews - Hennie de Klerk and Johann Smalberger, Richard Fuller and Gary Austin, and Willem Vos and Werner Weiss.
Ford Ranger crew Pieter Ruthven and Hansie Rheeder got their Class S challenge - for cars up to four litres with solid rear axle suspension - off to a solid start at the RFS 450. Their toughest opposition, however, is likely to come from stable-mate Louw de Bruin in a diesel powered Ford Ranger (no team orders there!), newcomers Piet Kotze and Salomon Victor (Toyota Hilux) and Luke Botha who will joined by the highly experienced Andre Vermeulen in his Toyota Hilux.
Reigning champions Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen (BAT Viper), Quintin and Kallie Sullwald (BAT Venom) and Hermann and Wichard Sullwald (Stryker) - will be expected to be among the frontrunners.
However Gerhard du Plessis and his teenage son Gerhardus, who started the season with a solid third in their ageing Jimco, will pose a strong threat, as will husband-and-wife crew Marius and Jolinda Fourie in the PHB BAT. Du Plessis will be joined this time out by brother Laurence and another youngster, Adriaan Roets, in a Zarco.
Nobody knows quite what to expect from Colin Matthews, who has re-registered his Century Racing CR3 in Class P for the rest of the season after a DNF last time out, while Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr will miss the Mooi River round in favour of giving the new Century Racing CR5 a test outing at the Abu Dhabi Desert Classic.
The biggest local threat is posed by Lance Trethewey - a proven national race winner - and Geoff Minnitt in the ex-Hutchison Bat Venom.
"We will now be taking a cannon to a gunfight," said Trethewey, but lack of seat time in the car could backfire on the pair.
With Matthews back in the fold and reigning champions John Thomson and Maurice Zermatten (Zarco Magnum) also needing to recover from a disappointing fourth on the RFS 450, the ever-consistent John Telford and Andrew Makenete (BAT) - class winners at Harrismith - will be under pressure, as will father-daughter combination Coetzee and Sandra Labuscagne (Zarco), after a disappointing start to their 2014 campaign.
Leander Pienaar (Can-Am Maverick) dominated both the qualifying race and the main event at the RFS 450. With new partner Stephan Marais, he'll come under fire from Pietermaritzburg youngster Gareth Woolridge and Simon Harrison (Polaris Razor), and motorcycle trick rider Brian Capper and Jaco Swart in their Polaris.
Race headquarters, the start/finish and the designated service park will all be at the Weston Agricultural College on the outskirts of Mooi River on the old Greytown road. The route, however, could provide competitors with more unexpected challenges than did the well received RFS 450 course.
Route director Adri Roets said: "There has been a lot of rain in the area, and more is expected before the race. The route is wet and overgrown and more rain will make the river and ravine crossings interesting for both competitors and fans.
"The route criss-crosses the R622 to Greytown, with some very technical sections over rocky terrain and in forest areas - the crews are in for a busy weekend."
WHEN AND WHERE
The 100km qualifier to determine race grid positions will start at 11.30am on Friday 4 April, and the race proper at 8.30am on Saturday, over two loops of 175km each, with a compulsory 15 minute pit-stop at the end of the first lap.
Public entry to race headquarters, the start/finish and the designated service park, as well as spectator vantage points along the route will free.