Works Cross-Country teams announcedComment on this story
After the usual round of musical chairs, rival factories Toyota and Ford have announced their teams for the 2014 Cross-Country Championships, with some new faces and some new weapons - particularly in light of a radical change in the class regulations for this year.
The South African National Off-Road Racing Association has split the existing SP Class in two to level the playing field, by separating the older V6-powered bakkies from the latest high-tech entries with V8 engines, built to Class T rules for the Dakar Rally.
The new, South African version of Class T will be open to vehicles with an engine capacity of 4000cc or more, running either the live rear axle used in 2013 or independent rear suspension as per Dakar Rally rules, while the new Class S category will cater for vehicles with a maximum engine capacity of 4000cc, with a live rear axle only.
The race format has also been revised for 2014.
Qualifying races to determine the start positions will now be run over 100km, and the race distance for each of the South African rounds has been increased from 400 to 450km.
Reigning Cross-Country champions Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy will lead the Toyota charge aboard the Class T Hilux in which Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz finished fourth overall and first in the petrol-powered 4x4 class in the Dakar Rally in South America in January.
Backing them will be the new combination of Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie in the second Dakar-spec Hilux in which Poulter and Howie finished 33rd in Poulter's first Dakar Rally.
In addition, privateer Thomas Rundle, who finished an excellent 25th in the Dakar Rally at his first attempt, will campaign the Class T independent rear suspension Hilux in which De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz finished second in the 2013 Dakar Rally.
Jason Venter and Johan Horn, who finished first and second respectively in the 2013 Class D championship for six-cylinder Group N production vehicles, have acquired last season's works Toyota V8 Hilux bakkies and will also compete in the new Class T.
2010 champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst will be joined by multiple race winner Gary Bertholdt and his regular co-driver Siegfried Rousseau, in the two Class T Ford Racing Rangers.
Bertholdt replaces Lance Woolridge, who has been ruled out of competition for the year due to a back operation.
Ford Racing team manager Neil Woolridge said: "It's a pity to have Lance out of action, as he is consistently quick and took the Ranger to its first win on its maiden outing last year. But he's still young and it's important for him to recover fully before competing again.
"Gary and Siegfried bring a lot of experience and proven talent to the team, having been front-running privateers for many years."
2014 SA Cross Country Championship
1 RFS 450 (Free State) 28 February-1 March
2 Toyota Dealer 450 (KwaZulu-Natal) 4-5 April
3 Nkomazi 450 (Mpumalanga) 16-17 May
4 Botswana 1000 Desert Race (Botswana) 27-29 June
5 Sun City 450 (North West) 8-9 Augus)
6 Vryburg 450 Challenge (North West) 12-13September
7 Free State 450 (Free State) 24-25 October
8 Atlas Copco Gold 450 (Gauteng) 28-29 November