Cross-Country teams aim for hot startComment on this story
Production Vehicle championship hopefuls - and there are plenty of them - will be aiming to get their season off to a hot start on the RFS 400, Round 1 of the SA Cross Country championship, in the Magaliesburg on 1 and 2 March.
Championships are not won on the first event of a new season, but an early win or good performance works wonders for crew confidence in the most competitive series of its kind in world motorsport. Some new cars and driver/navigator combinations add to the expectation and uncertainty that always greets the opening of a new season.
There will be early pressure on the works Toyota squad, fresh from another Dakar Rally triumph for Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz. Reigning Production Vehicle champions Duncan Vos and Rob Howie will be keen to bounce back from an early Dakar exit, while Anthony Taylor will be paired with new navigator Dennis Murphy after the retirement of veteran Chris Birkin.
Both Ford Racing crews - former SA champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, and Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable - will be out in new Ford Rangers and there will be high expectations for them to produce good results immediately.
The factory teams will under pressure, however, from some pretty handy privateer teams in a highly competitive premier SP Class. Regent Racing has thrown no fewer than five entries into the fray with Terence Marsh and Gerhard Schutte, and Mike Whitehouse and Matthew Carlson leading the charge in a pair of V8 Nissan Navaras.
Back-up for the V8 entRies comes from Thomas Rundle and Juan Mohr, and German pair Jurgen and Daniel Schroder, backed up by the experienced Archie Rutherford who will have singer/entertainer Heinz Winckler alongside him in a third V6 Nissan Navara.
Tough competition is also expected from Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau in a Toyota Hilux; they'll be looking to go out with a bang while they wait for delivery of a new Nissan Navara, backed up by team mates Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson, who have moved from the Special Vehicle category to the SP Class.
LOOKING FOR CONSISTENCY
There are plenty of other crews who could spring surprises; Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren won last year's Sun City 400 in a BMW X3, and Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling will be out in one of the ex-factory Ford Rangers.
Former champions Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux (Toyota Hilux) will be looking for more consistency this season while Malcolm Kock and Johann Burger return to action in another Toyota Hilux.
KwaZulu-Natal pair Rowan Lamb and Lyle Parker will be out in another of the ex-factory Rangers, while there will be a two pronged attack from team mates Kobus van Tonder and Freddie Kriel, and the van Tonder siblings, Jacques and Lizelle.
Gerald le Roux and Riaan Gulpa will be out in the ex De Bruin/Greyling Ranger, alongside Graham and Trevor Leith, in the very first factory Ford Rangers, still going strong.
An interesting newcomer to the SP Class fold will be Dakar motorcyclist Iain Stevenson who will be out in a Nissan Navara with Keith Solomon navigating.
This looks like developing into a Land Rover versus Toyota battle. Former champions Jack and Sarel Oosthuizen will again lead the Land Rover charge in the LMC Defender, while the Toyota challenge will come from Mpumalanga brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Land Cruiser), and North West youngsters Jason Venter and Vincent van Allemann in a Hilux.
After romping away with the Class E title in a Toyota Hilux last season Dirk Putter and Koos Claasens will be back - but this time in a Ford Ranger. Putter and Claasens won seven out of eight events in 2012 and will lock horns with Dewald Hattingh and Doep du Preez in a Toyota Hilux.
Picking a winner in the Special Vehicle category is a risky business. There are three championship-winning crews in the field - including current champions Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen - and 10 drivers who overall race wins to their credit, eight of whom have scored victories in the premier Class A category.
Colin Matthews and Alan Smith (CR3) are among the Class P crews that have overall wins to their names and will again be among the frontrunners this season. One would expect, however, the bulk of the winners this season to come from the Class A brigade led by Hutchison and Stassen and BAT Venom team mates Nick and Ryan Harper.
Also BAT Venom-powered will be Quintin and Kallie Sullwald with family team mates Hermann and Wichard Sullwald out in a Porter.
Both Sullwald crews are former SA champions and with a year under his belt as a driver Quintin Sullwald could come into his own, while the Porter Sullwald crew will be keen to improve on a patchy 2012 season.
The husband and wife BAT team of Marius and Yolinda Fourie will also be looking for more consistency, as will veteran Nardus Alberts and son Louis, also in a BAT.
Last year's Sun City 400 winners, Lance Trethewey and Carl Wichmann, in an older BAT, will make one of their infrequent national appearances and cannot be ruled out of the equation.
Trethewey and Wichmann will lead a strong KwaZulu-Natal challenge that includes Clint Gibson and Gary Campbell in a Porter, Glenn Campbell and Clint Brook (BAT) and Daniel Brookes and Gavan Gray in another BAT.
Pieter Ruthven and ex-quad star Leander Pienaar (BAT) also showed flashes of form last season, while Keith du Toit and Luke Botha (White Star) have a Class A win under their belts. Brett and Steve Parker are reunited in their Jimco while colourful Jimmy Zahos and Stefan Coetzee return to action in their Porter.
Botswana driver Mogrey Mabille showed a deal of promise last season and again links up with Zelda Niemandt in a Zarco. Brother Daniel Mabille and Louw Zeelie will again campaign their Porter, while Congolese brothers Eduardo and Riccardo Argazzi add an international flavour to proceedings.
Proceedings should again be dominated by Matthews and Smith but there is plenty of quality and quantity in the field. The father/daughter combination of Coetzee and Sandra Labuscagne will again be out in their, and brothers-in-law Jeremy Wood and Chris Davies will compete in their Aceco.
Nic Goslar and Andrew Massey (Zarco) and John Telford and Jaco Swart (BAT) are back while Zarco driver Keith Makenete has a new navigator, Peter Hlhutwa. If there is a dark-horse crew however, it has to be Benoni father-and-son combination of Tony and Michael Gouveia, who completely dominated the Special Vehicle category in the 2012 Northern Regions championship.
Race headquarters and the designated service area will be at Tarlton International Raceway with free public access to these areas and the spectator points along the route. The prologue to determine grid positions will start at 12.30pm on Friday 1 March and the race proper at 8.30am on Saturday.