Works Toyota crew Duncan Vos and Rob Howie will be looking to consolidate their Production Vehicle lead on the 4x4 Mega World 400 at Carnival City, Round 6 of the SA Off-Road championship, to be run on August 31 and September 1.
Vos and Howie, who have won three times this season, will know that with three events left this season a win on the East Rand race will virtually lock out the championship. Their nearest challengers, team mates Anthony Taylor and Chris Birkin, are 23 points adrift and are under a little pressure from two other crews who still look to have a realistic shot at the championship.
Taylor and Birkin are 14 points clear of Ford Ranger crew Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst who, in turn, are just half a point ahead of Sun City 400 winners Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren in a BMW X3.
The two Toyota crews, and Visser and Badenhorst, are the only teams with a 100 percent finish record this season. But after winning the first race of the season the Ford crew has struggled with Visser and Badenhorst having on a couple of occasions to fight rearguard actions.
For their part Taylor and Birkin have yet to win this season. Breaking the ice at Carnival City would provide them with a timely championship boost.
HIGH ON CONFIDENCE
Free State crew Louw de Bruin and Riaan Greyling, in a Ford Ranger, will be high on confidence after a maiden podium finish on the Sun City 400. Pikkie Labuschagne and Rikus Erasmus (Hilux) overcame a five-minute penalty to come up with a strong finish, and Mike Whitehouse and Matthew Carlson (Nissan Navara) also came up with a solid performance.
Among the Sun City non-finishers who will be looking to set the record straight will be Toyota Hilux crews Gary Bertholdt and Ralph Pitchford, Deon Venter and Ian Palmer, Hugo de Bruyn and Henri Hugo - and Hannes Grobler and Hennie ter Stege in the second BMW X3. Two crews - Bertholdt and Pitchford, and Grobler and Ter Stege - will be desperate to avoid three retirements in a row, while Venter and Palmer will want to do well on their own event.
There will also be a great deal of interest in the first outing of the new V8 Nissan Navara in the hands of Terence Marsh and George Smalberger. The car made an appearance at Sun City but did not turn a wheel in anger.
Archie Rutherford's Navara will also attract attention - but for a different reason. After having Protea star 'Vinnige Fanie' de Villiers alongside him at Sun City, the experienced Rutherford will this time have former Springbok and Sharks rugby star Stefan Terblanche as navigator.
This category should provide for some interesting racing with class leaders Cliff Weichelt and Johan Smalberger (Toyota Land Cruiser) hit by a non-finish on the Sun City 400, allowing reliability experts and reigning champions Jack and Sarel Oosthuizen (Land Rover) to close the gap to just 3,5 points.
Weichelt and Smalberger will also have to contend with form crew Louis Weichelt and Maret Bezuidenhout who will be looking for a hat-trick of wins in the second Land Cruiser. Brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Toyota Land Cruiser) also come into the picture, while youngsters Jason Venter and Vincent van Alleman (Toyota Hilux) will be trying to rescue something from what has been a disappointing season so far.
Class E leaders Dirk Putter and Koos Claasens (Toyota Hilux) will be chasing their fifth win in six outings. They now lead the championship by a comfortable margin and will start hot favourites.
Rowan Lamb and Lyle Parker (Ford Ranger), Johan Griffioen and Willem Marais (Toyota Hilux), and Diederik Hattingh and Kobus Kruger (Toyota Hilux) have not been able to match Putter and Claasens for either pace or reliability. Interesting newcomers, however, are youngster Henk Lategan and Barry White in a Toyota Hilux.
Lategan and White come from the world of rallying with Lategan the son of former Toyota works driver Hein - another indication that blood is thicker than water - or engine oil, in this case.
Tough at the top would be an apt description of the situation at the sharp end of the Special Vehicle championship, as frontrunners Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson (BAT) and Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen (BAT Venom) have been the two most consistent crews throughout the season.
Each crew has a 100 percent finish record this season and they're separated by only three points in the overall championship - with the margin down to two points in the Class A stakes.
All of which means the East Rand event is a huge one for both crews with a rich haul of points a necessity. Also in the back of their minds will be the fact that teams have to drop one score at the end of the season.
Hutchison and Stassen are 33 points clear of reigning champions Hermann and Wichard Sullwald in their Porter, but there is a tremendous battle going on for third place. The Sullwald father and son combination are 1,5 points clear of Laurence and Gerhard du Plessis (Zarco) and runaway Class P leaders Colin Matthews and Alan Smith in their CR3.
All three crews were among the non-finishers on the recent Sun City 400 and will be looking to take advantage should the law of averages catch up with van Staden and Lawrenson or Hutchison/Stassen. The fact that all five rounds of the championship so far have produced five different winners would also suggest the Carnival City race is wide open.
Van Staden and Lawrenson, Hutchison and Stassen, the Sullwalds and Matthews and Smith have all won this season and missing from the 4x4 Mega World 400 entry list are Sun City winners Lance Trethewey and Carl Wichmann. The championship frontrunners are obviously among the potential winners but other teams are lining up to make it six different winners in six races - just like Formula One!.
Mark Corbett and Julien Hardy (CR4) powered their way from the back of the field to grab a podium finish at Sun City, and similar form will make them a threat. Nick and Ryan Harper (Revo 4x4), Marius and Jolinda Fourie (Porter) and Nardus and Louis Alberts (BAT) join the band of Sun City 400 non-finishers looking for redemption.
Add former champions Quintin and Kallie Sullwald (BAT) and KwaZulu-Natal crew Clint Gibson and Gary Campbell to the list of potential winners and you have a race on your hands. Pieter Ruthven and Leander Pienaar (BAT) have put together two good results recently, but from a championship point of view van Staden and Lawrenson and Hutchison and Stassen have once again demonstrated the importance of consistency.
On the Class P front Matthews and Smith are the obvious favourites. They are well clear of John Telford and Jaco Swart (BAT) who are now only six points ahead of Richard Fuller and Denis Murphy in a similar BAT. Swaziland crew John Thomson and Clinton McNamara (Zarco) will pose a threat and, while they cannot match the likes of Matthews and Smith for sheer pace, Sun City winners Coetzee and Sandra Labuscagne (Zarco) grind away at the opposition.
Rob Wark and Jeremy Wood (Aceco) will be making another appearance and veteran Ernest Corbett joins son in-law Warwick Goosen in his CR2. Also back in action will be brothers Keith and Andrew Makenete in a Zarco with Class P likely to produce some interesting personal duels.
Class B will be a straight fight between Grant Watkins and Charl van Jaarsveld (Zarco Junior) and Sidriaan de Villiers and Dwayne Voogt in a UTV, who come off a good result in the Northern Regions championship at Sun City.
The 4x4 Mega World 400 has in the past been regarded as a 'rainmaker' and unless there are good rains before this weekend, crews can expect another dry and dusty race.
Race director Adri Roets has said the route that will not differ much from last year; it will again be technical and includes some minor adjustments here and there.
“We have also tried to make the route more spectator-friendly by opening up some additional viewing points,” said Roets. “The big concern is, of course, the current dry conditions and, unless we get some good rains between now and the race, it is going to be hot and dusty.
“It is not going to be an easy route but it is interesting and we are going to make competitors work for their results.”
Race headquarters, the start/finish and designated service park will again be at Carnival City, in Boksburg, providing Gauteng enthusiasts with an up-close-and-personal look at the drama and spectacle of national championship off-road racing.
Public access to these areas and spectator points along the route will be free of charge. The race passes through a number of locations on the East Rand that are easily accessible from Carnival City and other centres.
The prologue to decide race grid positions will start at noon on Friday 31 August 31 and the race proper at 8.30am on Saturday 1 September. The race will be run over two loops of 160km each with a compulsory 15-minute stop at the end of the first lap.