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Posted 11th May 2010


A Production Vehicle category dog fight is almost certain to develop on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400, round three of the Absa Off Road Championship, in the Eston area of KwaZulu-Natal on May 16 and 17.

The premier Super Production Class is now crammed with potential winners representing reigning champions Nissan, Toyota and Ford.  Nissan have dominated their own race for a number of seasons but a Toyota crew currently leads the overall championship, and a Ford crew on home territory will be heavily favoured.

As ever the Nissan challenge is a tough one. Reigning champion Duncan Vos, reunited with regular co-driver Ralph Pitchford, Hannes Grobler/Juan Mohr and Norwegian Ivar Tollefsen, who teams up with reigning co-drivers champion Francois Jordaan are all potential winners.

Jordaan sits in for Briton Quin Evans whose wife is expecting a baby. With plenty of pace and experience Nissan will want to get back to winning ways after the win by Castrol Toyota Hilux pair Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin on the Eastern Cape 500. By the same token Cronje/Birkin head the championship after their first overall national win, and will be looking for more of the same. With their confidence sky high the Toyota pair will be a threat.

With Bevan Bertholdt and the Toyota factory team parting ways by mutual consent, circuit racing star Anthony Taylor will join the seasoned Robin Houghton in the second factory entry.   Taylor has rally and off road experience, has had a long association with both Castrol and Toyota and brings to the party vast experience and technical expertise.

A third Castrol Toyota Hilux will be in the hands of the consistent Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst with Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn (Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux) looking for another good result.  Class E graduates George/Sharon Barkhuizen (Ruwacon Toyota Hilux) and Jaco Swanepoel/Keith Solomon (IDM Cement Toyota Hilux) provide further back-up in a strong Toyota entry.

While Nissan and Toyota will fancy their chances most of the smart money will be on former SA champions Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjoldhammer in the Ford Racing Ranger. Woolridge cut his racing teeth in Sugarbelt 400 conditions and will relish the opportunity of taking advantage of home ground.

Back-up for the Ford factory crew comes from Mark Ferguson and Craig West while Alfie Cox and Hennie ter Stege in a Motorite Ford Ranger have yet to hit their straps but have performed consistently so far this season. Kobus van Tonder and Riaan Guelpa (Unifreight Ford Ranger) have also turned consistency into a forte while Harold and Tiaan Coen (Land Rover BMW) will be looking for a return to form.

The Nissan/Toyota battle in Class D will continue with four points separating the first three crews. A win on the Eastern Cape 500 has taken Henri and Maurice Zermatten (Ryobi Nissan Hardbody) to the top of the log. They are followed by Coetzee Labuscagne/Johan Gerber (Raysonics Nissan Hardbody) and reigning drivers champion Cliff Weichelt and Jimmy Goch in the N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux D4D.

All three crews are capable of winning but they will be keeping an eye on under achievers Ramon Bezuidenhout and Stefan Lock in a Toyota Hilux. Young Chris du Plooy and Henk van Vuuren (Retirement Fund Solutions Toyota Hilux) also come into the picture and a good Class D battle is on the cards.

Toyota Hilux crews Dewald van Breda and Pieter du Plessis and Jannie Visser/Joks le Roux go into the Nissan Sugarbelt level at the top of the log after a win apiece. For van Breda and du Plessis their win, on the Eastern Cape 500, came in their first ever national event and they will want to prove it was no flash in the pan.

Thomas Rundle/Brian Roberts (Barden Tyre Services Nissan Hardbody) and reigning drivers champion Jack Peckham and Lucio Santoro (Ford Racing Ranger) will be looking for improved performances but the class could be thrown into disarray by a local crew. Experienced Rob Gurney, who lives in the Eston area, and Paul Gonlag have taken over the ex Brian Martin/Ockie Fourie Castrol Toyota Hilux and with local knowledge will be a major threat.

After two events there are tight championship battles at the top of the various classes. The Nissan Sugarbelt 400 offers crews the opportunity to consolidate and there are high stakes on offer.

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