|When the going gets the tough the tough get going is an overworked cliché but it amply describes the situation in the Production Vehicle category going into the fifth and penultimate round of the South African Cross Country Championship (SACCS), the Sun City 400, in the Pilanesberg on September 15 ad 16.
With the withdrawal from racing for the rest of the season for medical reasons of reigning champion Leeroy Poulter there is likely to be a change at the top of the overall and FIA Class standings. After two successive victories Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy are only seven points behind Poulter and Rob Howie in the overall championship, and eight points behind their Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team-mates in the FIA championship.
There is also the small matter of de Villiers/Murphy being entrusted with keeping the Toyota Gazoo squad’s unbeaten record which dates back to the 2015 season. A heavy responsibility lies on the pair but they will be fancied to the take a third successive win.
Johan van Staden, reunited with Mike Lawrenson in the Elf Renault Duster, will be as consistent as ever while Mark Corbett and Rodney Burke will be something of an unknown quantity in the Century Racing FIA Buggy. Completing the FIA line-up will be Terence Marsh and celebrity co-driver Jacob Moshokoa in a Red-Lined Nissan Navara.
But it is in Class T that the real drama will unfold. Brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Hilux) currently top the standings by seven points from Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer and by 14 points from Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable in a pair of NWM Ford Puma Lubricants Rangers.
A third NWM Ford Puma Lubricants Ranger driven by Henk Lategan and Barry White is fourth, a little of the pace in terms of points but not of race pace, and the Horns can expect to come under siege from the trio of Ford Rangers that will have all guns blazing. How the Horns react is going to be interesting and could ultimately be a championship decider: do they opt to fight fire with fire or do they simply choose to run their own race at their own pace?
There is, however, enough quality in the Class T field to make the Horns and the trio of NWM Ford Rangers a tad nervous. Former champion Chris Visser and Philip Herselman (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) had a good run last time out, and have back-up in the experienced Malcolm Kock and Pieter van Wyk in a second Atlas Copco Toyota.
Kock also knows Sun City conditions and the Atlas Copco cars will make a formidable pair. Outgoing Class T champions Jason Venter and Vince van Allemann (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) will also be keen to see if they can rekindle some of the form that took them to the title.
Deon Venter and Jaco van Aardt (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) are in the same situation while Luke Botha and Andre Vermeulen are due for an event that does them justice. Dana Vos, who lives just up the road in Rustenburg and Cornel Burger (BMX X3) have local knowledge going for them, while Jacques van Tonder, with Mariska Leeuwner doing the co-driving in another Ford Ranger has had a consistent season.
Wayne and Paula Plit (OEM Lubricants Motul BMW) will be looking for only their second finish on a national while Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer will be hoping for a change of luck. So far the pair, in the Team Pirelli Liqui Moly Ford Ranger, have had a rough time of it and a good result on one of the tougher events on the SAACS calendar could be a turning point.
The Class S field has been bolstered by last year’s champions Otto Graven/Bobby Brewis (Toyota Hilux), his brother Ronald and Lohan Faber (Toyota Hilux) and the experienced Heine Strumpher/Henri Hugo (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux), but championship leaders Jannie Visser and Chris Visser junior (Toyota Hilux) will be heavy favourites to win their fourth event in a row. They have a healthy championship lead over David Huddy/Gerhard Schutte (Nissan Navara) and Visser senior knows Sun City conditions like the back of his hand.
On the other hand Richard Leeke junior and Henry Kohne (Ford Ranger) will be having their first taste of Sun City, as will Kent Rutherford co-driving for father Archie who is a former South Africa champion.
Public entry to race headquarters, the designated service park and spectator points along the route are free of charge. Catering, refreshments and spectator guides will also be available at race headquarters.
The main race will be run over two loops with competitors flagged away at dust gap intervals of two minutes. There will be a compulsory 20 minute service halt at the end of loop one with the second loop starting at 12:00.
As an added bonus there will be a round of the Northern Regions championship making it a bumper weekend for cross country enthusiasts. The regional competitors will complete one loop of the route and will be flagged away after the national entries.