From whichever way you look at it the Production Vehicle category battle at the Sun City 400 on July 26 and 27 is going to be an absolute belter.
Two factory teams from opposing camps go into round five of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship level pegging in the overall and premier SP Class championships and that, on its own, is enough to get the pulses racing. A win on the recent Toyota 1000 Desert Race, their second in a row, lifted Team Castrol Toyota Hilux pair Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy into championship ties with former South African champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst from the Ford Racing stable.
Successive wins will see Taylor and Murphy go into the Pilanesberg race high on confidence, but Visser and Badenhorst have taken four podium places on the trot. The Ford Ranger pair also won the Nkomazi 400 and, as the points tables would suggest, there is little to choose between the two crews.
There is a distinct possibility, too, that the Sun City outing will see to it that over the remainder of the season the overall and SP Class championships turn into a two horse race. The Desert Race was worth points and a half and, as matters stand, Taylor/Murphy and Visser/Badenhorst have a 31,5 point lead over reigning champions Duncan Vos and Rob Howie in the second of the works Team Castrol Toyota entries.
With scoring over the rest of the season reverting to conventional allocations Taylor/Murphy and Visser/Badenhorst have a win plus in hand over Vos and Howie. The second Toyota works crew have a 14,5 advantage over Johan van Staden/Mike Lawrenson (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) with North West pair Malcolm Kock and Johan Burger (Kock and Sons Toyota Hilux) another three points adrift.
The Taylor/Murphy, Visser/Badenhorst situation also places pressure on Vos/Howie and Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable in the second Ford Racing Ranger. Both crews need to run interference for their team-mates and Woolridge and Huxtable, in particular, will be under the whip.
Since winning the opening race of the year Woolridge and Huxtable have not picked up a point. The Sun City race would be a good time for the pair to bounce back to form.
Van Staden and Lawrenson have been models of consistency this season and Kock/Burger have also been solid performers. Second place on the Toyota Desert Race will be a huge confidence boost for Hugo de Bruyn and Henri Hugo (Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux), while winning the Dakar Challenge in Botswana will also see Thomas Rundle and Juan Mohr (Regent Racing Nissan Navara) arrive at Sun City on a high.
A solid Botswana result will also have done Christiaan du Plooy, reunited with Henk Janse van Vuuren, no harm and the RFS BMW team will be looking for a repeat of their Sun City win last year. Hennie de Klerk and Johann Smalberger (RFS/Treasury One BMW X3) have also come up with encouraging results of late, while Terence Marsh/Gerhard Schutte (Regent Racing Nissan Navara) broke their duck this season in Botswana.
Mike Whitehouse/Mathew Carlson (Regent Racing Nissan Navara), Gary Bertholdt/Siegfried Rousseau (Atlas Copco Nissan Navara) and Louw de Bruin/Riaan Greyling (Ruwacon Ford Ranger) are among those looking to regroup after disappointing Desert Race outings. Former champions Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux (RFS Toyota Hilux) are in the same boat while Jacques and Lizelle van Tonder (Uni Freight Ranger) will be more than happy with their first top 10 finish in Botswana.
Dakar Rally quad star Sarel Van Biljon, paired with Philip Herselman in the Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux, will be under scrutiny after an impressive debut on the Toyota Desert Race and Luke Botha/Kevin Durston make a first SP Class appearance in the Force Fuel Toyota Hilux. Local crew Willem Vos and Werner Weiss (BMW X3) make their first appearance of the season and swell the SP Class entries to an impressive 25.
After a dry winter dust is likely to be a major factor during the race. This places a huge emphasis on the qualifying race to determine start positions, and this should provide for some hectic action.
Three wins in four outings will see Jason Venter and Vincent van Allemann (Trysome Toyota Hilux) start as favourites in Class D. After a win in Botswana the young North West pair have moved ahead of former champions Jack and Sarel Oosthuizen (LMC Land Rover Defender) in the Class D standings.
Mpumalanga brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Land Cruiser) also come into the picture. The Horns and the Oosthuizens were among the Desert Race non finishers and will be looking to bounce back.
Added competition will come from Rustenburg pair Dana Vos and Henri de Kock (Toyota Hilux), Frikkie Botha/Koos Visser (Toyota Hilux) and former Class E champion Diederik Hattingh and Gary Austin in a Ford Ranger.
Once again there are no prizes for guessing who will start as the favourite in Class E. Despite being without the services of regular co-driver Koos Claasens, three wins in four starts make reigning drivers champion Dirk Putter the form horse.
Race headquarters and the designated service park will all be located at the Sun City complex. Public entry to these areas as well as the spectator viewing points along the route is free of charge.
The prologue to determine race start positions will start at 12:30 on Friday, July 26 and the race at 08:30 the following day.