The decision to split the premier SP Class looks like producing crackerjack racing in the Production Vehicle category when this year’s Donaldson Cross Country Championship gets underway with the RFS 450, at Harrismith, on February 28 and March 1.
SANORA decided to split the SP Class into two categories that will level the playing field between vehicles. Class S will cater for vehicles with an engine capacity of 4000 cc or less with solid axle rear suspension, and Class T for models with a capacity of 4000 cc or more with independent or solid axle rear suspension. A quick glance though the early entry list for the Free State race suggests cut-throat competition will be order of the day.
Close competition has also been a hallmark in recent seasons in the Special Vehicle category with last year’s championship going all the way to the wire. Again a glance through the early RFS 450 entry list would indicate that nothing will change this time around.
The Castrol Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger factory teams dominated last season winning seven of the eight championship races. The Castrol Toyota squad took five wins with Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy clinching the Production Vehicle title with an event to spare.
Both teams show changes for this year’s campaign. Taylor and Murphy are again paired together, while Leeroy Poulter joins Rob Howie in the second car. Poulter replaces former champion Duncan Vos and this year made his Dakar Rally debut.
It is all change at Ford Racing where Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau join former SA champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst in the Atlas Copco Ford Racing squad. The experienced Bertholdt and Rousseau replace young star Lance Woolridge – out of action for the whole season after back surgery – and Ward Huxtable.
Visser, however, will miss the opening race after surgery for a neck injury sustained on the Dakar Rally. His place will be taken by the experienced former South African Champion Manfred Schroeder.
Atlas Copco will also have an extra bow to their fiddle via Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson in a new Nissan Navara V8. Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren will debut a new Ford Ranger in RFS colours, and Thomas Rundle/Juan Mohr (Godrich Toyota Hilux) rejoin the Donaldson fold after a highly impressive Dakar Rally debut.
Two young crews join the Class T fray and will carry into the season a rivalry that blossomed in Class D. Jason Venter/Vince van Allemann (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) and Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Hilux) will both be out in ex works Toyota Hilux models.
Class S looks as though it will turn into a fight between Ruwacon Racing and Regent Racing teams. Ruwacon will field a three car team made up of Pieter Ruthven/Hansie Rheeder in a Toyota Hilux, Louw de Bruin/Riaan Greyling (Ford Ranger) and former champions Jannie Visser /Joks le Roux in a Toyota Hilux.
Ruthven makes a return to Production Vehicles while the Regent Racing challenge will be in the hands of Archie Rutherford/Gerhard Schutte and Jurgen Schroder/Michael Abramson in Nissan Navara entries.
Deon Venter and Ian Palmer (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) and Luke Botha and Jason Rathbone (Force Fuel Toyota Hilux) will also be Class S contenders. Class S and Class T will compete in their own championships with points also counting towards the overall Production Vehicle championship.
Class A among the Special Vehicle brigade has a familiar ring about it. The fare is, however, spiced up by some interesting developments – not the least of which sees the enigmatic Colin Matthews move into the premier category.
Matthews and Martin Hermida will take over the Century Racing CR4 previously campaigned by Mark Corbett. With Century Racing planning a two-car assault on the 2015 Dakar Rally, the RFS 450 will see Corbett and Julien Hardy out in a new CR5 with a second CR5 being built for Matthews.
Matthews, was twice an overall winner in Class P last season, and will again be a thorn in the flesh of the likes of reigning champions Evan Hutchison/Danie Stassen (Motorite BAT Viper), Quintin and Kallie Sullwald (Elegant Fuel BAT Venom) and Hermann and Quintin Sullwald in the Elegant Fuel Stryker. The trio will renew a long standing rivalry and reliability is likely to be a key factor this season.
Marius and Jolinda Fourie (PHB BAT) will also be looking for reliability this season and Arthur Barnes and Anthony Usher (BAT Venom) join fellow KwaZulu-Natal pair Daniel Brookes/Gavan Gray (Ducatis Property BAT) in the big league. Botswana driver Keith du Toit and Xander Mare join the Maxxis/Liqui Moly squad in a BAT, and Democratic Republic of Congo brothers Eduardo and Riccardo Argazzi (BAT) will again add an international touch to proceedings.
Swaziland based John Thomson and Maurice Zermatten (Zarco) will be back to defend their Class P crown. Matthews will no longer be a factor in the category with the opposition made up of regular customers.
The RFS 450 will be based at the La La Nathi resort on the outskirts of Harrismith, with free public entry to race headquarters, the start/finish and the designated service park. There is also free public entry to spectator points along the route.
The qualifying race to determined grid positions will start at 11:30 on Friday, February 28 and the race at 08:30 on Saturday, March 1.