Production Vehicle championship hopefuls – and there are plenty of them – will be aiming to get their seasons off to a fast start on the RFS 400, round one of The Donaldson Cross Country Championship, in the Magaliesburg area on March 1 and 2.
Championships are not won on the first event of a new season, but an early win or good performance works wonders for early confidence in what is the most competitive series of its kind in world motorsport. Some new cars and driver/navigator combinations add to the early season intrigue and air of expectation and uncertainty that always greets the opening of a new season.
Fresh from another Dakar Rally triumph for Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz there will be early pressure on the Team Castrol Toyota squad. Reigning Production Vehicle champions Duncan Vos and Rob Howie will be keen to bounce back from an early Dakar exit, while Anthony Taylor will be going into battle with a new co-driver in Dennis Murphy after the retirement of veteran Chris Birkin.
The Toyota crews will be there or thereabouts, but there will also be early pressure on the Ford Racing crews of former SA champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst and Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable. Both crews will be out in new Ford Rangers and there will be high expectations for both Visser/Badenhorst and Woolridge/Huxtable to immediately start producing good results.
Factory teams are always under pressure in this respect but there are some pretty handy privateer teams lurking in what is a highly competitive premier SP Class. Regent Racing has thrown no fewer than five entries into the fray with Terence Marsh/Gerhard Schutte and Mike Whitehouse/Matthew Carlson leading the charge in the pair of V8 Nissan Navaras.
Back-up for the V8 entries comes from Thomas Rundle and Juan Mohr who are back in action in a Barden Tyre Services Navara running under the Regent Racing team banner, and German pair Jurgen and Daniel Schroder in another Nissan Navara. The Regent challenge is rounded out by experienced Archie Rutherford who will have singer/entertainer Heinz Winckler alongside him in the Imperial Automotive Racing Nissan Navara.
Tough competition also comes from Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau in the Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux. Bertholdt will be looking to go out with a bang while he waits for delivery of a new Nissan Navara, with the Atlas Copco challenge bolstered by Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson who switch from the Special Vehicle category to the SP Class.
There are plenty of other crews who could spring surprises. Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren (RFS BMW X3) won last year’s Sun City 400 while Ruwacon Racing pair Louw de Bruin/Riaan Greyling will be out in one of the ex factory Ford Rangers.
Former champions Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux (International Truck Toyota Hilux) will be looking for more consistency this season while Malcolm Kock and Johann Burger return to action in another Toyota Hilux.
Apart from de Bruin and Greyling there will also be a heavy Ford Ranger challenge. KwaZulu-Natal pair Rowan Lamb and Lyle Parker will be out in another of the ex factory cars, while there will be a two pronged attack from the Uni Freight team via Kobus van Tonder/Freddie Kriel and van Tonder siblings Jacques and Lizelle.
Gerald le Roux and Riaan Gulpa will be out in the ex de Bruin/Greyling car in Ruwacon colours with Graham and Trevor Leith out in the Transcor Ford Ranger. The Transcor car was the first of the factory Ford Rangers to be built and is still going strong.
An interesting newcomer to the SP Class fold will be Dakar motorcyclist Iain Stevenson who will also be part of the formidable Regent Racing stable. He switches codes and will be out in a Nissan Navara with Keith Solomon doing to co-driving.
Regular competitor Deon Venter will also be out under a new sponsor and together with Ian Palmer will campaign the Trysome Racing Toyota Hilux. The pair previously raced under the 4×4 Mega World banner.
Class D looks like developing into a Land Rover versus Toyota battle. Former champions Jack and Sarel Oosthuizen will again lead the Land Rover charge in the LMC Defender, while the Toyota challenge will come from Mpumalanga brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Land Cruiser) and North West youngsters Jason Venter and Vincent van Allemann in the Trysome Racing Toyota Hilux.
After romping away with the Class E title in a Toyota Hilux last season Dirk Putter and Koos Claasens will be back – but this time in a Ford Ranger. Putter and Claasens won seven out of eight events last season and will lock horns with Dewald Hattingh and Doep du Preez in the Transcor Toyota Hilux.
Race headquarters and the designated service par will be at Tarlton International Raceway with free public entry to these areas and spectator points along the route. The prologue to determine race grid position will start at 12:30 on March 1 and the race at 08:30 on March 2.