Ford Dealer 400 – Thaba ‘Nchu




Thaba ‘Nchu,  Friday – With just three seconds separating the first three cars the start of the Production  vehicle category on the Ford Dealer 400, penultimate round of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship, is going to produce some wild action tomorrow.

Championship leaders Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy (Team Castrol Toyota Hilux) and Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux pair Sarel van Biljon and Philip Herselman set identical times in a qualifying race cut short by a bush fire. Just two seconds behind them were Ford Racing Ranger crew Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst, who trail the Toyota crew by 20 points and will be fighting for championship survival.

The qualifying event to determine start position was cut short when a miserable season for RFS BMW crew Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren got decidedly worse when the car caught fire. That set alight bush on a tricky mountain section, and clerk of the course Joe Fourie took a decision to halt the race 26 kilometres into a scheduled 63 kilometre route.

“Stopping the race after 26 kilometres meant we at least had a set of start times,” said Fourie. “It was an unfortunate incident and losing 37 kilometres of the route was not ideal and a disappointing way to start the weekend.”

Dakar Rally quad hero van Biljon and Herselman will probably take the wise choice at the start to back off and let Taylor/Murphy and Visser/Badenhorst fight over the early lead. Visser and Badenhorst were in a similar situation in last year’s race while fighting for the championship with another Castrol Toyota crew, Duncan Vos and Rob Howie, and a timely win saw them take the title to the final round.

Just to make matters a little more interesting reigning champions Vos and Howie will start 10 seconds behind Visser/Badenhorst, and 12 seconds ahead of Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable, in the second factory Ford Ranger. With the championship leaders and their team-mates all starting within 24 seconds of each other the scene is set for intense drama.

None of the top five reported problems on the shortened course, but adding to the potential for fun and games during the race is a route that promises to be tight and technical. The pressure at the front of the field is going to be intense and mistakes could be more than costly.

“The route is tight and technical with a lot of rocks and will be a challenge,” said Visser. “Any lapse in concentration could be a disaster and the championship situation makes it a little more interesting.”

Steady runs saw Hugo de Bruyn/Henri Hugo (Micaren Exel Toyota Hilux), Luke Botha/Kevin Durston (Force Fuel Toyota Hilux) and Bloemfontein based Louw de Bruin/Riaan Greyling (Ruwacon Ford Ranger) complete the top eight. For Botha and Durston it was their best result of the season and, after joining the Roly Poly Club and then renewing their membership, a welcome one!

Brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Land Cruiser) set the pace in Class D. They were followed home by championship leaders Jason Venter and Vincent van Allemann (Trysome Toyota Hilux) with the Horns 20 points in arrears in the title race and in the same boat as Visser/Badenhorst.

Ford dealer 400 rally

The Horns, looking for their third win in a row, were over a minute clear of Venter and van Allermann. There similar was a similar gap between Venter/van Allemann and former champions Jack and Sarel Oosthuizen in the LMC Land Rover.

With the Class E championship already in the bag Dirk Putter and Koos Claasens (Ford Ranger) have opted to sit out this race. That opened the door for Doug Fear and Kurt de Villiers (Brytons Removals Toyota Hilux) to take a comfortable win ahead of Johan Pretorius/Gesina Dauth (Toyota Hilux) and motor journalist Sudhir Matai and former drivers champion Henri Zermatten in a factory Ford Ranger.

Race headquarters and the designated service park are located at the Black Mountain Hotel on the outskirts of Thaba ‘Nchu with public entry to these areas free of charge. The race starts at 08:30.