Being a championship leading crew and going into a national championship race on home soil is always going to mean added pressure – and such is the case for Clint Gibson and Gary Campbell going into round three of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship on May 17 and 18.
The Toyota Dealer Sugarbelt 400 returns to the Eston area near Pietermaritzburg for the first time in three years, with Gibson and Campbell (Dirt Sport Components Porter) leading the Special Vehicle and Class A championships. In the overall standings the KZN crew hold an eight point lead over reigning champions Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen (Motorite BAT Venom) and Class P leaders Colin Matthews and Alan Smith in the Century Racing CR3.
Although they will enjoy home ground support the Sugarbelt has always been regarded as one of the tougher races on the cross country calendar and Gibson and Campbell, winners of the RFS 400 at the start of the season, will be under severe pressure from a number of teams. Hutchison and Stassen will lead the Class A charge but Matthews and Smith, winners of the Nkomazi 400 in Mpumalanga, will fancy their chances in the nimble CR3.
Former champions Quintin and Kallie Sullwald (Elegant Fuel BAT Venom) also enjoyed a good run in Mpumalanga and are locked in third place in the championship with the ever steady Nick and Ryan Harper in the second Motorite BAT Venom. Also back to form are former champions Hermann and Wichard Sullwald (Elegant Fuel Stryker) and all three father and son crews will be looking for maximum points.
There is, however, a long queue of crews who could upset frontrunner apple carts. The husband and wife team of Marius and Jolinda Fourie (PHB BAT) are due a good run, Mark Corbett/Rudi Balzer return to action in the Century Racing CR4 and another KZN crew, Daniel Brookes and Gavan Gray (Ducatus Property BAT), will want to bounce back after a disappointing Nkomazi 400.
A third KZN crew in Glenn Gibson and Clint Brook (Dirt Sport Components BAT) have also shown steady form to lie fifth in the championship, but perhaps the biggest threat is yet another local team in Lance Trethewey and Carl Wichmann in the LT Earthmovers BAT. The pair last season won the Sun City 400 but may be a little ring rusty.
Philip de Vries and Johan Viljoen, in the ex Jimmy Zahos Porter, will also be looking to bounce back from a mishap in Mpumalanga while Free State crew Pieter Ruthven and Leander Pienaar are strong top 10 contenders. Mogrey Mabille and Zelda Niemandt (Porter) will also have top 10 aspirations with the young Botswana driver improving with every outing.
If they can stay free of reliability problems the likes of Steve Parker/VZ van Zyl (Sizanani Jimco) and Louw and Daniel Zeelie (Maxxis Liqui Moly Rockstar Porter) are also top 10 candidates. Neil Meyer and Joseph Lewis, in the Maxxis Liqui Moly Rockstar Zarco Challenger have also had a disappointing start and in a race where aggression needs to be combined with caution, will also be looking to put past disappointments behind them.
Matthews and Smith will start as outright favourites in Class P and on their last outing to KZN took overall honours on the Atlas Copco Timber Track 400 in the Richmond area. A repeat performance will be high on their agenda with the pair leading Class P by a narrow margin from Swazi based driver John Thomson and Maurice Zermatten in a Zarco.
By contrast it has been a slow start to the season for Coetzee Labuscagne and daughter Sandra in the Raysonics Zarco, and they will be looking to rectify that situation. It has also been a tough start to the season for brothers Keith and Andrew Makenete, partnered respectively by Peter Hlutwa and Moalosi Borotho in a pair of Zarcos and they will be looking to finish in the points.
Nick Goslar and Andrew Massey (SA Clinics Zarco) are in the same boat as the Makenetes while Leon Bothma and Quintin Brand will keep the local flag flying in a BAT. While Matthews/Smith are likely to dominate Class P offers up some interesting duels lower down the order.
As usual the event is spectator friendly with numerous viewing points all within a 15 kilometre radius of race headquarters and the designated service park at the Beaumont Eston Farmers Club. Public entry to race headquarters and the designated service park is free of charge, and spectator guides will also be available at Toyota dealers and at the Midlands Mall.
The prologue on Friday, May 17 to determine race grid position will start at 12:30 and the race at 08:30 on May 18.