South Africa Rally and Cross Country Championship 2014
Plenty of Special Vehicle Championship challengers
Crews with Special Vehicle category title aspirations – and there are plenty of them – will be looking for a fast start to the season when this year’s Donaldson Cross Country Championship gets underway with the RFS 450 in Harrismith on February 28 and March 1.
Where teams in the premier Class A category are concerned, there has been little out of the ordinary in the off-season musical chairs game. Stability appears to have been the watchword, and there is a familiar ring to teams who are likely to emerge as championship front runners.
Reigning champions Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen, in the Motorite BAT Viper, will be looking for a hat-trick of titles with confidence and a touch of bravado never missing ingredients from the pair. But, based on the quality of the opposition Hutchison and Stassen will be under no illusions about the severity of the campaign that lies ahead.
Hutchison and Stassen made heavy weather of clinching the title at the final event last season, and consistency is what all the top teams will be looking for this season. It was consistency that took Philip de Vries and Johan Viljoen (Conqueror Porter), unfancied at the start of the season, into second place in the championship.
The father/son combinations of Quintin and Kallie Sullwald (Elegant Fuel BAT Venom) and Hermann and Wichard Sullwald (Elegant Fuel Stryker) were all undone last season by reliability problems at some stage of the proceedings. The husband and wife combination of Marius and Jolinda Fourie (PHB BAT) were in the same predicament, and all three teams will be aware that when points are totted up at the end of the season regular scores often outweigh the number of race victories.
The musical chairs game has, however, produced one interesting development. Class P flyer Colin Matthews, partnered by Martin Hermida, has finally joined the Class A brigade and will be out in the Century Racing CR4 driven by Mark Corbett in recent seasons.
Corbett, for his part, will be joined by Julien Hardy in the new Century Racing CR5 with a similar car being built for Matthews/Hermida for later in the season. New race cars are notoriously fickle pieces of machinery, and Corbett/Hardy will be satisfied with a finish anywhere in the points.
Matthews/Hermida is a different kettle of fish. A two-time winner in Class P last year Matthews, in a competitive Class A car, could be even more of a headache to Hutchison and company.
Apart from the teams one would expect to regularly see at the top of the leaderboard, there are number of crews who, in golf terms, would be described as ‘ringers.’ Jimmy Zahos and Alan Smith will bring a little colour and potential to the table in the Cobalt Racing Stryker, while Daniel Brookes/Gavan Gray (Ducatis Properties BAT), Brett Parker/VZ van Zyl (Sizanani Jimco) and Democratic Republic of Congo brothers Eduardo and Riccardo Argazzi (Zarco) all had their moments last season.
The Class A ranks will also be bolstered by the experienced Lance Trethewey and Geoff Minnitt (LTE BAT) who pose a major threat, and newcomer Arthur Barnes and Anthony Usher (BAT Venom), who join fellow KwaZulu-Natal crew Brookes and Gray in the top flight. Botswana based Keith du Toit will be out in the Maxxis/Liqui Moly BAT and will be partnered by newcomer Xander Mare.
Class P champions John Thomson and Maurice Zermatten (Zarco) will be back to defend their title, and with Matthews out of the picture the title race could turn into a tight affair. Veteran Coetzee Labuscagne will again be paired with daughter Sandra in the Chem Systems Zarco while John Telford, partnered by Andrew Makenete, returns to action in the Calcamite/Rhino Tanks BAT with Makenete’s brother Keith again teamed up with Peter Hlutwa in a Zarco.
Regent Racing enters the fray with a Jimco in the hands of Sean Reitz and teenager Adriaan Roets. Also in the mix in Harrismith will be veterans Rob Wark and Ashley Thorn in the K9 Aceco and KZN crew Leon Bothma and Quintin Brand in a BAT.
Race headquarters, the start/finish and the designated service park will all be located at the La La Nathi resort on the outskirts of Harrismith. Public entry to these areas and to spectator points along the route is free of charge.
The qualifying race to determine grid position will start at 11:30 on Friday, February 28 and the race at 08:30 on March 1.