With only four points separating the top three teams the Special Vehicle category looks certain to produce a close fight at the Sun City 400, round five of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship, in the Pilanesberg on July 26 and 27.
The recent Toyota 1000 Desert Race, with points and a half awarded for the only marathon event on the calendar, produced a win for former South African champions Hermann and Wichard Sullwald (Elegant Fuel Stryker) and hard times for other championship contenders. The end result saw the Sullwalds rocket to the top of the overall and Class A championships – but only four points separates the father and son team from reigning champions Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen (Motorite BAT Viper), and KwaZulu-Natal pair Clint Gibson and Gary Campbell in the Dirt Sport Components Porter.
The Motorite crew left Botswana empty handed but Gibson and Campbell rescued valuable bonus points when, after dropping out on the opening racing section, they rejoined the Desert Race on the final day. The 4,5 points they earned leaves Campbell and Gibson as the only crew to score points in every event this season.
After a win that saw them make up 35 points on Hutchison and Stassen, the Sullwalds will be on a high. For the other teams it will be a case of regrouping and there is not much to choose between the top half a dozen crews.
However, crews like former SA champions Quintin and Kallie Sullwald (Elegant Fuel BAT Venom) and Nick and Ryan Harper (Motorite BAT Venom) need good Sun City results if they are to stay in touch with the championship leaders. A solid performance on the Desert Race brought Philip de Vries and Johan Viljoen (Conqueror Porter) to within 4,5 points of Quintin and Kallie Sullwald and also left them only half a point behind the Harpers.
The Pilanesberg event is unlikely to produce the sort of surprise results that characterised the Toyota 1000 Desert Race. The high attrition rate that lifted the likes of Keith du Toit and Keith Solomon (White Star Racing BAT), and Class P winners John Thomson and Maurice Zermatten (Zarco) into the top three was unexpected, but indicative of the sort of upsets marathon races can produce.
All the top teams will, however, be wary of KwaZulu-Natal crew Lance Trethewey and Carl Wichmann in the LT Earthmovers BAT. Trethewey and Wichmann make sporadic forays into the national series, and it was on one of these that they won last year’s Sun City 400.
The big losers in Botswana were, of course, the Century Racing pair of Colin Matthews and Alan Smith. After winning the prologue to determine grid positions and leading the race until late on racing section two, retirement saw Matthews and Smith not only lose the Class P championship lead but also drop from fifth to ninth in the overall standings.
The Matthews/Smith combination will also be split up at Sun City with Matthews joined this time around by Rodney Burke in the Century Racing CR3. After their Toyota 1000 Desert Race success Swaziland based driver Thomson and Zermatten will be brimming with confidence and looking for a third win this season.
Thomson and Zermatten have a 33,5 point lead at the top of the Class P leaderboard and will also be looking to consolidate that position. The solid father and daughter combination of Coetzee and Sandra Labuscagne (Raysonics Zarco) also have a win to their credit this season, the Makenete brothers will be keen to kick start their respective seasons, John Telford/Jaco Swart (BAT) return to action along with veteran former winner Ernest Corbett teams up with Martin Hermida in the Century Racing CR2.
Jeremy Wood and Ashley Thorn (K9 Racing Aceco) will eye a podium finish, but the crew to watch in Class P could be the father and son combination of Tony and Michael Gouveia in a BAT. If they bring their Northern Regions championship game to the Pilanesberg the pair are potential winners.
Race headquarters and the designated service park will all be located at the Sun City complex. The race will as usual be spectator friendly and public entrance to race headquarters and viewing points along the route will be free of charge.
The prologue to determine race start positions will start at 12:30 on Friday, July 26 and the race at 08:30 on Saturday, July 27.