After having their collective nose bloodied last time around the Class A brigade will be looking to reassert their authority on the Special Vehicle category at the Atlas Copco Sugarbelt 400, round three of the Absa Off Road Championship, in KwaZulu-Natal on May 21 and 22.
Pretoria pair Johan van Staden and James Rossouw, in the KEC BAT, made history on the Toyota Dealer 400 when they became the first Class P crew to win a race overall in the Absa series. The right set of circumstances will always provide the possibility for similar upsets, but the Class A brigade will be a bit miffed if they allow a Class P crew to hog the limelight for the second race in a row.
Class A crews will also want to address a situation that sees van Staden and Rossouw leading the overall Special Vehicle championship race. At the same time a number of Class A crews – because teams are required to drop one score at the end of the year – are skating on thin ice after early season retirements.
Among them are reigning champions Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann (Motorite BAT), Shameer Variawa/Siegfried Rousseau (Total Motorsport Porter), Colin Matthews/Alan Smith (Century Racing BAT) and the father and son crew of Nick and Ryan Harper in the Atlas Copco BAT. All four crews are potential winners but, somewhere in the back of their minds, they will be conscious of the damage another DNF in the results column could do to their championship challenges.
Sheer persistence has left Brandon Harcus well placed in the overall Class A championship but a set of circumstances will prevent the JMR Fleet management team from competing at the event. Like Harcus former quad racer Jimmy Zahos, partnered by Stefan Coetzee in the Cobalt Racing Porter, is full of aggression and could be the Sugarbelt surprise package.
The list is supplemented by the two Sullwald Racing crews. Former champions Kallie and Quintin, in the Sullwald Racing BAT, looked a little ring rusty on the Toyota Dealer 400, while Hermann and Wichard, in the SVR, have made a more than encouraging start to the season.
Naeem Moosajee/Rayhaan Bodhanya (Maxxis Porter) and Nardus and Louis Alberts (Wrapsa BAT) have made stuttering starts to the season and would like to get matters back on track. Locals Clint Gibson and Gary Campbell (Gibson Racing BAT) will have local knowledge going for them.
Class A is a blend of out and out chargers and those who approach their racing with a little more circumspection, and this always lays the ground work for interesting contests. The Sugarbelt, however, with a route that embraces rapid changes in terrain and surface and sudden drop offs, and the more cautious crews will probably carry the smart money.
Reigning driver’s champion Johan Bezuidenhout and brother Deon (Adenco BAT) will be back in action in Class P and will want to make up for lost ground after missing the Toyota Dealer 400. For their part Toyota winners van Staden and Rossouw will simply want to keep the momentum going with all the top Class P crews aiming for top five finishes.
A second Class P crew, Archie Rutherford and Craig Doubtfire (Regent Racing Jimco) feature in the top five in the overall championship. There is also plenty of incentive for Mark Corbett/Rudi Balzer (Century Racing CR3), Bodo Bertholdt and Philip Herselman (Atlas Copco BAT) and former champions Richard Schilling and Chris Davies in the Aceco.
The danger man in Class P, however, is likely to be local star Don Thompson in a Zarco Lite with a co-driver still to be nominated. Thompson is a flyer with local knowledge could upset the Class P applecart.
After a rare non finish on the Toyota Dealer 400 reigning Class B driver’s champion Derick du Toit, again partnered by Rod Jeffrey in the Orange Tree BAT, will be looking to immediately bounce back. Brothers Keith and Andrew Makenete, in a Zarco Lite, are in the same boat with Simon Beckett and Steve Harris (Century Racing BAT) also potential class winners.
As usual race headquarters, the start/finish and the designated service area will all be at the Beaumont Eston Farmer’s Club outside Pietermaritzburg. Numerous spectator vantage points are within easy reach of race headquarters and public access to these areas is free.
The Donaldson Prologue to determine grid positions will start at 11h30 on May 21 and the race at 08h30 on May 22.