Cross Country chasers have lot of catching up to do
THE Nkomazi 450, round four of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship, held tomorrow and Saturday, will be D-Day for production vehicle crews chasing the two Castrol Team Toyota Hiluxes leading the overall and premier Class T title races.
Between them, Leeroy Poulter/ Rob Howie and reigning champions Anthony Taylor/Dennis Murphy have done all the winning so far this season. Those doing the chasing are flying distress signals, and unless they manage to halt the Team Castrol charge at the Mpumalanga outing — one of three sprint events on the sixrace calendar — they could be waving white surrender flags.
The Poulter/Howie and Taylor/ Murphy domination is reflected in the championship standings, and simple mathematics paints a grim picture for the chasers.
Poulter/Howie enjoy a 14-point lead over Taylor/Murphy, but the gap between the leaders and Lance Woolridge/Ward Huxtable (Ford Performance Ranger) and Gary Bertholdt/ Siegfried Rousseau (Atlas Copco Ford Ranger), who share third place in the championship, is a massive 67 points. That is more than two wins, and the gravity of the situation for the likes of Woolridge/Huxtable and Bertholdt/Rousseau is exacerbated by the fact there are only 90 points up for grabs over the last three events.
Further down the championship ladder there is also plenty of scope for drama. Youngster Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer (NWM Ford Ranger), in their debut season, are only four points behind Woolridge’s elder brother and Huxtable.
But it is behind them that things start to get interesting, with only nine points separating Woolridge/Dreyer and the next five crews on the points’ table. Lumped together in that mix are Jason Venter/Vince van Allemann (4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux), the consistent Johan van Staden/Mike Lawrenson (Regent Racing Nissan Navara), Chris Visser/Japie Badenhorst (Ford Performance Ranger), Heine Strumpher/Henri Hugo (4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) and local brothers Johan and Werner Horn in the Malalane Toyota Hilux.
The stand-out crew in a tight mix is Visser/Badenhorst with the former champions desperate to finally make an impact this season.
The debut of Australian pair John Purshouse and Murray Hynes, in the ex-factory Ford Ranger in which Manfred Schroder/Japie Badenhorst won last year’s Toyota Dealer 450, adds a fair dollop of interest to the Class T mix over the rest of the season. The Portuguese pair of Rómulo Branco and João Serôdio, will probably be at home in the sprint-race format in Mpumalanga.
Racing starts tomorrow with a 100 kilometre qualifying race to determine grid positions and continues on Saturday with two laps of about 175 kilometres each. During the race there will be a compulsory 20-minute service halt at the end of the first lap. The race headquarters is at the Riverview Preparatory School on the outskirts of Malalane.
Ford’s leading teams are chasing a 90-point lead in the Nkomati 450 in Mpumalanga this weekend.