Toyota is poised to make a clean sweep of all the accolades on offer in the Production Vehicle category at the Atlas Copco Gold 400, final round of the South African Cross Country Series (SACCS), on October 27 and 28.
Toyota has already annexed the South African Manufacturers Championship and, via the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA pair of Giniel de Villiers and Dennis Murphy, the overall and FIA Class titles. On top of that brothers Johan and Werner Horn and the father and son team of Jannie and Chris Visser are champions elect in Class T and Class S.
For the final event de Villiers has been paired with his Dakar Rally partner Dirk von Zitzewitz. The task ahead for de Villiers and von Zitzewitz will be to preserve the Toyota Gazoo squad’s unbeaten record since 2015, with de Villiers chasing his fourth win on the trot.
De Villiers and von Zitzewitz, of course, will be outright favourites to win but the FIA Class has an interesting look about it. Red-Lined Motorsport, who have recently done their bit to put South Africa on the cross country map, have entered three Nissan Navaras for Dubai crew Thomas Bell and Patrick McMurren, Luke Botha and Andre Vermeulen and former South African champion Shameer Variawa who again teams up with Zaheer Bodhanya.
Red-Lined recently entered three Nissan Navaras with Chinese crews in Rally China with two cars finishing including a top five result. Bell and McMurren are unknown quantities, Botha and Vermeulen step up from Class T while the vastly experienced Variawa and Bodhanya scored a podium finish on the Sun City 400.
Bell and McMurren make an interesting pair. Bell is in his first season as an amateur racer and has never driven a Navara T1, while McMurren is a teacher by profession with the pair of them having their first race outside of Dubai.
The class is rounded out by the consistent Johan and van Staden and Mike Lawrenson in the Elf Renault Duster, and Mark Corbett and Rodney Burke in a Century Racing FIA Buggy. It is a competitive line-up but de Villiers and von Zitzewitz are the class horse in the field.
The Class T championship has been a see-saw affair throughout the season but swung the way of the Horn brothers on the Sun City 400. The Malalane Toyota pair takes a 26 point lead to the Atlas Copco Gold event and need only an 11th place finish to clinch the title.
Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable (Ford NWM Puma Lubricants Ranger) are the only crew able to catch the Horns, and they and team-mates Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer and Henk Lategan/Barry White will be in maximum attack mode. There remains a glimmer of hope for the elder of the Woolridge brothers and Huxtable, and in motor racing it is always wise to expect the unexpected!
A little cameo performance will be the battle between outgoing Class T champions Jason Venter and Vince van Allemann (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) and rookies Lategan and White. Venter/van Allemann lead the Ford crew by only six points and their personal duel adds a little spice to proceedings.
The 4×4 Mega World team will also take the opportunity to give Venter’s younger brother Dylan his maiden national championship outing. The younger Venter, who replaces father Deon in the driving seat, has come through the ranks of the Northern Regions championship and has the advantage of the experienced Jaco van Aardt as his co-driver.
The racing arm of Atlas Copco will be keen to end a season of trials and tribulations on a high note. The fire that destroyed the Gary Bertholdt/Philip Herselman car on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race was a low point, but the team will be looking for some sort of redemption on their own event from former South African champion Chris Visser and Herselman in their Toyota Hilux entry.
Brian Baragwanath and rookie navigator Kabelo Ledwaba (Pirelli/Liqui Moly Ford Ranger) will have been encouraged by a good result last time out on the Sun City 400, while Jacques van Tonder and Mariska Leeuwner (Ford Ranger) will look to set the seal on a steady season which has seen young van Tonder fail to finish in the points only once.
Class S leaders Jannie Visser and son Chris (Toyota Hilux) have only been beaten once in five races this season, and that has taken them to a 22 point lead over David Huddy and Gerhard Schutte in a Nissan Navara. Depending on the number of entries in the class that should be enough to seal the championship and fill the Toyota championship goblet to overflowing.
Race headquarters, the start/finish and the designated service park will be located at the Kloof Country Club, in Glenharvie in Westonaria, with free public entry to these areas. Catering will be provided by the Glenharvie Combination School and there will also be free public entry to numerous spectator areas.
The qualifying race on October 27 will start at 14:00 and the main race, to be run over two laps of 160 kilometres, at 08:30 on October 28. There will be a 20 minute compulsory service halt and regroup after the first lap and the race will restart at 12:00.
A full weekend of cross country racing will also include the final round of the SACCS Moto championship and the final round of the Northern Regions championship. Glenharvie is within easy reach of Johannesburg and major centres on the West Rand, but cross country fans can also follow the race from home or the office via the RallySafe app.