Team Ford Racing’s Neil Woolridge and Ken Skjoldhammer are confident that they can put an end to Nissan’s domination of the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, which is round three of the Absa Off Road Championship in Botswana on June 11-13, after a strong showing in the recent Nissan Sugarbelt 400.

Woolridge has won the Botswana event three times in three different vehicles and on two of these occasions, 2000 and 2001, he had Ken Skjoldhammer in the cockpit. The former off road motorcycle racers have an uncanny ability to read the road, which comes from years of riding solo on motorcycles that should place them in good stead in the tricky desert-like conditions.

While the Proudly South African Nissan team will be entering three Hardbody pick-ups in Class T the driver line-up has changed due to Giniel de Villiers breaking an arm in a mountain bike accident. Nissan Motorsport team manager, Glyn Hall, who won the SA National Rally Championship in 1990, will stand in for the former Production Vehicle champion and will be paired with Francois Jordaan.

Production Vehicle championship leaders Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke are aiming for their third successive win on an event that has always taken a heavy toll on vehicles while Duncan Vos and Hennie ter Stege will be looking to shed their bridesmaid mantle and score a maiden win.

Mike Tomsett and Brian Haviland will be the lone privateer challengers in Class T in the AK Sport Mitsubishi Club Cab.

The new manufacturer battleground, Class D for production vehicles powered by six cylinder engines, has the makings of an epic struggle between the factory entered Ford and Toyota teams, factory supported Nissan teams and privateers in Land Rover, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Isuzu vehicles.

The Castrol Toyota challenge will come from reigning Class E champions Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin and team newcomers Paolo Piazza-Musso and Rod Hering in four-cylinder powered Hilux 2.7i single cab bakkies. Piazza-Musso and Hering scored a debut Class D win on the Nissan Dealer 400 but failed to finish the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 while Cronje and Birkin finished second in the Western Cape and third in KwaZulu Natal.

Team Ford Racing’s hopes will be pinned on Manfred Schroder and Jack Peckham who will be in action in the 4.0 V6 Ranger in which they finished sixth overall and second in Class D on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400. The KwaZulu Natal cane farmers will have more power at their disposal in Botswana and look to be serious contenders for a class win.

A variety of Nissan supported crews are in with a chance of finishing high up in the overall standings and taking the Class D honours on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race with the most notable being Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford who finished fifth overall and won the class in the Arnold Chatz Cars Nissan Hardbody in KwaZulu Natal. Cox and Pitchford, like Woolridge and Skjoldhammer, are highly experienced and successful off-road motorcyclists and they too will rely heavily on their ability to read the road conditions.

The three-car Gearbox Services Nissan team has usually fared well in Botswana. Reigning Class D champions Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo are hoping that their spate of non-finishes this season has come to an end.

Husband and wife JP and Linda Augustin were the only team members to finish the Nissan Dealer 400 while team-mates Johan Gerber and Coetzee Labuschagne were the only ones to finish the Nissan Sugarbelt 400.

Some talented privateers pose a threat to the Ford, Nissan and Toyota teams among them Hannes Steyn and Ockie Fourie in the Isuzu in which they lead the Nissan Dealer 400 at one stage before retiring. They also lead the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 but minor mechanical problems saw them finish seventh in class.

Henri Zermatten and Bodo Schwegler are handily placed in the championship and only trail Cronje and Birkin by ten points after two fourth place finishes in the Master Craft / Playstation Pajero. Zermatten is well known for his consistency and stands a good chance of winning on a long event like the Toyota 1000 Desert Race, which suits his race strategy well.

The Moffat brothers, Mark and Stuart, have been racing together for four years in a Land Rover that forms part of the three-car Bosal / N1 4x4 team. While they are models of consistency they have yet to score a class win but it’s only a matter of time before they do. Father and son Cliff and Louis Weichelt will be in action in a V6 powered Bosal / N1 4x4 Toyota Hilux, which replaces the Toyota Land Cruiser they raced with success in 2003.

However, a surprise development could well upset the Class D applecart.

Six times Toyota 1000 Desert Race winner Apie Reyneke has decided to come out of retirement for one race to share driving duties with former Class D champion Shumie van Vuuren in the Toyota Land Cruiser in which he and Carlos de Abreu won Class D on last year’s event. Reyneke is hard at work preparing the Land Cruiser and is quietly confident that he and van Vuuren can upstage their Class D rivals and even pose a threat to the Class T brigade on an event that requires physical and mental endurance as well as a well-prepared vehicle.

While there has been a large entry in Class E for four-cylinder powered vehicles on previous events only four crews have been able to score points with former Class E champions, Hugo de Bruyn and his father Jaap, delivering giant killing performances on the first two events in the Absa Off Road Championship. The Vryburg based businessmen finished fourth overall and first in Class E in the Western Cape and then went on to finish seventh overall and pick up another class win in KwaZulu Natal in the ex-Mark Cronje Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i.

Husband and wife Neels and Zelda van der Walt finished second on the previous events and their consistent performances in the diesel powered Nissan Hardbody should see them handily placed to pick up a class win in Botswana.

Brothers Jurie and Andre du Plessis have the pace to win in the BB Auto Nissan Hardbody but mechanical problems have kept them on the sidelines this season. Last year they finished 11th and first in Class E on the Toyota 1000 Desert Race and could well pull off another win this time out.

Team Ford Racing’s development team of Baphumze Rubuluza and Khulile Vakalisa’s off road racing debut has got off to a good start with the Pietermaritzburg based businessmen finishing third in the Western Cape and on home turf. The Toyota 1000 Desert Race will be a new experience for the pair but if they perform the way they did in the first two events a podium position is assured.

The Castrol Toyota team’s Class E crews will be under pressure to make good for their non-finishes in the opening rounds of the championship. Durban based Zane Pearce and Hennie Vosloo have been strong contenders in the Hilux KZ-TE but a broken drive shaft and a broken differential put them out of the running on the first two events of the season respectively. Newcomer Gavin Cronje and veteran co-driver Robin Houghton’s Nissan Sugarbelt 400 debut in the Hilux 2.7i was fraught with minor technical problems, which forced them into retirement.

The Bosal / N1 4x4 team’s third vehicle is campaigned by husband and wife Marius and Tracey van Vuuren (Toyota Hilux 2.7i). The pair has raced together for six years and has swapped their Class D Land Rover for the Toyota. It is interesting to note that Tracey is the sister of Mark and Stuart Moffat, which makes the Bosal / N1 4x4 team a real family affair.

Toyota privateers Hein Moolman and Cecil Fincham (4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux), Thomas Rundle and Rassie Erasmus (Barden Tyre Service Toyota Hilux) and Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (Tyco International Toyota Hilux) have shown on past regional and national championship events that they are a match for the rest of the Class E brigade provided they can keep their vehicles in one piece.

There are three entries in Class F for unlimited two-wheel drive vehicles with the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Chevy of Andre Botha and Beans Heydenrych ideally suited to the desert conditions. However, two North West Province crews, Franco Pieterse and Hennie Becker (Nissan) and Roelf and Hein van Heerden (Toyota) are accustomed to driving in such conditions and could pose a serious threat to the Superteam crew.

Original article from Car