The South African Off-Road Championship, presented by Absa, is in the home straight for the penultimate round of the 2003 series. At least two teams are aiming to consolidate their positions for overall honours in the Production Vehicle Championship in the seventh event of the year, in the Lydenburg area on October 24-25. Toyota and Nissan crews will be fighting it out in the Toyota Dealers' Mpumalanga 400 with the Nissan team having a slight points advantage.

Mark Cronjé and Chris Birkin have virtually secured their Class E championship in their Castrol Toyota Hilux 2700i, with the overall championship a mere 18 points away. Nissan’s Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke lead the series in their Class T Hardbody.

Toyota teammates Kassie Coetzee and Ockie Fourie are third overall and second in Class E in their Castrol Toyota Hilux KZ-TE 3,0 turbo diesel after a season of consistent performances.

The points system allows competitors to drop the points of their worst result during the season, with non-finishes for obvious reasons the first to go. With this done, Grobler/Leeke are leading Cronjé/Birkin by 18 points, and with 35 points at stake for overall victory, the Nissan pair might be forced out of the running by just a single non-finish.

In the case of Cronjé and Birkin, who have finished each of the season’s six events so far, the choice of dropping points will be relatively easy – their poorest result being the outcome of the Mafikeng 400. They got hopelessly lost in the prologue, resulting in a handicap at the start that cost them a good haul of points. In the end they finished sixth in Class E and out of the points in the overall results.

“We have nothing to lose, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to our competitors that we will be going all out to win the remaining two events,” said Toyota Motorsport Manager Whammy Haddad with reference to the Castrol Toyota Land Cruiser pairing of Apie Reyneke and Robin Houghton. "It would be really great to win the upcoming Lydenburg-based event that is sponsored by the Toyota dealers in that area.

“In the previous event, the Sun City 400, Apie and Robin proved they were right on the pace of Grobler/Leeke, but a broken reverse gear tooth damaged the internals of the gearbox and they were forced to retire. This was a big disappointment as they had been lying second to the winning Nissan at that stage,” said Haddad.

The scene at the top of the overall points log in the Production Vehicle Championship will change dramatically if Reyneke/Houghton can beat the front runners in the remaining two events – this weekend’s Toyota Dealers Mpumalanga 400 and the Carnival City Casino 400 on November 14/15.

With Grobler/Leeke topping the charts at 175 points after dropping their score for their their only non-winning event, the Tarka 400 when they finished fourth, their advantage of 18 points over Cronjé/Birkin can be easily deminished by a victory for Reyneke/Houghton. This would force the Nissan pair into second or even third if they also fall victim to the hard-charging Ford Ranger of Neil Woolridge and Kenny Skjöldhammer.

Even with Woolridge winning and Reyneke second, coming third will still cost Grobler nine points, and a non-finish will definitely take him out of the running – if Cronje can manage to maintain his blistering pace, so far earning him four class victories, three of those in third position overall.

“The Sun City event, in which we again won our class with third overall, was one of the toughest events for me this year,” said the talented young karting world champion who only started off-road racing this year. “When I got out of the car at the finish I thought I never wanted to see another punctured tyre again,” said Cronjé who had to change no less than three wheels in the 400 km event.

The third Castrol Toyota crew, Coetzee and Fourie have had a very consistent season with a class victory and one non-finish balancing their performance of three seconds in class in the rest of the events. This consistent performance has put them in an unbeatable position to claim the last and remaining overall podium position regardless of what happens to Grobler/Leeke and Cronjé/Birkin. They have a 21 point lead over their closest rivals in the overall honours and looks all set to take the bronze.

Toyota will be supported by a host of privateers adding to its success as runners-up in the manufacturers’ championship, including Piet Haasbroek/Freddie Scheepers in the Class D Castrol Land Cruiser, and father and son Cliff and Louis Weichelt in the N1 4x4 Land Cruiser (Class D).

Points standings (including dropped points from worst performance):

Overall:

1. Grobler/Leeke (Nissan, Class T leaders) – 175

2. Cronjé/Birkin (Hilux, Class E leaders) – 157

3. Coetzee/Fourie (Hilux, 2nd Class E) – 130.

Class E:

1. Cronjé/Birkin (Hilux, 2nd overall) – 96

2. Coetzee/Fourie (Hilux, 2nd Class E) – 81

3. Manfred Schröder/Jack Peckham (Ford; 11th overall) – 56

Original article from Car