The Special Vehicle category in the Absa Off Road Championship has developed into a fight between the American and locally built chassis in Class A for unlimited space framed vehicles, which will resume in the “Battle of Eston”, the Nissan Sugarbelt 400, on April 23 and 24.

The Americans emerged victorious in the first skirmish on the Nissan Dealer 400 recently with Atang Makgekgenene and Mike Stangl in the Total Jimco leaving the local opposition nursing their wounds. The two times winners of the Western Cape event are confident that they have the fire power to take on the various BAT Racing crews, as are John Weir-Smith and Geoff Minnitt in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Jimco 540 V8, Frikkie Botha and Blackie Swart in the Procoat Jimco Lexus V8, Terence Marsh and Trevor Ahier in the Nashua Mobile Jimco and Sam Moolla and Zaheer Bodhanya in the Oven Fresh Biscuits Jimco.

Former Special Vehicle champion Shameer Variawa is expected to unleash the most formidable weapon in the American arsenal when he debuts the Oven Fresh Biscuits Porter PR-1 that is powered by a Schnitzer BMW 4.6 V8 motor, which reputedly develops in excess of 500hp.

BAT Racing “commander” Brandon Harcus may be outnumbered but is not intimidated by the US forces and is supremely confident that the five BAT crews that have enlisted for the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 are ready to mount an all out attack on the American forces.

Harcus is the reigning Special vehicle co-drivers champion and, with Gary Bertholdt, won three races in 2003. His and new co-driver Achim Bergmann’s challenge on the Nissan Dealer 400 came to a disastrous end when they barrel rolled for 150 metres, which necessitated a complete rebuild of the Adrenalise Corporate Entertainment BAT.

2003 Toyota Dealer 400 winner Mark Corbett and new co-driver Gavin Kelsey (Century Property Developments BAT), 2003 Nissan Sugarbelt 400 winner Gerald Mundell and new co-driver Kingsley Nurden, Pietermaritzburg based Clint Gibson and Mike Brown (Praesidium Financial Services BAT) and Philip Vosloo and Evan Hutchison (Adrenalise Corporate Entertainment BAT) all have what it takes to pull off that elusive overall victory.

Five of the 17 crews entered in Class A will compete in the Regional Championship section of the event.

Class S tends to be an all-American affair with older, trailing arm front suspension, Raceco’s that dominated to local scene for years, until the advent of A-arm front suspensions, doing battle.

Prominent among the Class S brigade are Nick Goslar, who won the class in the Western Cape, and Warren Bowie in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Raceco Porsche.

Having a battle of their own are multiple former Special Vehicle champions Richard Schilling (Plastotech Raceco) and Buks Carolin (Nashua Mobile Raceco) who have a friendly wager that the won will beat the other on each event with the loser paying over R1 000 to Sunfield Homes. Schilling lost on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 and is R1 000 poorer but has vowed that Carolin will not defeat him again.

Rob Gibson and Clint Barnard in the Praesidium Raceco and Gavan Gray in a Raceco will fly the KwaZulu Natal flag in Class S and could well have the home town advantage over the visiting crews.

The most affordable class in the Special Vehicle category and the one that attracts the largest entry is Class B. KwaZulu Natal is regarded as a Class B stronghold and will contribute 13 entries to the 33 that have been received for the Nissan Sugarbelt 400.

Winners of Class B on the Nissan Dealer 400, Adri Roets and Deon de Kock (Global DAD WPP) will have their work cut out fending off the attentions of 32 other crews who, like reigning Special Vehicle drivers champion and Class B runner-up in KwaZulu Natal last year, Giel Nel (Luk / Ate Truggy) who had a dismal outing in the Western Cape, will be hoping to get their championship assault off to a good start.

The new A-arm front suspension Zarco’s appear to be the one’s to beat in the future and designer and constructor Hendrik Fourie and co-driver J.L. Fourie, Warren Classen and Kim Dixon and Glenn Classen and Mathew Ludick, who both led Class B at one stage during the Nissan Dealer 400, will provide stiff competition. Two additional Zarco Lite entries have been received from Rudi and Pierre van Graan and John Thomson and Clinton McNamara.

Brothers Hamish and Alastair Stubbs appear to have got to grips with their new Fence Erect Viper and can be expected to put up a good showing.

Three Chenowth Mighty Mag’s have entered the event with father and son Rob and Gareth Wark sharing the drive in the Superpave entry. Local drivers Gary Campbell and Lee Scribante will also be in action in these nimble, lightweight vehicles.

Henry Kirstein and Renier Jooste in the Atlas Copco entry and Ernest Corbett and Warwick Goosen in the Century Property Developments entry will represent BAT Racing.

Father and son Bez and Etienne Bezuidenhout (Adenco Sandmaster) will make the long trek from the Western Cape to compete in the Nissan Sugarbelt 400 and can be expected to provide strong opposition for their Class B rivals.

George Barkhuizen and David White have entered in the locally designed and built Ultimo Dominators that are powered by motorcycle engines and it is hoped that they will make up for their non-finish in the Western Cape by finishing high up in the order.

But what of the other KwaZulu Natal challengers?

Local farmer and former Class B champions Marcus Taylor and Mark de Chalain won Class B on last year’s event and they must start as favourites on home turf in the Rollerbak Racing JRE that was designed and built by saloon and sports car ace John Rowe. Will Battershill and Reg Sutton and Don Thomson and Wally Pooler will also be in action in JRE Sandmasters.

Glenn Gibson (Praesidium Raceco) and Brett Gurney (Smith Special) have always performed well on home ground and can be expected to give the visiting teams a run for their money.

The Nissan Sugarbelt 400 gets underway with a 35km Prologue on Friday, April 23 at 12h00 and the main event starts at the Beaumont Eston Farmers Club at 08h00 the following day.

Original article from Car