The odds are stacked in favour of the Proudly South African Nissan off road racing team adding to its tally of three wins in three starts on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400, round two of the Absa Off Road Championship, in the Eston area near Pietermaritzburg on April 23 and 24.

The all-conquering, Midrand based team has entered three Nissan Hardbody pickups in Class T for reigning Production Vehicle champions and last year’s Nissan Sugarbelt 400 winners, Hannes Grobler and Richard Leeke, Nissan Dealer 400 winners Giniel de Villiers and Francois Jordaan and former Production Vehicle drivers champion Duncan Vos and Hennie ter Stege who are yet to win overall.

Team manager Glyn Hall is cautiously optimistic that one of the three Nissans can win overall but does not underestimate the potential threat from the Team Ford Racing Ranger of Neil Woolridge and Ken Skjoldhammer especially now that all vehicles are fitted with identical performance restrictors, which limit the amount of air entering the engine intake manifolds.

Mike Tomsett and Brian Haviland (AK Sport Mitsubishi Colt) are the lone privateer crew in the factory dominated class.

The restrictors appear to have limited the performance of the Class T vehicles more than they have the Class D and Class E vehicles and, as in the case of the recent Nissan Dealer 400 where Hugo and Jaap de Bruyn in the Class E Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i finished fourth overall, one of the Class D or Class E crews could well end up on the podium.

Class D for 6-cylinder powered vehicles with limited modifications is rapidly evolving into the new manufacturer battleground with Ford and Toyota fielding works teams and Nissan supporting a number of highly capable privateer teams.

Toyota Motorsport’s efforts in Class D are focussed on two Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i entries for Paolo Piazza-Musso and Rod Hering, who finished fifth overall and first in Class D on the Nissan Dealer 400 and reigning Class E champions Mark Cronje and Chris Birkin, who finished sixth overall and second in class in the Western Cape.

Father and son Cliff and Louis Weichelt brought their trusty N1 4x4 / Bosal Toyota Land Cruiser home third in Class D last time out and will debut their new V6 powered Toyota Hilux in KwaZulu Natal.

Team Ford Racing fielded the new V6 powered Ford Ranger for former Class E champions Manfred Schroder and Jack Peckham, who are cane farmers in the Eston area, on the Nissan Dealer 400. They were immediately on the pace and led Class D until they lost front-wheel drive and limped home 13th overall.

Nissan Hardbody pick-ups outnumber the rest with GBS Racing entering three single cab models for reigning Class D champions Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo from Klerksdorp, husband and wife JP and Linda Augustin from Hartswater and Johan Gerber and Coetzee Labuschagne from Middelburg and Vereeniging respectively.

BB Auto in Pietersburg has entered a double cab model for Arnold du Plessis and George Baker, as have Arnold Chatz Cars for last year’s Class D winner on the Nissan Sugarbelt 400, Alfie Cox and Ralph Pitchford. Father and son Alfred and Tommy van Vuuren are entered in a double cab model in which they contest both the Northern Regions and the Absa Off Road Championships.

Brothers Mark and Stuart Moffat will be in action in the N1 4x4 / Bosal Land Rover with newcomers Chris Fick and Rob Knight making their debut in the Kopanong Hotel Superteam Land Rover.

Harrismith based father and son Johan and Marthinus van der Merwe (Chavani Mitsubishi Colt) were strong contenders in last year’s Class D championship and were narrowly beaten by Hein Grobler and Gerhard Prinsloo. They missed out on the Darling event and will have some catching up to do in KwaZulu Natal. Henri Zermatten and Bodo Schwegler will also fly the flag for Mitsubishi in the Playstation / Master Craft Pajero.

Nampo 400 winners Hannes Steyn and Ockie Fourie (Isuzu KB 320) gave notice that they are a threat when they led Class D in Darling before retiring with front differential problems. Arthur van Zweel and Piero Antiga will be in action in the Homemasters Isuzu.

Toyota dominates Class E, both as far as entries and as far as race wins are concerned, and four Hiluxes have been entered for the second round of the Absa Off Road Championship.

Spearheading the Toyota factory effort will be Durbanites Zane Pearce and Hennie Vosloo in the Castrol Toyota Hilux KZ-TE and former Rotax Max World Champion Gavin Cronje and multiple Production Vehicle co-drivers champion Robin Houghton in the Castrol Toyota Hilux 2.7i.

A host of privateers including the de Bruyn pair, Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst in the Tyco Toyota Hilux, Lichtenburg 200 winners, Hein Moolman and Cecil Fincham (4x4 Mega World Toyota Hilux), Thomas Rundle and Rassie Erasmus (Barden Tyre Services Toyota Hilux) and husband and wife crew Marius and Tracey van Vuuren who will be in action in their new N1 4x4 / Bosal Toyota Hilux 2.7i could spring a few surprises.

Husband and wife Neels and Zelda van der Walt are consistent performers in their Nissan Hardbody 2.4 and will want to capitalise on their fine second place in the season opening event while brothers Jurie and Andre du Plessis from Pietersburg have some ground to make up after a non-finish in their BB Auto Nissan Hardbody in the Western Cape.

Ford will pin their hopes on their new development team, Baphumze Rubuluza and Khulile Vakalisa, who cruised home third in Class E in their Team Ford Racing Ranger on the Nissan Dealer 400 and on Harrismith based Dirk van Reenen and Ian Palmer in the ex-Zane Pearce Ford Ranger.

Andre Botha and Beans Heydenrych (Kopanong Hotel Superteam Chev) and Steve Godleman and Greg Fitzpatrick (Mazda) will do battle in Class F.

The Nissan Sugarbelt 400 offers spectators 25 opportunities to see some of the fastest competition vehicles in South Africa in action in the most extreme dirt conditions. The 35km Prologue starts at noon on Friday, April 23 and the main event gets underway at the Beaumont Eston Farmers Club at 08h00 on Saturday. The first vehicle is expected at the finish at 13h30.

Original article from Car