A ‘new look’ Production Vehicle championship at RFS Endurance

A new class, changes to existing class regulations, an international fillip and blasts from the past will add up to a rollicking start for the Production Vehicle category at the RFS Endurance, the opening round of the Donaldson Cross Country Motor Racing Championship, in Vryburg on April 1 and 2.

The new FIA Class allows teams competing in the Donaldson series to run cars to FIA Group T1 specifications that apply to the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup and the Dakar Rally. The FIA Class will run alongside the existing Class T and Class S entries, with a tweak to the regulations doing away with independent rear suspension in Class T.

Both Class S, for cars up to four litres, and Class T, for cars above four litres, will be restricted to solid rear axles. Both classes will also now use commercially available tyres as opposed to racing tyres.

Apart from allowing local teams to develop FIA World Cup and Dakar Rally cars throughout the season, the FIA Class opens the way for international teams to compete in South Africa. And it has borne immediate fruit with two Brazilian teams joining three South African crews at the RFS Endurance Race.

Experienced brothers Cristian and Marcos Baumgart will be joined by Beco Andreotti and Kleber Cincea in a pair of Ford Rangers built to full Group T1 specifications by Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) in Pietermaritzburg. They will be joined in the FIA Class by three local entries from Toyota Gazoo Racing SA and Red-Lined Motorsport.

The two Toyota Hilux entries will be crewed by South African champions Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie, and former champions Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy, with a Red-Lined Nissan Navara in the hands of Terence Marsh and TV presenter Marius Roberts who will be competing in the Celebrity Challenge. The challenge enters its fifth season and allows celebrities from the sports and entertainment worlds to have a taste of the adventure and excitement of national championship motor racing.

Poulter and Howie completely dominated last year’s championship and much the same scenario is likely to develop this year, with Taylor/Murphy the major threat to the pair. The Brazilians could spring a surprise, while Marsh/Roberts will rely on consistency rather than sheer pace.

It is in Class T where there are likely to be fireworks. The category is loaded with some seriously quick and talented teams with a shake-up in the Ford Performance/NWM Ranger squad. The team now boasts a mix of experience and youth with former champion Chris Visser joined by Ward Huxtable after the retirement of Japie Badenhorst.

The second car will be in the hands of youngsters Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer who made a huge impression last season. The pair finished ahead of Visser/Badenhorst and Lance Woolridge/Huxtable in the overall championship, with the elder of the Woolridge brothers now in an administrative role at Neil Woolridge Motorsport.

The blast from the past comes via Robin Yates, a colourful character from racing in the 1980s who has bought the Leith/Transcor Ford Ranger. The car was the first Ranger built by NWM for the now defunct SP Class, and has been upgraded to Class T specifications.

Red-Lined Motorsport bring to the table a strong team with two Nissan Navaras for Johan van Staden/Mike Lawrenson and Luke Botha/Andre Vermeulen. Van Staden/Lawrenson come off a strong showing last season, while Sean Reitz and Riaan Greyling, fresh from a top 40 finish on the Dakar Rally, will sit out this event.

Toyota also has a strong hand via Jason Venter/Vince van Allemann (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux), brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Hilux) and Deon Venter/Jaco van Aardt in a second 4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux. Jason Venter and van Allemann last season claimed leading privateer bragging rights ahead of the Mpumalanga based brothers and both teams will again be competitive.

Hennie de Klerk, now joined by youngster Adriaan Roets in the Treasury One BMW X3, had his moments last season while Pretoria pair Christiaan du Plooy and Henk Janse van Vuuren will be aiming for a solid season in the VW Amarok. The car made its debut on the same event towards the end of last season, with off season development a basis for optimism.

A second VW Amarok will make its first appearance in Atlas Copco colours with the experienced Gary Bertholdt, who missed much of last season, back in action. Sitting alongside him and making his cross country debut will be two time South African rally co-drivers champion Pierre Arries who also brings a wealth of experience to the table.

Class S will see a North West versus Northern Cape battle. North West crew Heine Strumpher and Henri Hugo (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) were piped at the championship post last season, and will be up against Kimberley-based newcomers in Otto and Ronnie Graven who are well known in drifting circles. Otto, a former SA Drift champion, and Bobby Brewis and Ronnie and Lohan Faber will be out in a pair of Toyota Hilux entries, and their progress will come under interested scrutiny.

The qualifying race to determine grid positions will be run over a 190 kilometre route on Friday, April 1. The race the next day will consist of two loops of 245 kilometres with a compulsory 20 minute service halt at the end of the first loop.

A bumper weekend of racing sees the RFS Endurance Race run in conjunction with round two of the Northern Regions Cross Country Championship, and the opening round of the SA Cross Country Motorcycle and Quad Championship. Race headquarters for all categories, the start/finish and the designated service park will be located at the Vryburg Motor Club.

Refreshments will be available, and access to these areas and numerous designated spectator points along the route is free of charge. The qualifying race will start at 10:30 and the race at 07:30 on April 2.