A devastating fire at the Neil Woolridge Motorsport premises in Pietermaritzburg has more than likely put paid to an intriguing battle in Class T in the Production Vehicle category at the Lichtenburg 450, round four of the Donaldson Cross Country Motor Racing Championship, in the North West town on July 29 and 30.

The switch in interest to Class T was the product of runaway leaders in the overall championship where Toyota Gazoo Racing SA crews have put plenty of daylight between them and the opposition.  In the overall championship Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie have a 33 point lead over team-mates Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy, and the two FIA Class factory crews will again be overwhelming favourites to clinch the major honours.

However, an intense battle for third and fourth in the overall championship, and at the top of Class T between Chris Visser and Ward Huxtable (Neil Woolridge Motorsport/Ford Performance Ranger) and Jason Venter/Vince van Allemann (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) was expected to hold centre stage in Lichtenburg.  The gap between the Ford and the Toyota Hilux is two points in the overall championship and a single point in the Class T title race – but the fire has in all likelihood put paid to that.

“We are pulling out all the stops to see if we can make alternative arrangements to at least give Chris and Ward a chance to keep fighting for the championship,” said team principal Neil Woolridge who is currently in Spain.

The Lichtenburg outing was also the classic match-up of experience versus youth. Visser and Huxtable are both South African champions and veterans who have been around the block a time or two.

By contrast Venter and van Allemann made their Class T debut in the 2014 season after having come through the ranks. But, by golly, they have learned quickly.

But the Class T battle does not end with Visser/Huxtable and Venter/van Allemann. There is a 31 point gap in the class championship between Venter/van Allemann and the experienced Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson (Red-Lined Nissan Navara), but a win for the Nissan crew on the first heat of the Toyota 1000 Desert Race indicates this is no two-horse race.

The fire also damaged the second NWM/Ford Performance Ranger of Gareth Woolridge and Boyd Dreyer in fourth place in the championship, but with the likes of Christiaan du Plooy/Henk Janse van Vuuren (RFS VW Amarok) and Luke Botha/Andre Vermeulen (Red-Lined Motorsport Nissan Navara) you have a highly competitive mix in Class T.  Du Plooy and Janse van Vuuren have shown great potential in the RFS Amarok, and Botha/Vermeulen has made a consistent start to their campaign.

In a tight situation only 16 points separate van Staden/Lawrenson in third and Botha and Vermeulen in sixth in the championship. Du Plooy/Janse van Vuuren and Botha/Vermeulen are separated by just one point and there won’t be any shortage of mid table battles.

Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Hilux) have yet to hit their straps this season, and Gary Bertholdt and Pierre Arries (Atlas Copco VW Amarok) have also not realised their full potential. Both crews are eminently capable of upset results, and Hennie de Klerk and young Adriaan Roets (Treasury One BMW X3) are also capable of a surprise.

Terence Marsh and singer/songwriter Kurt Darren (Red-Lined Nissan Navara) will keep Poulter/Howie and Taylor/Murphy honest in the FIA Class, but all the signs point towards more Toyota Gazoo Racing SA dominance. That is, of course, unless the law of averages intervenes.

Class S, for cars up to four litres, looks to be a straight fight between Heine Strumpher/Henri Hugo (4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux) and the Graven Motorsport Toyota Hilux models of Otto Graven/Bobby Brewis and Ronald Graven/Lohan Faber. The Kimberley based Gravens are in their first season in the Donaldson series, and Strumpher and Hugo have a major advantage in terms of experience.

Stiff opposition for the trio will come from former South African champion Jannie Visser and son Chris in another Toyota Hilux. Visser is a wily old fox and on home territory will be a handful.

The 100 kilometre qualifying race will start at 11:30 on Friday, 29 and the race at 08:30 on Saturday. The race will be run over two 190 kilometre loops with a 20 minute compulsory service break after the first loop.

The event will also incorporate round five of the Northern Regions Cross Country championship

The MWM / Ford Performance Rager of Chris Visser and Ward Huxtable was destroyed in a fire

Image by Waldo van der Waal