The best of the best in the Production Vehicle category of the South African National Cross Country Series (SACCS) are ready and eager to do battle at the Berg 400 on May 17 and 18.
With the first points on the scoreboard after the Mpumalanga 400, the Berg 400 will play an important role in the Production Vehicle championship. The competition is extremely tough and losing a few points now, can change the game plan at the end of the season.
Competitors and service crews would hope for a relatively dry event as memories of a wet opening round at Dullstroom will still be in the back of their minds. The Champagne Castle valley at the foothills of the Drakensberg has, however, received lots of rain recently and teams can expect the Berg 400 to throw a variety of terrain and conditions at them.
The playing field will be level for all as it is the first time teams will take on a national cross country event in the Winterton and Estcourt areas. While the titanic battles in the FIA Class and Class T will be as tough as ever, teams also compete for the best overall standings and this factor adds to the level of excitement at each race.
In the FIA Class, Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux team-mates, Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy and Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings will continue their ding-dong battle. At the opening round, it was initially all about Lategan and his new navigator, former motorcycle rider Brett Cummings, but it was eventually De Villiers/Murphy who stuck to their guns to take the win. It was so close, yet so far for Lategan/Cummings and a victory this early in the season will be a positive boost for their confidence.
Leading the Class T standings are reigning champions and local KZN competitors, Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable (Ford Castrol Cross Country Ranger) who are also third on the overall standings behind the Toyota Gazoo Racing teams. Lance’s brother, Gareth, who is just behind him on the standings after a great performance at the opening round, will not be participating in the Berg 400 as the second Ford Castrol Cross Country Ranger will see the regular international team of Marcos Baumgart/Kleber Cincea in the cabin.
With Gareth Woolridge/Boyd Dreyer not in the picture, two other Class T teams, who are in the overall top six, have a chance to move up the overall as well as the Class T standings. Gary Bertholdt/Geoff Minnitt (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) are always going for gold and will do so again while former Class T champs, brothers Johan/Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota Hilux) will be aiming for a trouble-free race and good points to stay in the race for the titles.
After a problematic start, Chris Visser/Philip Herselman (Atlas Copco Toyota Hilux) will also hope for a good result and a healthy dose of points as they have a difficult road ahead making up lost points. If everything goes their way, they might just be the cat amongst the pigeons at the front of the FIA Class.
Team Red-Lined Motorsport will be out in all their glory taking a gaggle of Nissan Navara vehicles to the Berg 400. Under the Red-Lined Motorsport umbrella, Ernest Roberts/Riaan Greyling (JCP Roofing Navara), who participated for the first time in the Production Vehicle category at Dullstroom in March, are happy with their top 10 finish. They are leading the rest of the adventurous Red-Lined Motorsport entrants that include Terence Marsh (Motul Navara) who will have Letshego Zulu, wife of the late motorsport hero Gugu Zulu, reading the notes for the second time in the Celebrity Challenge.
Jaco van Dyk and Michel Rust will also be out in their Red-Lined Motorsport 24-7 Race Fuels Navara and will hope to add more points to their tally while it will be a first outing this season for the international regulars, Thomas Bell and Patrick McMurren (Dragon Energy Navara), who have successfully competed in four of the biggest international Cross Country races from Dakar to Morocco this year.
Schalk Burger/Elvene (Coetzee) Vonk (King Price Extreme Navara) will also be on the start line in their Red-Lined built Nissan Navara. Burger plans to participate in the 2020 Dakar Rally and the team returned to the drawing board after the Mpumalanga 400 to be even better prepared for the Berg 400.
The rest of the FIA Class will see Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Shameer Variawa and navigator, Juan Möhr, who will be looking for their first finish this season and a good amount of points to go with it while Team Elf Renault Duster, Johan van Staden/Mike Lawrenson will also be aiming for their first points.
In Class T, Jacques van Tonder/Sammy Redelinghuys (Ford Ranger) can add another finish and points to their first helping while a trouble-free event might just see a first finish and points for Richard Leeke/Danie Stassen (ATS Ford Ranger). It will be a first outing this season for Theuns Joubert/Henry Kohne (Elf Renault Duster) and Wors Prinsloo/Kenneth Venter (Ford Ranger) and a finish will be a good way to start their season.
The defending Class S champions, David Huddy/Gerhard Schutte, are the lonely entrants in their class. They will tackle the Berg 400 with the knowledge that they are eighth in the overall Production Vehicle standings and another consistent finish might just see them better that position.
The 64km Qualifying Race that starts at 12:30 on Friday, 17 May from the Waffle Hut on the outskirts of Winterton, will determine the starting grid for the race on Saturday, 18 May when the leading team will take on the first of two 170km loops at 07:30. The Start/Finish as well as Race Headquarters and the Designated Service Point (DSP) are based at the Waffle Hut and will be the hub of all the action. Spectators will be able to follow the race between Winterton and Estcourt with an exciting stadium stage 40km into the loop on the outskirts of Estcourt just off Wembesi Road.
Public entrance to the Waffle Hut and DSP as well as the various spectator vantage points along the route, is free.
Enthusiasts can follow the Berg 400 on the RallySafe App sponsored by Toyota that can be downloaded free for Android and iOS devices.