Mpumalanga 400 2020: Quality field in  Production Vehicle category predicts the beginning of an exciting season for the 2020 South African Cross Country Championship

Mpumalanga 400 2020: Quality field in Production Vehicle category predicts the beginning of an exciting season for the 2020 South African Cross Country Championship

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The Production Vehicle category of the Mpumalanga 400, the opening round of the 2020 South African National Cross Country Championship (SACCS) that takes place on 28 and 29 February in the Dullstroom area, has not only received a quality field of entries, but the line-up predicts an exciting start to the season. Both the FIA and T Class are packed with names of defending and former champions and lots of talent while various new and current race-winning vehicles will be on the start line.

After a break of three months, the teams, sponsors, supporters and enthusiasts are ready and eager to get the new season started. The nerves will, however, have to hold until 13:00 on Friday, 28 February when the flag will drop for the vehicles to kick up the first dust of 2020 at the Qualifying Race of the Mpumalanga 400.

All the familiar names in the FIA Class are back on the list and the defending champions, Henk Lategan/Brett Cummings (Toyota Gazoo Racing), who became the youngest pair to win a SACCS championship last year, will give it their all to successfully defend their title. The Toyota Gazoo Racing team will again include former multiple SA champion and Dakar winner Giniel de Villiers and his Spanish navigator Alex Haro who successfully competed in their first Dakar Rally together earlier this year. De Villiers would like nothing better than to bag another SACCS title. The talented sportsman from Stellenbosch finished his 16th consecutive Dakar Rally and claimed his 15th top ten result in this gruelling event.

After a successful first season with the Toyota Gazoo Racing last year, Shameer Variawa will again be part of the squad and will go for gold with former champion Dennis Murphy who previously read the notes for De Villiers.

Former SA champion Chris Visser and Danie Stassen will continue their partnership their Toyota Hilux now sporting new sponsor Total Excellium colours. Visser was forced to make use of two navigators last year and together with Stassen, the team will hope to better the three runner-up results and be competitive from the word go.

The defending Class T champion, Lance Woolridge (Ford Castrol Cross Country Team), has moved to the FIA Class and will be joined by the Protea Colours Navigator, Elvéne Vonk. With many years of racing experience, Team Woolridge/Vonk will no doubt be a combination to be reckoned with. It is worthy to note that Woolridge won Class T at the Mpumalanga 400 last year and finished third overall while De Villiers claimed the overall and FIA Class victories and various interesting battles can be expected at the 2020 season opener.

Woolridge/Vonk will be joined in the FIA Class by their Brazilian team-mates, Marcos Baumgart and Kleber Cincea who have been regular competitors in South Africa. The team have also moved from Class T, where they proved fast and reliable in the 2019 season, to the FIA Class. With changes to the FIA Regulations and the MSA General Competition Rules, foreign competitors competing in local championships are now eligible to score points and no doubt the team will relish the opportunity.

The 2017 Overall Special Vehicle Champions, the husband and wife pairing of Marius and Jolinda Fourie, will be making a come-back to the SACCS and will do so in another Ford Ranger. The farmers from Christiana might well be a spanner in the works for many a team in the Production Vehicle category.

Team Red-Lined Motorsport will be represented by Ernest Roberts/Henry Köhne (Nissan Navara) who will build on their great start and results as 2019 rookies while the German driver and regular visitor, Daniel Schröder and KwaZulu-Natal businessman and motorcycle rider, Ryan Bland, will also be back in action in the WCT Engineering prepared Nissan Navara.

Johan van Staden (Elf Renault Duster) has teamed up with his son Sean for the season while Clint Weston (King Price Xtreme) will start his first full SACCS season with rally navigator, Gerhard Snyman. Namibian rally driver, Thilo Himmel, has also entered the FIA Class in a Schalk Burger Motorsport King Price Xtreme with the navigator still to be announced.

Another well-known racing couple, Ramon and Maret Bezuidenhout also make a welcome return and will take on the rest of the field in a Century Racing CR-5 as will multiple SA Quad champion and 2016 Dakar podium finisher Brian Baragwanath. Baragwanath will be joined by Juan Mohr, who sat alongside along-side Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Variawa in 2019, in a Century Racing CR 6.

With a few teams having moved to the FIA Class, things will also be somewhat shaken up in Class T and the racing action will be highly competitive with all the teams aiming for the title. That includes the former Class T champions, Johan and Werner Horn (Malalane Toyota) who finished the 2019 season as the Class T runners-up after an up and down season. The competition will be fierce and experienced racer, Gary Bertholdt who will have Siegfried Rousseau reading the notes and a new sponsor, Total Excellium on board, will no doubt be in the running for the title in their Toyota Hilux.

Bertholdt will hope for things to go his way this year and a great start to the season, like last year when he opened his scorebook with good points after finishing third in Class T at the Mpumalanga 400, will be the motivation to get the ball rolling.

The Toyotas will be outnumbered by Fords in Class T with four Rangers on the start line. Jacques van Tonder/Sammy Redelinghuys (Neil Woolridge Motorsport) had a consistent 2019 season and will be ready for action. Two more Ford Ranger teams also competing under the Neil Woolridge Motorsport banner - Wors Prinsloo/André Vermeulen and father and son team Malcom and Frans Kock will be hoping to do their sponsor proud.

Richard Leeke and Zaheer Bodhanya will again share the ATS Ford Ranger cabin and will be looking for a healthy points haul at the beginning of the season. Leeke had a roller coaster 2019 season but consistency could see the team as serious contenders in the 2020 championship.

Terence Marsh and Red-Lined Motorsport’s Fitness and Nutrition Advisor Letshego Zulu will tackle the first 2020 SACCS adventure in the lone Nissan Navara in Class T. Zulu has been in the hot seat on numerous occasions and the team will be looking forward to lots of fun with good points the added bonus.

Another husband and wife team, Pongola based Bernard and Minette Johnstone are aiming to complete their first full season in the SACCS championship in their Toyota Hilux.

“We are thrilled to see the number of entries in both the classes for the Mpumalanga 400 and it predicts an exciting start to the 2020 National Cross Country Championship,” said SACCS chief executive officer, Archie Rutherford, “It is great to welcome back teams who have taken a sabbatical while the shake-up in the classes will make for an interesting series,” Rutherford concluded.

With teams in the Production Vehicle category competing for the best results and most points in the overall championship as well as in the FIA and Class T Championships, the competition will be tough. A challenging, but enjoyable scenic route at the Mpumalanga 400 will add to the excitement and spectators and enthusiasts can look forward to an action-packed weekend in the Dullstroom area of Mpumalanga.

The Mpumalanga 400 starts on Friday, 28 February at 10:00 with documentation and vehicle scrutineering at the Village Green Cricket Oval in Dullstroom where the Race Headquarters as well as the Start/Finish and Designated Service Point (DSP) will be. The first vehicle will start the 64 Qualifying Race on Friday at 13:00 and the results will determine the starting order for the race on Saturday when the leading vehicle will take on the 157km loop at 08:00.

There will be a de-control for all teams after the completion of the first loop and the race will restart again at 12:00 when competitors take on the 157km loop for the second time. The race can be followed on the RallySafe App and can be downloaded free for Android and iOS mobile devices.

Entry to the Village Green Cricket Oval as well as to the various vantage points along the route is free on both Friday and Saturday.

Source SACCS official press release
Images: Nadia Jordaan

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