Between them Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie, and reigning champions Anthony Taylor And Dennis Murphy have done all the winning so far this season. Poulter and Howie have won the RFS Endurance, the Sugarbelt 450 and the first leg of Botswana 1000 Desert Race, with Taylor and Murphy taking the second-heat honours in Botswana.
Simple mathematics paints a grim picture; Poulter and Howie have a 14 point lead over Taylor and Murphy, but the gap to
Ford Ranger crews Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable, and Gary Bertholdt Siegfried Rousseau, in joint third is a huge 67 points - more than two wins - and there are only 90 points to be scored over the final three rounds.
Woolridge and Huxtable will be rueing a wasted opportunity in Botswana, while Bertholdt and Rousseau will want to build on a performance that took them from nowhere in the championship to joint third.
SCOPE FOR DRAMA
Further down the championship ladder there is plenty of scope for drama on a race route and format that will present a complete contrast from the Desert Race.
Woolridge's younger brother Gareth and Boyd Dreyer (Ford Ranger) in their debut season, are only four points behind Woolridge senior and Huxtable - but then things get interesting with only nine points covering Woolridge and Dreyer and the next five crews on the points table.
They include Jason Venter and Vince van Allemann (Toyota Hilux), the consistent Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson (Nissan Navara), Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst (Ford Ranger), Heine Strumpher and Henri Hugo (Toyota Hilux) and local brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Toyota Hilux - who would like nothing more than a strong performance on home turf.
The debut of Australian pair John Purshouse - a former Australian rally champion - and Murray Hynes, in the ex-factory Ford Ranger in which Manfred Schroder and Japie Badenhorst won the 2014 Toyota Dealer 450, will adds interest to the Class T mix.
Two top-five finishes on the Desert Race lifted Strumpher and Hugo into the lead of the Class S championship for cars up to four litres with solid axle rear suspension.
They lead Portuguese Nissan Navara crew Rómulo Branco and João Serôdio by 12 points but might find it tough going on the tight and technical Nkomazi 450 route, while the Portuguese pair will probably be more at home in Mpumalanga conditions.
In a championship in danger of turning into a two-horse race the top two crews need to consolidate - and behind them those with a mathematical chance need to keep their championship hopes alive.
Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen, in their BAT Viper, go to Mpumalanga with a 27 point advantage over Lance Trethewey and Geoff Minnitt in a BAT Venom. They're the only Special Vehicle crews with 100 percent finish records this season, and that in itself tells a story.
Reliability issues have hit Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr (CR5), Brett Parker and VZ van Zyl (Jimco) and Colin Matthews and Rodney Burke in their CR3. Behind Matthews and Burke only Class P crew John Thomson and Maurice Zermatten (Zarco) have any mathematical interest in the title race and, facing a deficit of 86 points, are effectively out of contention.
Former champions Hutchison and Stassen went to Botswana level on points with Trethewey and Minnitt but wins in both legs lifted the Viper crew into a position of strength; Trethewey and Minnitt will need a good comeback result on the tight and technical Nkomazi route.
Corbett and Mohr had a good Desert Race, moving up to third in the standings ahead of Parker and van Zyl - but they're still 62 points behind Hutchison and Stassen.
There is no doubt that Matthews and Burke have the pace to win overall if they manage a clean run. Reliability is the problem for the Century Racing pair who will go into the weekend sharing the Class P championship lead with Thomson and Zermatten.
Thomson and Zermatten will again place their faith in consistency, and the battle between the two Class P leaders will showcase the contrast in their styles - especially as they're only eight points clear of veteran Richard Carolin and Andrew Massey in a Zarco.
Carolin and Massey took full advantage of the double points on offer at the Desert Race to leapfrog into third in the championship. A win in the second heat also saw Carolin, after a three year break from racing, add to the overall victory he scored with brother Buks in Botswana 20 years ago.
The 100km qualifier to determine grid positions will start at 11.30am on Friday 7 August, with the main race, over two laps of about 175km each, starting at 8.30am on Saturday and including a compulsory 20 minute service halt after the first loop.
Race headquarters, the start/finish and the designated service park will all be at the Riverview Preparatory School on the outskirts of Malalane. Public entry to these areas and spectator viewing points along the route will be free.
Refreshments and entertainment will be available at the Riverview School, with race programmes available at race headquarters and Malalane Toyota.
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Original source: Crunch time for cross-country racers