Two wins from two starts have given factory Toyota Hilux crew Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie a 19 point cushion at the top of the standings, both overall and in Class T, for vehicle of more than four litres with independent rear suspension. But, with 60 points on offer over the two legs that will make up the race, that could change literally overnight.
Reigning champions Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy, in the second factory Hilux are tied for second with Ford Performance pair Lance Woolridge and Ward Huxtable and can't afford to let Poulter and Howie widen the gap.
Taylor and Murphy won in 2013 and 2014; they're all too aware of what it takes to win a race in which they have also been victims of the dreaded sting in the tail, while former champions Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst in the second works Ranger will also be looking to get back in title contention.
These four crews have filled all the podium spots in the two rounds run so far this year. The Desert Race is also the only marathon event on the calendar, its length adding to the difficulty factor for the privateers.
If they are to put a dent in the factory team dominance, one of them will to have to produce an exceptional performance.
Youngsters Jason Venter and Vince van Allemann (Toyota Hilux) and Mpumalanga brothers Johan and Werner Horn (Toyota Hilux) are the top privateers in the standings. Nevertheless, they'll need to up their game if they are to provide the factory teams with any sort of challenge, as will the brother/sister Ford Ranger combination of Jacques and Lizelle van Tonder, Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson in their Nissan Navara, and BMW X3 crew Hennie de Klerk and Johann Smalberger.
Highly experienced Ford Ranger privateers Gary Bertholdt and Siegfried Rousseau have made a disappointing start to their campaign with two non-finishes, while back-up for Van Staden and Lawrenson will come from team-mates Terence Marsh and celebrity co-driver Marius Roberts, Jurgen and Max Schroder and Sean Reitz and Riaan Greyling, each looking a breakthrough win.
The situation in the class for vehicles up to four litres with solid-axle rear suspension has had a shake-up, with the first entry of the season by reigning champions Jannie Visser and Joks le Roux in a Toyota Hilux. Portuguese crew Rómulo Branco and João Serôdio (Nissan Navara) and husband and wife pair Freddie and Sune Kriel (Ford Ranger) have a win apiece to top the points log, but the appearance of Visser and Le Roux will add a new dimension to proceedings.
The Desert Race could be a turning point in the overall, Class A and Class P title chases; all three championships are deadlocked and, as the song goes, something's got to give.
Former champions Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen (BAT Viper), and Lance Trethewey and Geoff Minnitt (BAT Venom) are locked together at the top of the overall and Class A championships with a win and second each, putting them 20 points Brett Parker and VZ van Zyl - who won the Desert Race with Greg Daus way back in 2002 - in their Jimco.
Hutchison and Stassen looked set for a certain win last year when the car caught fire just three kilometres from the flying finish - vivid proof that the Desert almost always has a sting in the tail.
Third placed Jimmy Zahos and Zaheer Bodhanya (Stryker) are 35 points behind the leaders, with fourth placed John Thomson and Maurice Zermatten (Magnum) a further three points adrift.
The Desert Race places a premium on reliability, and this is a commodity that has been in short supply among the Class A and Class P teams so far this season.
Zahos and Bodhanya started strongly with a maiden podium on the RFS Endurance and then fell by the wayside on the Sugarbelt 450. Coetzee and Sandra Labuscagne (Porter), former Desert Race winners Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr (Century Racing CR5), and Sarel von Biljon and Philip Herselman (BAT) also go into the race with dodgy form behind them and will need to pull something special out of the bag.
There will be plenty of local support for Botswana BAT drivers Keith du Toit - partnered this time by Robbie Coetzee - and Mogrey Mabille, who'll have the experienced Zelda Niemand in the hot seat.
A win and a non-finish apiece have tied 2013 champions Thomson and Zermatten and KwaZulu-Natal BAT pair James Watson and John Thompson at the top of the log.
Consistency has previously been a strong point for Thomson and Zermatten and results over recent seasons positions them as favourites - but Watson and Thompson finished on the overall podium
Nevertheless, neither BAT can match the enigmatic Colin Matthews and Rodney Burke, back in the Century Racing CR3 after an outing in a new Century Racing CR-T, for sheer pace. If the CR3 can last the distance Matthews and Burke could give the Class A crews a run for their money.
WHERE AND WHEN
Race headquarters, the start/finish and the designated service point will again be at the Jwaneng Sports Club and adjoining showground facility. Public access to these areas will be controlled, but there will be free entry into spectator viewing points along the route.
The qualifying race to determine grid positions will be run over 100 kilometres, starting at 11.30 am on 26 June. Heats 1 and 2 of the race proper will be run on 27 and 28 June, starting at 8.30an on each day, over two laps of about 250km each, with a compulsory 20 minute stop after the first loop.
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Original source: Desert Race the crux of SA series