From the sugarcane fields of the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, the rolling hills of Mpumalanga greet the 2013 South African Rally Championship competitors this weekend. After the fast and fearless rally action in last month’s season-opening TOTAL Rally, the longest and arguably toughest rally of the season lies in wait in the forests around Nelspruit for Round Two.
South Africa’s fastest rally drivers and co-drivers are joined for Round Two by the FIA African Rally Championship (ARC) contenders in the Sasol Rally, as that series’ second round forms part of the South African calendar of events. The four ARC teams making their way to Nelspruit bring with them a deep desire for victory and their unbridled passion for the sport makes for thrilling battles throughout the stages as they wrestle with South Africa’s finest for top ten overall positions in an all-out display of driving skill.
As a round of the FIA African Rally Championship and running under its strict rules and regulations, the Sasol Rally competitors are allowed to undertake a recce inspection of the route to create their own pace notes. Drivers and co-drivers spend two extra days on the event, crafting their own pace note instructions on the route. This means that speeds are higher as the drivers’ and co-drivers’ confidence increases with their added knowledge of the nature of the stages for the event.
Starting on Friday morning at 10h00 for the traditional start at the Sabie Market Square, the events takes in a total of 15 stages over a route of 600km with 210 of those kilometres timed special stage distance. Three of the 15 stages are run on tarmac, taking in the Sabie start, the ever-popular night stage through White River on Friday evening and the crowd-pleasing Nelspruit sprint that pits two cars head-to-head against each other and the stopwatch as they wind their way through a circuit of downtown Nelspruit. Eleven stages are set on the flowing, slippery and high-speed gravel forestry roads around the towns of Sabie, Graskop, White River and Hendriksdal. The event is concluded with a short blast around the Lowveld Showgrounds in Nelspruit on Saturday afternoon.
Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta S2000) claimed victory in last month’s TOTAL Rally to start the defence of their 2012 South African Rally Champions titles in the best possible way. They were joined on the podium by Jan Habig/Robert Paisely (Ford Fiesta S2000) and Team TOTAL’s Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Hilton Auffray (Toyota Auris S2000). This upcoming event will see ten crews fighting fairly yet fiercely for the overall victory, and it will be a thrilling encounter to witness.
THE TOTAL RALLY TEAM:
Team TOTAL is the largest privateer rally squad contesting the 2013 South African Rally Championship, and its three-car entry into this competitive series comprises of Jean-Pierre Damseaux/Hilton Auffray, Mohammed Moosa/Andre Vermeulen and Craig Trott/Janine Lourens. Damseaux and Moosa compete in identical Toyota Auris S2000 machines in the ultra-competitive Class S2000 Challenge, while Trott flies the TOTAL South Africa flag in Class S1600 and the Two Wheel Drive Championship.
Damseaux’s podioum finish in last month’s TOTAL Rally was the result of dogged determination and a considered approach to the stages in his Toyota Auris S2000 (car number #5). He took to the stages as the “road sweeper” on Day One to run as the first car over the slippery stages and cleaned the “racing line” for the competitors behind. Damseaux was able to keep the time loss to his rivals in check, and on Day Two he was in a position to attack and cement his position in third place. However, his team-mate Moosa (car number #15) fought back up the leader board to challenge Damseaux on Day Two. The two crews swapped positions twice in a friendly but fiercely competitive rivalry, and this elevated the two drivers’ pace to new heights as they began to reel in the factory Volkswagen and Toyota teams to set a string of top five stage times.
Unfortunately, on the final gravel stage and the penultimate stage of the event, Moosa went wide into a corner, hit a ditch and rolled his car onto its roof. Running in fourth position overall at the time, the stricken Toyota Auris S2000 crew lost 30 minutes to get the car righted onto its wheels to complete the rally. This dropped them from fourth to eighth overall.
Despite this incident, Moosa’s performance on the stages on this opening event of 2013 was electrifying to say the least. He took on the faster and newer machinery in Class S2000, and he outpaced them. With his confidence in his driving ability increasing, he will be one to watch at this weekend’s Sasol Rally.
Craig Trott and Janine Lourens (car number #61) enjoyed an exciting debut as a new pairing in the Team TOTAL Toyota RunX S1600. Trott started the opening rally of the season as the reigning category Champion and local favourite, and ‘Mr Consistency’ took up the challenge and underlined his experience and speed that has brought him eight national Class Championships. Trott brought his rally machine across the finish line in fourth place, a commendable effort against his rivals in newer and more powerful rally cars. Looking to the Sasol Rally, the Durbanite businessman is looking for a podium position. Let this be known to his rivals!
Team TOTAL has chosen the Leopard Conservation Project as their social responsibility and has joined forces to raise awareness of the plight of these elusive predators. The Leopard Conservation Project was created 14 years ago to capture, rehabilitate and release rescued leopards from poaching, poisoning, trapping and over-hunting in southern Africa, and the Project has expanded its role from primarily rescuing these big cats to researching their behaviour and protecting their future population growth through science. In conjunction with the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, the Leopard Conservation Projects strives to bring these marvellous animals back from the brink of extinction.
Team TOTAL is the only rally team to actively support an initiative of this kind in South Africa. For more information on the Leopard Conservation Project, please visit their website at http://www.leopardcon.co.za.