Team TOTAL tackles the misty mountains
Pace notes and perseverance characterised the thrilling opening day to Round Two of the South African Rally Championship. Sabie, Graskop and White River echoed with the screaming exhaust notes of Africa’s fastest rally machines.
Rain, mist and mud made a telling mark on the proceedings of Day One of the Sasol Rally. Playing out over two gravel forest speed tests and two tarmac super special stages, it was a ding-dong battle between the two Ford Fiesta S2000s of reigning South African Rally Champions Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton and guests Matthew Wilson/Chris Patterson. Wilson, with his seasons of World Rally Championship experience under his youthful belt, tops the rally’s timesheets with a 30.2 second advantage over team-mate Cronje. Over a minute adrift of these leading two is the factory-backed Toyota Yaris S2000 of Leeroy Poulter and Elvene Coetzee.
With an entry list 43 competitors long, five crews starting the event in Sabie on Friday morning were contesting the FIA African Rally Championship. Although Wilson leads the event, his position (and those of the other African Rally Championship entrants) does not affect the Championship fight for the South African titles. As is expected from the most competitive rally championship on this continent, and one of the world’s most exciting, there is action aplenty throughout the leader board for overall positions.
Having completed seven stages, starting in Sabie’s Market Square and ending at the overnight halt outside Nelspruit, rally crews will tackle the remaining distance in this 210km timed special stages event with eight stages on Saturday 20 April. The first stage on Saturday morning will be the always popular “Spaghetti Junction” super special in the heart of Nelspruit before the route leads rally cars through the forests in Hendricksdal, Sabie, Graskop and White River once more before finishing at the Lowveld Sports Grounds in Nelspruit at 16h00.
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 took to the damp and misty stages aggressively on the opening stages of the event, but the unpredictable mist reduced visibility to mere metres in some places for some drivers as the wind carried the mist through the valleys. As with the majority of competitors, his overall speed was hamstrung. However, the Somerset West-based businessman powered to eighth position overall, and was yet once more the fastest Toyota Auris S2000 pilot and the second fastest in Class S2000 Challenge.
“It is tricky out there,” said Damseaux. “We’re going as fast as the conditions will allow, but it doesn’t make our stage times any faster. All crews are battling for those high speeds, and we have our work cut out for us on tomorrow’s stages. Our car is perfect and we are waiting for the moment to attack.”
Picking up where he left in last month’s TOTAL Rally 2013 in KwaZulu-Natal, Moosa shot onto the stages looking for a top five position in the opening stages of this event. However, his Toyota Auris S2000’s brakes mysteriously faded in the first kilometres of the event and reduced the Tzaneen entrepreneur to limping through the stage to lose valuable time to his rivals. In the afternoon’s stages, he was struck with more bad luck: first he snapped a driveshaft to render his car rear-wheel drive only for two stages until it was possible to repair the damage, and then his window wipers failed in the fourth stage to further reduce his visibility and slow his pace. The two short tarmac stages in Sabie and White River in the evening were completed faultlessly, but with only 1.7km of timed action it was not enough to make a dent into his rivals’ advantage over him. He lies 11th overall on the leader board and is fourth in the Class S2000 Challenge standings.
“It was just not our day today,” shrugged Moosa. “We can only hope that the luck will be on our side tomorrow.”
Trott and Lourens had a day at the office they wish to never repeat: they collected five punctures that cost the pairing over 20 minutes in stage time to their rivals in the Two Wheel Drive category and Class S1600. Promising was their pace in the one trouble-free stage they enjoyed, and with eight stages lying in wait on Saturday for Trott a fight back up the leader board will be thrilling to witness.
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
Overall Standings at the end of Day One:
01) M. Wilson/C. Patterson – 01h 16m 03.5s
02) M. Cronje/R. Houghton + 30.2s
03) L. Poulter/E. Coetzee + 01m 34.4s
04) H. Lategan/B. White + 02m 08.2s
05) J. Gemmell/C. Swan + 03m 10.5s
06) J. Habig/R. Paisley + 03m 18.5s
07) G. Zulu/C. Peskin + 03m 47.4s
08) J-P. Damseaux/H. Auffray (Team TOTAL) + 05m 29.1s
11) M. Moosa/A. Vermeulen (Team TOTAL) + 08m 46.3s
24) C. Trott/J. Lourens (Team TOTAL) + 21m 52.2s