Forests beckon Team TOTAL for Volkswagen Rally this weekend
One of the country’s most exciting sporting spectacles, rallying is a motorsport discipline providing competitors’ unparalleled challenges and fans with an opportunity to come close to the action. Featuring purpose-built cars, brave and determined rally drivers and co-drivers, rally cars race against the stopwatch in a bid to record the fastest time in a point-to-point format, from tar, mud, smooth gravel tracks to rough, twisting dirt roads cutting through forests over mountains. This is the adrenaline-fuelled, high-octane and high drama sport of special stage rallying.
Rally crews, competitors, fans and motorsport enthusiasts will this weekend take to the Volkswagen Rally stages in and around Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape for Round Four of the 2013 South African National Rally Championship. South Africa boasts some of the best rally drivers in the world: our varying surface conditions and road types lend beautifully to the sideways driving that showcases driving skill, the flat-out jumps over blind crests as well as the precise driving lines needed to tackle hairpins and switchbacks fearlessly.
This weekend’s rally action is centered about the Longmore Forest outside of Port Elizabeth. These forestry roads make for nail-biting excitement for spectators and thrilling driving for competitors, with the roads slicing through the mountains and along their contours with menacing drop-offs to catch the unwary.
A total of 13 stages and 173.19km of timed competition over two days awaits the teams. Seven stages are scheduled for Friday 19 July, starting at Volkswagen’s Auto Pavilion in Uitenhage at noon with four speed tests in the Longmore Forest and ending with a tar Super Special Stage in Jeffrey’s Bay at 19h15. Action restarts on Saturday 20 July in Jeffrey’s Bay with the first stage getting underway at 09h01, and then heads to Longmore Forest for another four stages before its conclusion with the fan favourite King’s Beach parking lot Super Special stage at 14h23 with the prize-giving ceremony afterwards.
Winners of May’s Toyota Gauteng Dealer Rally, Jan Habig and Robert Paisley (Ford Fiesta S2000) will be out to claim their second victory of 2013, while Ford Fiesta S2000 compatriots and reigning South African champions Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton are smarting for a win in Port Elizabeth too after losing May’s rally after striking a rock on the very first stage to put them out of contention. Leading the Championship standings, they are favourites for victory on this rally once again. However, the Volkswagen factory team will be aiming for a podium lockout on their home event. Their Toyota factory team rivals are aiming to cause an upset with their three all-new Toyota Yaris S2000s in only their fourth National rally after knocking on the winners’ door on two occasions thus far in 2013. It will be a fierce battle for the winners’ trophies, and the Volkswagen Rally is the ideal event on which to follow the unfolding action in the mountains of the Longmore Forest.
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 (car number #5), Mohammed Moosa/Andre Vermeulen (car number #15) and Craig Trott/Janine Lourens (car number #61). 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.
Heading into this event, Damseaux and Moosa lie second and third overall respectively in the S2000 Challenge Class standings. Somerset West’s Damseaux was leading the Class ahead of the last event, but in the first stage his Team TOTAL Toyota Auris’ gearbox failed and forced him to retire from the rally. This weekend he will be seeking to regain his top spot on the points’ leader board, and these forest roads suit his smooth and swift driving style. Last year’s edition of the Volkswagen Rally was blighted by heavy rain that saw three stages flooded and cancelled. Damseaux pushed hard in the slippery and treacherous conditions, and wisely decided to bring his car home safely to the finish instead of pushing his car to its limits and risking a crash as many competitors did. The sun is predicted to shine this weekend in Port Elizabeth, and this will undoubtedly see Damseaux chase his factory-backed rivals for a second overall podium result in 2013.
Team-mate and friendly rival Moosa recorded sixth position overall and first S2000 Challenge Class competitor in the Toyota Gauteng Dealer Rally. However, on the final stage of the event he rolled his car. Spectators rushed to his car, lying on its side, and righted it to enable him to finish the rally and record his first S2000 Challenge Class victory. Unfortunately, Moosa’s Auris was severely damaged and required a complete rebuild for it to be competition-ready for the Volkswagen Rally. His hard-working team of mechanics rebuilt his rally car, from a bare bodyshell to a growling rally car, in record time. At the end of June, after taking just seven days to rebuild, reconfigure and test his Team TOTAL Toyota Auris S2000, Moosa and co-driver Vermeulen took on the Tzaneen Rally – a Northern Regions Rally Championship event – and claimed a well-earned second position overall in preparation for this weekend’s encounter. With his form improving with his confidence in the rally car on each event, Moosa is now an established threat to the factory runners and will be rubbing up against their faster and more powerful cars’ bumpers in the Longmore Forest.
Trott battled through the Toyota Gauteng Dealer Rally’s challenging route with bravery to finish on the podium in third place in Class S1600. It was an event of high attrition and high speeds, but the eight-times Class champion showed his wealth of experience to race from fifth place at the end of Day One to third position at the end of the demanding rally. The tight and twisting roads scheduled for this weekend favour his Team TOTAL Toyota RunX S1600, and his skill behind the steering wheel and the enthusiasm from co-driver Lourens will see the pairing strive for steps higher up on the rostrum this time out in the hunt for more Championship points. Forest stages demand a different strategy, and the Durbanite rally driver is one his rivals will be closing watching to see when and how he will strike.
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. In the Service Park on Day One, Fred Berrange and Chris Pearce supported Craig Trott by helping his service team in making sure the Team TOTAL Toyota RunX S1600 left the Service Park prepped and primed for fiercer rally action. On Day Two, the Leopard Conservation Project cheered for Team TOTAL’s crews and provided added inspiration to motivate the team’s crews to fight for their cause on the stages too.
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.