Motorsport success is easily determined: To finish first, you first need to finish. Never is this truer than in special stage rallying, and with 44 win-hungry competitors vying for victory over the most challenging and demanding rally roads in South Africa this is no mean feat. Every speed test completed is but a step closer to the finish, another stage to outpace and outwit rivals.
The Volkswagen Rally marks the halfway point of the 2013 South African National Rally Championship. This weekend’s event in and around Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape was contested over a route of 173km of timed competition over rock-strewn and tree-lined gravel roads. The focus of attention for rally crews was Longmore Forest’s nine stages, where crews pushed their cars and their driving skills to the limits. Not only was the fastest driver and co-driver awarded with champagne, but the bravest and most determined were cheered by the thousands of spectators. This was a rally that thoroughly tested man and machine.
Mark Cronje/Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta S2000) claimed victory in this event, with Jan Habig/Robert Paisley (Ford Fiesta S2000) placing second with a 01 minute 24 second deficit, and Giniel de Villiers/Greg Godrich (Toyota Yaris S2000) recording the final overall podium position. Cronje and Houghton have now scored three out of four possible rally victories thus far in 2013, and lead the Drivers’ and Co-Drivers’ Championship standings respectively.
The S2000 Challenge Class was dominated by Team TOTAL’s Jean-Pierre Damseaux/Hilton Auffray: not only did this pairing won the category for older specification Super 2000 rally machines, but they also finished a fantastic fifth position overall. Morne Janse van Rensburg/Rikus Fourie (Volkswagen Polo Vivo S2000) claimed second in Class on their home event, while Nic van der Westehuizen/Stefan Cilliers (Toyota Auris S2000) finished on the final Class podium position.
The Two Wheel Drive Championship and Class S1600 win was scored by Clint Weston/Christoff Snyders (Citroën C2 R2 Max), with Team TOTAL’s Craig Trott and Janine Lourens finishing second in Class. Third place went to Matthew Vacy-Lyle/Schalk van Heerden (Toyota RunX S1600).
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 S2000 Challenge Class, while Trott flies the TOTAL South Africa flag in Class S1600 and the Two Wheel Drive Championship.
For perseverance and sheer gutsiness, Moosa was a deserving finisher in this tough and tricky rally. Overcoming losing more than a minute on Day One due to two punctures, Moosa restarted Day Two by setting a charge up the standings to close the gap to his team-mate and Class S2000 Challenge overnight leader. He continued to set a blazing pace in the morning’s speed tests in Longmore Forest, gaining on his team-mate and consolidating his second place in Class. Potentially locking out the top two steps of the Class podium and pocketing a handful number of extra Championship points, Moosa started the penultimate stage of the event with a cool and calm demeanour. However, this faded fast as his Toyota Auris S2000 stammered off the startline and snapped a driveshaft. Limping through the stage, and stopping to investigate the damage, Moosa lost over four minutes in precious stage time. This mechanical malady dropped Moosa from seventh position to tenth place overall and from second in Class to fourth at the end of the rally.
“Frustrating is a word I would use now,” said Moosa. “We were going so well and so comfortable in the stages and with the car, but one can never relax in rally no matter the conditions and circumstances. All our hard work over 11 stages was undone in one. However, we were able to take away a number of positives from this event, and we’ll be looking to repeat our Class win in May on next month’s event.”
A cautious yet craftily speedy run on Day Two’s six stages of the Volkswagen Rally saw Damseaux’s overnight lead remain intact from start to the finish, despite a nerve-wracking and mysterious engine misfire that robbed his Toyota Auris S2000 of full power in the final kilometers of the rally.
“It is a team effort to get to the finish in a rally, and this was a rally that proved that; everyone played his part in getting the car to the finish line and through the stages so well,” said Damseaux. “We drove to keep ahead of our rivals on Day Two, and didn’t want to unnecessarily risk our Class lead. We kept a comfortable pace in these tricky stages. It was good rallying on these stages, with some very fast sections and stages that made us work very hard.”
To finish fourth place overall, as the second fastest Toyota rally car and ahead of faster and more powerful factory-backed rivals, makes this event’s result that much more rewarding for Damseaux/Auffray and Team TOTAL.
Trott proved his wealth of experience in winning eight South African National Rally Championship Class titles over his rally career thus far by recording a fantastic fight up the standings, from an overnight fifth in Class S1600 to second place at the finish.
“It is down to my lucky charm, Janine, my co-driver. We worked hard all weekend, and this is a rally that demands drivers and co-drivers to work in sync with one another to set fast stage times and to reach the finish with these big drops on the sides of the mountains,” commented Trott. “The Championship points we scored are most important, but so was pipping our Class rivals. It was a tough one, and we showed we can do it.”
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.