Team TOTAL braves opening day of 2013 season
The TOTAL Rally 2013 kicked off the 2013 South African National Rally Championship season with intense action and drama aplenty. After 48km of rally action over five stages, the scene has been set for a thrilling close to the TOTAL Rally in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal on Saturday afternoon.
Reigning South African Rally Champions Mark Cronje/Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta S2000) lead the field by 32.1sec, with KwaZulu-Natal rally ace Jan Habig and co-driver Robert Paisley (Ford Fiesta S2000) second overall and 18-year-old Henk Lategan and his co-driver Barry White (Volkswagen Polo S2000) in third place at the overnight halt.
Two stages were cancelled on Day One, stage four – Drumdurroch 2 and stage six – Finningley 2. In stage three, Enzo Kuun/Guy Hodgson (Volkswagen Polo S2000) escaped without injuries after a high-speed crash that tested their rally car’s safety roll bars to great effect after they tumbled out of action. In stage four, Johnny Gemmell/Carolyn Swan (Toyota Yaris S2000) debuted their all-new factory rally machine with strong stage times indicative of this car’s potential speed, but the Johannesburg-based businessman and his co-driver too crashed out of contention. Three cars stopped to render assistance to the stricken crew, and were fortunately found to be uninjured. Organizers decided to stop and cancel the stage, dropping the number of stages from seven to five and making those five stages all the more important for competitors and their battles against the stopwatch.
A fierce battle is brewing in the Class S2000 Challenge, with the first four cars in this Class separated by only 25 seconds.
Class S1600 and the Two Wheel Drive Championship has been dominated on Day One by Thilo Himmel/Armand Du Toit in their all-new Toyota Etios S1600. This Class will provide a battle royale with five crews all within striking distance of the Class victory come Saturday afternoon’s podium celebrations.
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 (Car number #5, Team TOTAL Toyota Auris S2000) lies fifth overall after 48km of rally action and five stages were completed in the Scottburgh region of KwaZulu-Natal’s South Coast. The treacherously slippery gravel roads snaking over and around the sugarcane fields and rolling hills were even more so this year after recent rains washed the surface clean. Damseaux started as the first car on the road, and this was a disadvantage for the Somerset West-based businessman and co-driver Auffray as they were forced to sweep the ‘racing line’ clean and to cut a path into the soft and slippery roads for their rivals to gain advantage. Despite this, Damseaux charged to first in the Class S2000 Challenge standings and faces stiff competition from defending Class S2000 Challenge Champions Gugu Zulu/Carl Peskin (Volkswagen Polo Vivo S2000 Challenge) as they are only 03 seconds adrift.
Said Damseaux: “I’m happy with my first day’s performance, however I would have liked to be closer to the leaders. The roads are incredibly slippery, and it made for some hair-rising moments in the car when traction was just not available for the tyres. Our stage times were good, and we look forward to tackling Day Two head-on.”
Team-mate Moosa (Car number #15, Team TOTAL Toyota Auris S2000) finished Day One in eighth position overall and fourth in Class S2000 Challenge. Starting the day’s first stage with a problem with his rally car’s seatbelt, Moosa was able to attack on the remainder of the day’s four speed tests to close in on his rivals with each completed kilometer. Setting stage times all within the top ten, Moosa will most certainly be moving up the leader board on Day Two with this continued pace and perseverance.
“A slow start to the TOTAL Rally 2013, but we got it all dialed in for the next stages and we took the fight to our rivals,” said Moosa. “We will be looking to repeat that speed on Day Two, and to step onto the Class S2000 Challenge podium in our first attempt. This is exciting rallying!”
Mr Consistency in Team TOTAL, and the whole of the South African Rally Championship fraternity, showed speed in Day One’s stages to round out a successful day in his front-wheel drive Toyota RunX S1600 (Car number #61, Team TOTAL). There were no hiccups on this opening day of competition for the Durbanite, and with the wisdom that has brought him eight Class Championship titles he eased into the rally with a string of consistently quick stage times.
Trott commented at the end of Day One: “I can be satisfied with our performance, and Janine [Lourens, Trott’s new co-driver for 2013] is settling in perfectly well. It was a classic day of KwaZulu-Natal rallying, and it was a great day to be in a rally.”
Day Two sees the surviving 22 of 30 starters take on seven gravel stages in the Scottburgh region again before concluding at the old Durban Drive-Inn at 15h29 for an all-tar, 1.29km Super Special Stage to thrill the crowds of motorsport enthusiasts.