Great North Rally Dogfight Looming

The Stannic Rally Championship is entering a high risk phase for the two crews who look likely to fight it out for this year’s title, and the Stannic Great North Rally on September 17 and 18 is a skirmish that carries a "must win" tag for ...

The Stannic Rally Championship is entering a high risk phase for the two crews who look likely to fight it out for this year’s title, and the Stannic Great North Rally on September 17 and 18 is a skirmish that carries a "must win" tag for both.

The event was last year the final rally on the national calendar and settled a few championship issues. This year the Stannic Great North Rally is round five of the championship – but could still have a marked bearing on the outcome of the overall championship.

The recent Mountain Trial produced some significant changes to championship points positions at the halfway mark. The most significant of these saw current championship leaders Jan Habig and Douglas Judd, in the VW Motorsport Golf, extend their lead over Castrol Toyota pair Serge Damseaux and Guy Hodgson to 14 points.

Bearing in mind that all crews have to drop one result at the end of the season, those 14 points might yet turn out to be gold for Habig and Judd who missed out on last year’s championship by a single point. The Habig/Judd and Damseaux/Hodgson combinations have won or finished second on all four previous events this season – the current score in terms of wins is 3-1 to VW – and a situation where some other team might sneak in through the back door and lift the title is unrealistic.

This is where the Stannic Great North Rally takes on a high risk factor for both the VW and Toyota teams. Another win for Habig and Judd will increase their current comfort zone and bring a little more pressure to bear on the Toyota pair over the rest of the season.

On the other hand a win for Damseaux and Hodgson will throw everything back into the melting pot. Even at 14 points adrift in the title race the Castrol Toyota pair are by no means out of contention, but they could do with a win after three second places on the trot.

Last year’s Stannic Great North Rally was run in atrocious conditions with constant rain, mud and mist turning the rally into something of a lottery. Conditions this time around look likely to be ideal, and there is the mouthwatering prospect that the VW and Castrol Toyota factory teams will go out there and throw everything – including the kitchen sink – at each other.

Unless something untoward happens to the two championship frontrunners Etienne Lourens and Robert Paisley, in the Team Total Toyota Conquest, and Paolo Piazza-Musso and Richard Leeke (Sasol Motorscraft Ford Escort), look like again being cast as the Class A8 bridesmaids. Their little confrontation, however, could be as interesting as the battle that will almost certainly develop ahead of them.

After a couple of seasons of complete domination in Class A7, reigning champions Tjaart van der Walt and Cindi Harding (Rieks Towing VW Golf) have had a slightly more difficult passage over the first half of this season. The pair are back at the top of the Class A7 championship after a dodgy start to the campaign, but the competition in the category is tougher than it has been for seasons.

The class also caught a wake up call on the Stannic Cape Rally when Hannes Grobler and Nic Hadden, shunted into the category over a homologation problem, proceeded to whip the Group A cars in what was essentially a Group N entry. Tony Ball and Marti Olivier (Bulwer Park VW Golf) have leaped up the championship leaderboard and are now level with early pacesetters Barry Grobbelaar and Mike Burrows in the Team Total VW Golf.

The recent Mountain Trial also saw Class A6 champions Hergen Fekken and Dave Lewkowicz, in the Dunair Toyota Corolla, move ahead of arch rivals Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Pierre Arries in the similar Team Total car. Both crews were giving the Corollas a first time out run on the Mountain Trial, with Fekken/Lewkowicz hugely impressive on their way to fifth overall.

Damseaux and Arries were disappointing on the Mountain trial, but since then have had a good run in a Stannic Western Cape regional event, and that will have done wonders for their confidence. Where the Class A6 frontrunners are concerned, a little spice is added to proceedings via their ongoing jousts with the Class A7 contenders.

On the Group N front Team Total Toyota Corolla pair Dean Sanders and Graham Hooper currently have a tight hold on the overall championship and the Class N2 title. Sanders and Hooper now lead the overall standings by 14 points ahead of Cliff Blackman and Johan Klaasen (Team Total Nissan Sentra) and stretched their Class N2 lead to 26 points over Cape crew Diffie Marais and Danie de Waal.

Grobler and Hadden, in the Bridgestone Nissan Sentra, will be the favourites to win both the Group N category and Class N3, and that puts a little pressure on Sanders and Hooper who will almost certainly find themselves embroiled in a Class N2 dogfight with fellow Toyota entrants.

Schalk Burger and Martin Botha (Bridgestone Quality Tyres Toyota Corolla) will be back after missing the Mountain Trial, while Kobus Roos/Niel Fourie (Castrol Dunlop Toyota Corolla) and Cape pair Diffie Marais and Danie de Waal are all capable of winning a highly competitive class. Mind games are very much a part of national championship rallying, and the Class N2 battle could be decided by the crew that best sums up all the options – and acts accordingly.

In something akin to the scenario that has developed in Class A7, the scrap in Class N1 has recently developed interesting possibilities. Schalk Burger Jnr and Greg Godrich (Godrich Opel Kadett) won the Mountain Trial only to be excluded for a technicality, and that gave a maiden win to Eastern Cape pair Johan Strydom and Morne Visser in a similar car.

Reigning drivers champion Richard Visagie and Carolyn Cimma (Team Total Toyota Tazz) still lead the championship after running into problems on the Mountain Trial, and will be there or thereabouts. Allen Worms and Brendan Nunan (Team Total Opel Corsa) have not performed to potential this season and are due a good result, and sheer consistency keeps Mike Houghton and Bryn Doherty in the championship frame.

The only title issue that already looks cut and dried at this stage of the season is the manufacturers championship. Here Toyota has opened up a huge gap over Volkswagen, and the Stannic Great North Rally is not likely to alter the status quo.

While that side of the season may be approaching foregone conclusion status, the remaining championships are pretty much wide open. The Stannic Great North Rally, however, could provide pointers as to which way the wind will blow over the rest of the season.

Points positions:

Drivers (Overall): 1 J Habig 129; 2 S Damseaux 115; 3 E Lourens 82; 4 H Fekken 76; 5 H Grobler 71; 6 J-P Damseaux 67; 7 T van der Walt 66; 8 D Sanders 63; 9 P Piazza-Musso 52; 10 T Ball and B Grobbelaar 51.

Co-Drivers (Overall): 1 D Judd 129; 2 G Hodgson 115; 3 D Lewkowicz 76; 4 N Hadden 71; 5 P Arries 67; 6 R Paisley and C Harding 66; 7 G Hooper 63; 8 R Leeke 52; 9 M Burrows and M Olivier 51; 10 J Klaasen 49.

Group N Drivers (Overall): 1 D Sanders 63; 2 C Blackman 49; 3 H Grobler 46; 4 D Marais 37; 5 K Roos 35; 6 R Visagie and S Burger Snr 31; 7 M Houghton 26; 8 A Worms 20; 9 W Watt 117; 10 J Strydom 16.

Group N Co-Drivers (Overall): 1 G Hooper 63; 2 J Klaasen 49; 3 N Hadden 46; 4 D de Waal 37; 5 N Fourie 35; 6 C Cimma and M Botha 31; 7 B Doherty 26; 8 B Nunan 18; 9 D Watt 17; 10 M Ferreira 16.

Class A8 (Drivers): 1 J Habig 129; 2 S Damseaux 115; 3 E Lourens 82; 4 P Piazza-Musso 52; 5 C van der Merwe 12.

Class A7 (Drivers): 1 T van der Walt 66; 2 T Ball and B Grobbelaar 51; 3 H Grobler 25; 4 G Kleyn 24; 5 A Karth 7.

Class A6 (Drivers): 1 H Fekken 76; 2 J-P Damseaux 67; 3 C de Wit and C Trott 23; 4 D Coetzee 14; 5 N Higgs 6.

Class N3 (Drivers): 1 C Blackman 49; 2 H Grobler 46; 3 M Wyngaard 8.

Class N2 (Drivers): 1 D Sanders 63; 2 D Marais 37; 3 K Roos 35; 4 S Burger Snr 31; 5 R Behm 14.

Class N1 (Drivers): 1 R Visagie 31; 2 M Houghton 26; 3 A Worms 20; 4 W Watt 17; 5 J Strydom 16.

Class A8 (Co-Drivers): 1 D Judd 129; 2 G Hodgson 115; 3 R Paisley 66; 4 R Leeke 52; 5 B White 16.

Class A7 (Co-Drivers): 1 C Harding 66; 2 M Burrows 43 and M Olivier 51; 3 N Hadden 25; 4 J Barnard 24; 5 R Fourie 7.

Class A6 (Co-Drivers): 1 D Lewkowicz 76; 2 P Arries 67; 50; 3 A Harris 23 and B Duncan 23; 4 A Vermeulen 12; 5 E van der Walt 9.

Class N3 (Co-Drivers): 1 J Klaasen 49; 2 N Hadden 46; 3 R Wyngaard 8.

Class N2 (Co-Drivers): 1 G Hooper 63; 2 D de Waal 37; 3 N Fourie 35 4 M Botha 31; 5 D Rossouw 14.

Class N1 (Co-Drivers): 1 C Cimma 31; 2 B Doherty 26; 3 B Nunan 18; 4 D Watt 17; 5 M Ferreira 16.

Manufacturers Championship: 1 Toyota 672; 2 Volkswagen 346; 3 Nissan 129; 4 Ford 52; 5 Opel 44.

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