PMC International Rally report

DAMSEAUX WINS FINAL FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE SA RALLY LOUIS TRICHARDT: South African rally champions Serge Damseaux and Vito Bonafede gave four-wheel drive rallying a final flamboyant, and fiery, fling on the way to winning the Pretoria Motor Club ...

DAMSEAUX WINS FINAL FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE SA RALLY

LOUIS TRICHARDT: South African rally champions Serge Damseaux and Vito Bonafede gave four-wheel drive rallying a final flamboyant, and fiery, fling on the way to winning the Pretoria Motor Club (PMC) International Rally, the last event of the 1996 season.

Although the Castrol Toyota pairing had the title sewn up before the rally started in Louis Trichardt on Friday morning they powered their Toyota Conquest 4x4 to an early lead in the opening stages. Fortunes changed quite dramatically on special stage four when the power steering pump broke, followed on the next stage by an engine misfire and then a collision with a rock that damaged the front suspension on the following stage.

These problems allowed the 'Young Turk' of rallying this season Hergen Fekken and navigator Dave Lewkowicz in the Crisp-Air two-wheel drive Toyota Conquest to move into the lead as the rally headed into the night.

Damseaux overcame the time lost with his earlier problems to retake the lead before the overnight halt, starting the final leg of the event yesterday morning 11 minutes in the lead. The night section on Friday claimed the Fekken Toyota one stage from the finish of the section when the clutch expired - putting Terry Brand and Martie Olivier (VW Golf) into second place ahead of the VW Golf of Jan Habig and Douglas Judd who had fought back from 17th overall after special stage four, following overheating problems with their car.

What should have an easy run to the finish for Damseaux became a struggle when an oil leak on the Conquest resulted in an engine bay fire at the end of special stage 18. With little service time available to effect comprehensive repairs, Damseaux took it gently through the next few stages, allowing the charging Habig not only to go past Terry Brand but to close up to within eight minutes of the leaders.

For Brand his third place also came as a bonus, the extreme heat in the forests on Friday leaving him with heat exhaustion at the end of the first leg.

Another sterling performance on the tough event that saw the start list of 44 cars dwindle to just 16 by the finish came from Kassie Coetzee and Richard Leeke in their Toyota Hilux off-road bakkie. The pair ran consistently throughout to finish fourth overall ahead of Paolo Piazza-Musso/Nic Hadden (Fiat Uno) and Apie Reyneke/Robin Houghton in their off-road Toyota Landcruiser.

For 1997 the rally regulations change to permit only two-wheel drive cars in the premier class and the victory by Damseaux and Bonafede signalled the end of an era in South African rallying as the last competitive run for the potent 2,0-litre four-wheel drive Castrol Toyota Conquest.

The PMC International Rally was also the final round of the African Rally Championship and the 10th place overall for Subaru driver Satwant Singh from Zambia confirmed him as the 1996 Driver Champion with Kenya's Surinder Thatthi claiming the Navigators title. Subaru also claimed the Manufacturers Championship ahead of Hyundai while Volkswagen took the Manufacturers Title in the South African series.

Damseaux is the 1996 SA Rally Drivers Champion with second place going to Barry Grobbelaar - despite a crash in the second last stage of the PMC International Rally. Third was Etienne Lourens. In the Navigators Championship Bonafede was a clear winner followed by Robert Paisley and Cindi Harding.

RESULTS

1. Serge Damseaux/Vito Bonafede (Toyota Conquest 4x4), 05hr57,00min 2. Jan Habig/Douglas Judd (VW Golf), 06:05,15 3. Terry Brand/Martie Olivier (VW Golf), 06:07,59 4. Kassie Coetzee/Richard Leeke (Toyota Hilux), 06:13,01 5. Paolo Piazza-Musso/Nic Hadden (Fiat Uno), 06:23,59 6. Apie Reyneke/Robin Houghton (Toyota Landcruiser), 06:25,49 7. Pierre Goosen/Ossie de Jongh (VW Golf), 06:34,33 8. Craig Trott/Cedric Fryer (Toyota Conquest), 06:37,57 9. Brian Woodhead/Marius Swart (VW Golf), 06:42,29 10. Satwant Singh/Surinder Thatthi (Subaru Impreza), 06:51,33

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+-------------------+---------------------------+ | ___ ___ _ _ __ |colin.windell@onwe.co.za | | # # # # # #~# |---------------------------| | #__ #_# #_( # # # | SAB Free Zone | +-------------------+---------------------------+

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