CLOSE FIGHT EXPECTED ON STANNIC CAPE RALLY
If the Stannic Cape Rally on April 16 and 17, round two of the Stannic Rally Championship, produces a finish anything close to the corresponding event last season rally enthusiasts are in for a treat.
When the dust had settled on the Stannic Asset Finance Rally last year, just four seconds separated winners and losers. Castrol Toyota pair Serge Damseaux and Vito Bonafede scored their second win of the year - after victory on the Stannic Tour Natal - following a nailbiting struggle with VW Golf factory pair Jan Habig and Douglas Judd.
The build-up to the Stannic Cape Rally is much the same as it was last season, except for the fact that Damseaux is no longer partnered by Bonafede. The darling of Somerset West is now partnered by Guy Hodgson, with the combination meeting with immediate success with a win on this year's Stannic Tour Natal.
Damseaux is normally installed as an instant favourite for any Western Cape event. He will again be right up there, but Habig and Judd have one factor in their favour that was not present last year.
The 1997 champions were campaigning a new VW Golf, as is the case this year, but last year the car had not yet undergone a conversion from left hand drive to right hand drive before the Cape event. This time, much to Habig's liking, the Golf 4 kitcar has already undergone its facelift and that will provide the former champions with an early psychological boost.
One would expect the winner this time around to again come from the Class A8 brigade with the Damseaux/Hodgson and Habig/Judd combinations at the top of the tree. Two other Class A8 crews, however, will be waiting in the wings and hoping to make dramatic entries onto the national rally stage.
Paolo Piazza-Musso and Richard Leeke, in the Sasol Motorcraft Ford Escort, and Natal crew Etienne Lourens and Robert Paisley (Team Total Toyota Conquest) have probably already been relegated to bridesmaid status by many fundis. Both crews, however, are not to be underestimated and problems for the Castrol Toyota and VW Golf works teams, will leave the door open for a possible upset.
On the Class A7 front the action is hotting up with the category now hotly contested. And, it is no longer exclusive VW Golf territory.
Veteran Wiley Harrington and Thilo von Westernhagen and Natalians Ken Westermeyer and Gerhard Snyman have invaded Class A7 in Nissan Sentras. They will be up against the usual horde of VW Golfs with reigning champions Tjaart van der Walt and Cindi Harding, in the Rieks 7 Eleven car, keen to make up for an early hiccup on the Stannic Tour Natal.
Barry Grobbelaar and Mike Burrows (Team Total VW Golf) won the category in KwaZulu Natal. but will be aware of the fact that they only went into the lead when local pair Tony Ball and Marti Olivier (Bulwer Park VW Golf) went out early on day two.
In their first Class A7 outing Gys Kleyn and Johan Barnard (Team Total VW Golf) did enough in KwaZulu Natal to suggest they could also emerge as title contenders. Another Eastern Cape crew, Keith Coleman and Uwe Koch, went well on the corresponding event last year and suddenly van der Walt and Harding need to look at more than reliability to stay on top of the Class A7 heap.
The rally fraternity have also probably settled on two crews - reigning champions Hergen Fekken and Dave Lewkowicz (Dunair Toyota Conquest) and Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Pierre Arries (Team Total Toyota Conquest) - as the most likely Class A6 frontrunners. That's fair enough but neither crew will look back on last year's event with much relish, and will be hoping for different scenarios this time around.
The younger Damseaux and Arries crashed with Fekken/Lewkowicz time barred, and this handed Team Total pair Craig Trott and Brian Duncan an unexpected class win. Damseaux/Arries and Fekken/Lewkowicz finished first and second respectively on the Stannic Tour Natal - with just seconds separating the crews - and their battle in the Cape is one to look forward to with relish.
On the Group N front it is catch-up time for two drivers and a navigator who dominated last year's championship and Class N3. Reigning champion Hannes Grobler (Total Bridgestone Nissan Sentra), now looking for another co-driver after the departure of Dave McGregor and Harrington, and Natal pair Cliff Blackman and Johan Klaasen (Team Total Nissan Sentra) had their Stannic Tour Natal efforts filed away in the did not finish column.
Grobler and A.N. Other and Blackman/Klaasen won't want repeats although Grobler will not be overly concerned about a shaky start. Last season he and McGregor missed the opening event and still came through to take the championship, but history cannot always be relied upon to repeat itself.
With no points for the leading Class N3 contenders in the first outing of the year, Class N2 pair Dean Sanders and Graham Hooper (Team Total Toyota Corolla) find themselves at the top of the overall championship and Class N2. The category is, however ultra competitive - with Toyota Corollas dominant - and Sanders/Hooper have a job on their hands in the Cape.
Leading the challengers are reigning drivers champion, Schalk Burger, and former SA co-drivers champion Martin Botha in the Bridgestone Quality Tyres Corolla, and Cape pair Diffie Marais and Danie de Waal in another Corolla. Kobus Roos and Neil Fourie also join in the fun and games in the Cape with Roos yet to do justice to a talent that runs in the family.
A roll in Natal did not do the Burger/Botha cause any good, but the Class N2 scrap is also to be looked forward to with relish.
Along with Class A6 the Class N2 scenario is good news for Toyota from a manufacturers championship, and they will also be looking for good returns from their Class N1 contingent.
Reigning drivers champion Rodney Visagie, now partnered by Caroline Cimma in a Team Total Toyota Tazz, got off to a good start with the Class N1 win in KwaZulu Natal. That casts Allen Worms and co-drivers champion Ashley Gericke, in the Team Total Opel Corsa, in another catch-up role with the pair up against more Toyota crews in Mike Houghton and Bryn Doherty and the Wayne Watt and Dave Watt father and son combination.
The Group N categories are now hugely competitive and provide for some of the Stannic Rally Championship's more interesting duels. This will again be the case in the Cape and the top Class N3 and Class N2 crews will all have their sights set on top 10 placings.
It may be asking too much to expect a rerun of last year's magnificent battle at the front of the field. It could just happen, however, with the Stannic Cape Rally filled with enough potential drama in all the = classes to keep happy even the most discerning rally enthusiast.