Stannic Great North Rally Preview

The Stannic Great North Rally, sponsored by Stannic and Sasol, on Friday and Saturday is the end of the line for championship hopefuls in this year's Stannic National Rally Championship. Only three title issues - the Class A7, Class A6 and ...

The Stannic Great North Rally, sponsored by Stannic and Sasol, on Friday and Saturday is the end of the line for championship hopefuls in this year's Stannic National Rally Championship.

Only three title issues - the Class A7, Class A6 and manufacturers championship - have been settled as the rally fraternity head for the Tzaneen area this weekend for the final shoot out. And, just to make it more interesting, the remaining title fights are delicately poised with two or three crews and individuals in the running in each of the categories still up for grabs.

The overall championship has four crews in with a mathematical chance of bagging the title. The overall Group N championship has been narrowed down to two crews, and what looks to be a tight and demanding route provides a mouthwatering end to a season that has never lacked for interest and a touch of controversy.

Reigning champions Jan Habig and Doug Judd, in the factory VW Golf kitcar, are one of the four crews in line for the overall championship, and the odds would appear to favour the pair. Once all the mathematical permutations have been exhausted, the bottom line is that Habig and Judd need only to finish 12th to make certain of back to back titles.

The other crews in with a chance are Class A7 champions Tjaart van der Walt and Cindi Harding (7 Eleven VW Golf), Class A6 champions Hergen Fekken and Dave Lewkowicz (Dunair Toyota Conquest) and six time champions Serge Damseaux and Vito Bonafede in the works Castrol Toyota Conquest. The Class A8 championship is a straight fight between Habig/Judd and Damseaux/Bonafede, and once again the odds are stacked in favour of the VW pair.

For Damseaux and Bonafede to sneak in the back door they need a full house of points this weekend, with the VW crew failing to finish. That scenario would see the two crews finish level on points - after the compulsory dropping of one score - with Damseaux and Bonafede taking the title by virtue of more wins during the season.

The maths give van der Walt and Harding, runners-up three times in the last five years, and the Fekken/Lewkowicz combination a chance of taking the title - but for both crews it is a little like taking a knife to a gunfight. Both would have to win the rally outright and pick up the maximum 34 points, which is not impossible!

The tricky part for the Class A7 and Class A6 champions, however, is that both Habig/Judd and Damseaux/Bonafede would have to finish out of the points. That might be stretching the imagination a bit far.

Where Habig and Judd and Damseaux and Bonafede are concerned, the Stannic Great North Rally presents something of a tactical dilemma - particularly for the reigning champions. Damseaux and Bonafede have no option but to go for broke, but Habig and Judd have the option of settling for a minor placing.

The only problem here is that throughout his career Habig has never been one to hold back, and one wonders whether he can curb his competitive spirit just this once. Judd might have a problem hauling in the reins on Habig and the presence of other Class A8 crews like Agip Rally winners Enzo Kuun and Guy Hodgson (Daewoo Lanos), Sarel van der Merwe/Martin Botha (Daewoo Lanos) and Paolo Piazza-Musso and Nic Hadden in the Sasol Ford Escort could be like a red rag to a bull for Habig.

On the Group N front the mathematics are not as complicated. Eight points separate Hannes Grobler and Dave McGregor (Bridgestone Nissan Sentra) and Cliff Blackman and Johan Klaasen in the Team Total Nissan Sentra in both the overall and Class N3 championships.

Those eight points could turn out be the difference between two crews who have sniped away at each other throughout the season. A final confrontation between the experienced Grobler/McGregor and the determined Blackman/Klaasen, in an all or nothing situation, is to be relished.

In the other Group N categories Toyota look set to add the Class N2 and N1 titles to the Class A6 championship that is already in the bag. Toyota crews fill the top three places in Class N2 and two of the top three places in Class N1 - but both championships are desperately close.

This is particularly true of the Class N2 battle. On the drivers front eight points separate Schalk Burger (Godrich Toyota Conquest), Diffie Marais (Toyota Corolla) and Dean Sanders in the Team Total Toyota Conquest.

Burger leads Marais by two points and the Capetonian leads Sanders by six points. Where the navigators are concerned Thilo von Westernhagen, sharing with Burger, has a slight edge on Danie de Waal, paired with Marais, and Graham Hooper who has done duty with Sanders throughout the season.

Von Westernhagen has a seven point edge over Marais and has the inside track. It all adds up, however, to a bit of a bunfight and plenty of pressure for both drivers and co-drivers.

In Class N1 the pressure may not be as intense, but leaders Rodney Visagie and Chris Olden (Toyota Conquest) are not yet out of the woods. Visagie leads Allen Worms (Opel Corsa) by 14 points in the drivers championship and looks reasonably safe, but Olsen is only eight points clear of Ashley Gericke, partnered with Worms, and that could be a little tight.

The manufacturers championship is of academic interest on the Stannic Great North Rally with Toyota holding a 294 point lead over Volkswagen. Both camps, however, would like to go out with a flurry.

Whichever way you look at it the Stannic Great North Rally offers a nail biting climax to a championship where dramatic little twists and turns are not yet over. All the ingredients are there for triumph and heartbreak.

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Series RALLY