Stannic Great North Rally Report

17/10/98 INTRIGUING BATTLE DEVELOPS ON DAY TWO OF THE STANNIC GREAT NORTH RALLY An intriguing battle was starting to develop at the front of the field on day two of the Stannic Great North Rally, with co-sponsorship from Sasol, which...

17/10/98

INTRIGUING BATTLE DEVELOPS ON DAY TWO OF THE STANNIC GREAT NORTH RALLY An intriguing battle was starting to develop at the front of the field on day two of the Stannic Great North Rally, with co-sponsorship from Sasol, which restarted in Tzaneen this morning.

At the overnight halt at the end of day one 11 time South African champion Sarel van der Merwe and Martin Botha, in the factory Daewoo Lanos, held a 15 second lead over Serge Damseaux and Vito Bonafede in the Castrol Toyota Conquest. After two special stages this morning, however, the gap had been narrowed down to just three seconds.

There was a two minute gap between Damseaux and Bonafede and reigning champions and current championship leaders Jan Habig and Douglas Judd in the works VW Golf. The Castrol Toyota crew need to win the Stannic Great North Rally, the final event of the season, to stand a chance of winning a seventh national title while Habig and Judd need to finish 13th to clinch back to back titles.

Hergen Fekken and Dave Lewkowicz, in the Dunair Toyota Conquest, the only remaining crew with a mathematical chance of winning the title, were still in fifth place. Fekken and Lewkowicz were running behind Team Total Toyota Conquest pair Etienne Lourens and Robert Paisley - who had closed to within nine seconds of Habig and Judd - but were around 16 minutes behind the leaders.

An interesting battle was also starting to develop at the front of the Group N category for standard cars. Schalk Burger and Thilo von Westernhagen (Godrich Toyota Conquest) started the day a minute and 21 seconds ahead of championship leaders Hannes Grobler and Dave McGregor in the Bridgestone Nissan Sentra.

Grobler and McGregor took a whopping 62 seconds off Burger and von Westernhagen in the first two stages of the day. This narrowed the gap to 19 seconds with Grobler and McGregor now over five minutes clear of Cliff Blackman and Johan Klaasen in the Team Total Toyota Conquest.

Blackman and Klaasen went into the event eight points behind Grobler/McGregor in the overall and Class N3 championships. Burger/von Westernhagen still led Class N2 by a hefty margin with Allen Worms and Ashley Gericke leading Class N1 in the Opel Corsa.

Adverse conditions also forced to organisers, the Pretoria Motor Club, to cancel special stage 12. Two special stages were cancelled yesterday.

SUPERVAN STRETCHES LEAD IN STANNIC GREAT NORTH RALLY

Eleven times South African champion Sarel van der Merwe and Martin Botha, in the factory Daewoo Lanos, were gradually grinding their way towards victory on the Stannic Great North Rally, with co-sponsorship from Sasol, on the final day of the event which restarted in Tzaneen this morning.

With 16 of the scheduled 19 special stages completed Supervan and Botha were 17 seconds ahead of six time champions Serge Damseaux and Vito Bonafede in the Castrol Toyota Conquest. Earlier in the day the gap was down to only three seconds but a quick succession of narrow stage wins saw the Daewoo Lanos crew start to edge clear of the Castrol pair who need to win this event to stand a chance of winning a seventh championship.

Damseaux and Bonafede were two minutes clear of reigning champions Jan Habig and Douglas Judd but their hopes of taking the championship were receding. Habig and Judd, in the works VW Golf only need to finish 13th to make sure of the title.

Etienne Lourens and Robert Paisley, in the Team Total Toyota Conquest were still fourth, ahead of the Dunair Toyota Conquest of Hergen Fekken and Dave Lewkowicz, despite losing five minutes in special stage 14. Stage 14 was also unkind to Group N championship leaders Hannes Grobler and Dave McGregor in the Bridgestone Nissan Sentra.

After closing to within seconds of Group N and Class N2 leaders Schalk Burger and Thilo von Westernhagen (Godrich Toyota Conquest), the Grobler/McGregor combination lost two minutes to Burger and von Westernhagen and were back to square one.

The important factor, however, was that Grobler and McGregor were five minutes clear of Cliff Blackman and Johan Klaasen in the Team Total Nissan Sentra. The Natalians went into the event with an eight point deficit in both the overall and Class N3 championships.

Adverse weather conditions again were a problem for the organisers. Special stages 12 and 15 were cancelled with other special stages amended.

HABIG/JUDD CLINCH SA RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

South African champions Jan Habig and Douglas Judd lost the final battle but won the war when second place on the Stannic Great North Rally, sponsored by Stannic and Sasol, saw the VW Golf factory crew wrap up this year's Stannic National Rally Championship.

Habig and Judd held a watching brief throughout day two while 11 times champion Sarel van der Merwe and Martin Botha, in the factory Daewoo Lanos, and six time champions Serge Damseaux and Vito Bonafede in the Castrol Toyota Castrol jousted with each other in atrocious conditions. Damseaux and Bonafede needed to win the event, with Habig and Judd finishing out of the points, to take the title on a count out.

For their part Habig and Judd, whatever result Damseaux and Bonafede came up with, needed only to finish 13th to make sure of back to back titles. With incessant rain, mud and mist making life more than uncomfortable for crews and contributing to a high attrition rate, Habig and Judd decided to play it safe.

"My natural inclination is to always attack but in these conditions that would have been flirting with disaster," said Habig. "The championship was always the top priority, but we also leave within a week for the RAC Rally in the UK and were not prepared to risk serious damage to the car.

"It has been a tough season but we did what we had to do on this event and winning back to back titles is very satisfying."

Van der Merwe and Botha started the day 15 seconds ahead of Damseaux and Bonafede, with the gap quickly down to three seconds. Supervan and Botha then eked out a series of narrow special stage wins to stretch the lead to 11 seconds - before going off the road on the penultimate stage.

That cost them over 20 minutes and dropped the Daewoo crew to fourth behind Damseaux/Bonafede, Habig/Judd and the Team Total Toyota Conquest of Etienne Lourens and Robert Paisley. That put Damseaux and Bonafede where they needed to be, but Habig and Judd were also where they needed to be in terms of their championship aspirations.

"We threw it away, as simple as that," said van der Merwe of the off-road excursion that cost him the chance of adding to more than 70 national championship wins. "The car just slid off the road, which was easy enough to do, but we ended up on a very muddy and grassy bank.

"We couldn't get back on the road and I am not all that happy with life right now."

Lourens and Paisley kept plugging away with third place a just reward with Class A6 champions Hergen Fekken and Dave Lewkowicz completing the top five. Fekken and Lewkowicz were also in with a chance of taking the overall championship, but had to win the event with both Habig/Judd and Damseaux/Bonafede needing to be among the non finishers.

Fekken and Lewkowicz, however, ended up third overall in the championship behind Habig/Judd and Damseaux/Bonafede. The Dunair Toyota crew leapfrogged ahead of the fourth crew - Tjaart van der Walt and Cindi Harding in the 7 Eleven VW Golf - in with a chance of winning the title before the rally started.

Van der Walt and Harding, the Class A7 champions, had a tough time of it and dropped out of the running on day one. An electrical problem forced them into retirement and saw them end up fourth in the overall championship.

The Stannic Great North Rally, sponsored by Stannic and Sasol, also saw former national champion Hannes Grobler and Dave McGregor, in the Bridgestone Nissan Sentra, clinch the Group N championship for standard cars and fifth in the overall championship. Grobler and McGregor went into the season's finale with an eight point advantage over Cliff Blackman and Johan Klaasen in the Team Total Nissan Sentra, and another win in the category was enough to give them the Group N and Class N3 titles.

Sixth overall on the Stannic Great North Rally and fifth in the overall championship was a marvelous performance for Grobler and McGregor who got off to a shaky start this weekend. They lost 10 minutes in the very first stage and were one minute and 21 seconds behind Class N2 pair Schalk Burger and Thilo von Westernhagen, in the Godrich Toyota Conquest, at the overnight halt.

They brought the gap down to 19 seconds but got stuck in special stage 14 and lost two minutes to Burger and von Westernhagen. They then mounted another rearguard attack on Burger and von Westernhagen, and eventually finished nearly three minutes clear of the Toyota crew.

The important factor for Grobler and McGregor, however, was to finish ahead of Cliff Blackman and Johan Klaasen in the Team Total Nissan Sentra. The Natal crew were eight points adrift of Grobler/McGregor in the championship going into the event, but struggled in the conditions to eventually finish 10th.

Burger and von Westernhagen clinched the Class N2 title while down in Class N1 the Allen Worms/Ashley Gericke combination were the only finishers in an Opel Corsa. This saw Rodney Visagie edge out Worms in the drivers championship in provisional results, while Gericke pipped Chris Olsen for the navigators title with Visagie/Olsen also day one casualties in the Toyota Conquest.

WORMS/GERICKE WIN CLASS N1 CHAMPIONSHIP

Pretoria crew Allen Worms and Ashley Gericke were today crowned Class N1 champions in the Stannic National Rally Championship, sponsored by Stannic and Sasol - with Worms sneaking in via the back door to win the drivers title.

Going into this weekend's event Worms trailed Toyota Conquest driver Rodney Visagie by 14 points in the drivers championship, with Gericke eight points behind Chris Olsen in the co-drivers stakes. When Visagie and Olsen and another Toyota crew, Dave and Wayne Watt, dropped out on day one the door was opened for Worms and Gericke - the only Class N1 crew left in the rally in the Lessan Opel Corsa - to win the championship.

The pair finished 18th overall which was enough to see Gericke overhaul Olsen in the navigators championship. Worms, however, needed to finish 16th to overhaul Visagie.

With Bossie Bosman and Steve Grobbelaar, winners of Class S20 in a Nissan, not eligible to score points towards the national championship the first hurdle was cleared. Worms and Gericke moved up to 17th place but still needed to move up another notch for Worms to squeeze past Visagie.

The clincher for Worms came when Class A7 crew Barry Grobbelaar and Mike Burrows, in the Team Total VW Golf, were excluded from the results for receiving outside assistance in a special stage. That gave Worms the extra point he needed to take the championship with the Pretoria youngsters hugely relieved when Grobbelaar and Burrows graciously accepted the decision which saw them excluded from the results.

Gericke is the son of former South African champion co-driver Gerrie Gericke. The younger of the Gericke's had a little more luck than his Dad on the event with Gericke senior and Doug Kemsley, in the Castrol Toyota Hilux, retiring on the first day.

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Series Other rally
Drivers Sarel van der Merwe