DAMSEAUX/HODGSON WIN 41ST STANNIC TOUR NATAL Colin Windell Seven time South African champion Serge Damseaux and co-driver Guy Hodgson today won the 41st Stannic Tour Natal, opening event of this year's Stannic Rally Championship, which ended...
DAMSEAUX/HODGSON WIN 41ST STANNIC TOUR NATAL
Seven time South African champion Serge Damseaux and co-driver Guy Hodgson today won the 41st Stannic Tour Natal, opening event of this year's Stannic Rally Championship, which ended in Umhlanga Rocks today.
It was victory first time out for the Castrol Toyota pair with Hodgson this season replacing Vito Bonafede in the hot seat alongside Damseaux. Bonafede retired at the end of last year after 17 years - and six championships - of navigating for Damseaux.
In getting their season off to a flying start Damseaux and Hodgson fought an ongoing battle with 1997 champions Jan Habig and Douglas Judd in the factory VW Golf. At the end of the day the margin between the two crews was 15 seconds after a contest that was never lacking for interest.
Third were KwaZulu Natal crew Etienne Lourens and Robert Paisley, in the Team Total Toyota Conquest, who were never out of the top five. An intriguing battle for fourth and fifth saw Jean-Pierre Damseaux, son of Serge, and Pierre Arries, in the Team Total Toyota Conquest, edge out Hergen Fekken and Dave Lewkowicz in the Dunair Toyota Conquest.
It took a huge downpour and only one special stage to alter the course of events after the restart in Umhlanga Rocks. With the rally moving into the Umzinto area on the KwaZulu Natal South Coast a huge downpour, which then turned into steady rain, quickly played a role in throwing matters at the top of the leaderboard into disarray.
At the overnight halt in Umhlanga Habig and Judd held a 20 second lead over Damseaux and Hodgson. Special stage eight - the first of the day - saw the balance of power swing towards Damseaux and Hodgson, with the Castrol Toyota pair picking up 36 seconds on the VW crew to into a 16 second lead.
With the imported VW Golf kit car is having its first outing of the season, Habig and Judd discovered that the windscreen demister did not work. They drove 'blind' through most of the stage and after that a cat and mouse game developed in treacherous conditions with Damseaux/Hodgson and Habig/Judd more intent on survival than anything else.
Stage eight was also a disaster for Paolo Piazza Musso and Richard Leeke in the Sasol Motorcraft Ford Escort. Lying third overnight - 61 seconds behind Damseaux and Hodgson - they lost more than 20 minutes when they put a wheel off the road and got stuck. That dropped them way down the pecking order with local crew Etienne Lourens and Robert Paisley, in the Team Total Toyota Conquest, moving into third place.
After a good fight back another off-road excursion late in the day put paid to any hopes Piazza Musso and Leeke had of a top 10 finish. That was in contrast to Lourens and Paisley who had a relatively troublefree run in a lonely third place.
Class A7 winners Barry Grobbelaar and Mike Burrows, in the Team Total VW Golf, had a similar outing to come home sixth overall. Sandwiched between the Pretoria crew and Lourens/Paisley, however, there was a fascinating duel between rising stars Damseaux and Fekken who were way out front in the Class A6 battle.
The younger Damseaux and Pierre Arries started the day nine seconds ahead of Hergen Fekken and Dave Lewkowicz but were also stage eight victims. An off-road excursion saw them drop 45 seconds on the Dunair car and that turned a nine second credit into a 36 second debit for Damseaux and Arries.
The next stage saw the status quo restored. This time Fekken and Lewkowicz were in the wars and a puncture cost them two minutes, with the two crews sniping away at each other over the remainder of the event.
Fekken and Lewkowicz had regained the lead by the end of stage 14, lost it again in stage 15 and going into the final special stage at Umhlanga Rocks only five seconds separated the two teams. Damseaux and Arries held on by the skin of their teeth - with just three seconds separating the two crews - and it completed a good weekend for the Damseaux family.
Down in the Group N category local crew Cliff Blackman and Johan Klaasen had taken a tight grip on proceedings. Blackman and Klaasen, in the Team Total Nissan Sentra, led the overall category and Class N3 and were more than two minutes ahead of another local crew, Dean Sanders and Graham Hooper, in a Team Total Toyota Corolla, who topped the Class N2 leaderboard.
Both teams were into the top 10 but that all changed when Blackman and Klaasen rolled in special 14. That left Sanders and Hooper at the top of the Group N and Class N2 leaderboards with the pair a solid eighth overall behind the ageing Nissan Skyline of Callie van der Merwe and Andre Vermeulen.
The Skyline was running Class S20, which does not count towards the championship, but car and crew just keep going season after season. Solid performances by local crew Chris de Witt and Alec Harris in a Toyota Conquest, and Gys Kleyn and Johan Barnard, in a Team Total VW Golf, saw them into ninth and 10th overall.
With wins in Class A8, Class A6 and Class N2 there was further success for Toyota in Class N1 with reigning champion Rodney Visagie and Caroline Cimma, in a Team Total Toyota Tazz, taking an easy victory. The pair were 15th overall and seven minutes ahead of Mike Houghton and Bryn Doherty in another Toyota Tazz.
The manufacturers award also went to Toyota who dominated the top 10. There were no fewer than seven Toyotas in the top 10 and four class wins gave them a commanding early lead in the prestige manufacturers championship.