Serge Damseaux/Robert Paisley in their Team Castrol Toyota RunX RSi were crowned the 2004 SASOL SA National Rally Champions after a nail biting event at the NPS Great North Rally on October 15 and 16. It was an all Damseaux affair with Jean Pierre Damseaux wrapping up the drivers title and Cobus Vrey taking the navigator’s title in class A7 in their Team Total Toyota Corolla RXi.
For the manufacturers and teams it was Toyota and Team Total that dominated the various class championships.
Schalk Burger/Vito Bonafede won the Production category and Class N4. Burger failed to the start the rally due to suffering pneumonia. Burger ended his 34-year in rallying on a high note with a first win in his career at the Subaru Cape Rally.
The Western Cape Rally competitors salvaged some Province pride, by finishing in the top four after the Western Province rugby team lost to the Cheetahs. First home was Enzo Kuun/Guy Hodgson in their BP Volkswagen Racing Golf 4 who led the rally leading from start to finish, despite a blown engine and clutch problems the night prior to the event. Mechanics worked round the clock to get the car ready for the next day. Kuun/Hodgson literally got in it, three minutes before they were to start. Kuun had to contend with intense pain that was a result of an accident he had on his quad bike a few weeks ago. ‘I was in a great deal of pain and considered pulling out, but physio and medication saw me through the drama’ he said.
More drama took place behind Kuun and Hodgson, with devastating results for some. Jan Habig/Douglas Judd in their BP Volkswagen Racing Golf 4 were challenging for the 2004 championship when disaster struck. In stage eleven Habig/Judd clipped a curb, went off the road and took out two telephone poles in the process. Neither were hurt, but the same couldn’t be said for their car. Serge Damseaux/Paisley needed to finish in the top ten to clinch the title. Second placed Damseaux knowing all too well the cruel tricks rally can play said: “It must have been the most difficult event. I had to discipline myself as I could smell a win, but had the championship to think of.” The tables turned on Etienne Lourens/Andre Vermeulen in their Team Total Toyota RunX RSi when they limped out of the rally with a missing right rear wheel putting an end to a brilliant charge. Cliff Blackman/Johan Klaassen in the Topcar BMW 320i rounded off the A8 runners finishing in twelfth position.
All wasn’t plain sailing for Jean Pierre Damseaux/Vrey who were challenging Hergen Fekken/Dave Lewkowicz for the Class A7 championship. Damseaux’s left sideshaft seal popped out and they lost the gearbox in stage one, while in stage two, they had a slow puncture. Fekken/Lewkowicz’s lower control arm broke signalling the end of their rally declaring Damseaux and Vrey the champions. Fekken said he suspected that the control arm got damaged in the Subaru Cape Rally.
Richard Behm/Graham Hooper in their N4 Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 7 caused havoc when they finished third on the podium, considering the conditions being more favourable to the two wheel drives . A beaming Behm said his aim was to win in class until he saw how their stage times compared to that of Jean Pierre Damseaux. Behm/Hooper took the bit between their teeth and started to charge. Behm, a rising rally star was delighted with his podium finished after a heartbreaking Subaru Cape Rally. Behm’s navigator Grant St Clair got injured and had to withdraw whilst they were leading and set for a possible win. At the start of the season, Behm set a target for himself to finish his first rally tenth and then working his way down by one place in the subsequent rallies. Behm managed to outdo each target finishing this rally two places better than aimed. Another big name succumbing to the harsh course was the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 7 of Johnny Gemmell/Martie Olivier, who was forced out by a broken diff on a slow 90 left. Nicolas Ryan/Brian Carrihill in their Subaru Impreza WRX STi put in a solid performance that got them second place in the Class N4 championship behind Schalk Burger/Vito Bonafede. The Rally Chicks, Lola and Megan Verlaque in their distinctive eye catching black Subaru Impreza WRX STi, had a good rally, till several mechanical glitches and finally a blown engine put a sad end to a rally that would have seen them finish in the top ten. Their stage times compared well with that of other competitors in their class, making retirement from the rally a disappointing end to their season.
Though seven is considered a lucky number it was what lost Jakkie Joubert/Willie van Straaten in their JoJo Tanks Toyota Corolla the A6 class championship to Craig Trott/John Costa in their Team Total Toyota Corolla. In this nail biting fight whoever finished ahead of the other would be declared class champions. Tenth place Trott/Costa came out on top to beat their opponents by seven seconds in this see-saw battle.
The hopes of a rookie Class N2 championship win for Jon and Doug Williams in their Trident Press Toyota Corolla got dashed when they were forced out of the rally with mechanical failure declaring Chris de Wit/Patrick Yende in their Team Total Toyota Corolla the winners.
In Class A5 Nkosinathi Nzimande/Derek in their BP Volkswagen Racing Citi Golf Jacobs had to finish second to win the class title, but it was Dolf Coetzee/Irma du Plooy in their Toyota Tazz that beat them to it. Nzimande/Jacobs saw the championship wane when Michael Houghton/Craig Jennings in their Toyota Tazz split them from Coetzee/du Plooy. For Gugu Zulu/Llwellyn Fourie in their SASOL Volkswagen Citi Golf it was a rally they’d rather want to forget. They landed in a canal that put an end to their rally. Neither crew were seriously injured.
In yet another two-way fight, Charl Wilken/Robin Houghton in their N3 Team Castrol Toyota RunX RSi had to sit and watch from the sidelines as rival Rodney Visagie/Carolyn Swan in their Team Total Toyota RunX RSi won the class championship. Wilken/Houghton were forced out with mechanical failure.
In class N1 it was a mere formality for Eugene Lourens/Janine Labuschagne in their Toyota Tazz who beat Gary Swemmer/Peter Davison in their Volkswagen Citi Golf to win the class championship.
The eighth round of the SASOL SA National Rally Championship announced the end of the 2004 season. There are a couple of surprises for the 2005 season as we may see some competitors in different cars when the first engine fires up on 4 March 2005.