Enzo Kuun and Guy Hodgson claimed a dramatic last stage win to secure the overall honours on the opening round of the Sasol SA Rally Championship 2005, the Hitachi Power Tools Tour Natal Rally today. This victory gave Kuun a hat trick of victories in events he has started, stretching back to August last year.

Running their BP Volkswagen Golf in class A7, the pairing led the event from the third stage until stage nine, when a puncture cost one minute to the chasing pack and handed the lead to their team-mates Jannie Habig/Douglas Judd in the second BP Golf. Habig suffered his fourth puncture of the event in the final stage, costing a catastrophic 2½ minutes, dropping the four times former champion down to 4th overall at the Durban finish.

Defending champions, Serge Damseaux and Robert Paisley retired their new Super 2000 Castrol Toyota RunX RSi in the fourth stage after a butterfly throttle spindle broke in stage three and the alternator belt came adrift in stage 4, stopping the Toyota in its tracks with a dead battery. Damseaux won the first two stages of the rally in the new FIA sanctioned class, which bodes well for the competitiveness of the new-for-2005 rules.

Claiming the runner up spot on the NMCC-organized event were Johnny Gemmell/Martie Olivier with their sasol delight-supported L&J Plant Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7 after an untroubled, clean run throughout the two-day, eleven stage event, run in sweltering, summer conditions.

Spaniard Fernando Rueda/Martin Botha claimed the final step on the podium in their Sasol Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8. Rueda, absent for a year due to health reasons, hit a concrete culvert in the first stage but never put a wheel wrong thereafter and claimed the an overall stage win on the final speed test of the rally.

Giving Mitsubishi their first-ever 1-2-3 result in Production Cars, Capetonian Richard Behm/Grant St Clair ended 5th overall in their Sasol Palbin Lancer Evo 6. Overheating problems plagued the youngster from the early stages of the rally after damaging the Lancer's intercooler on an unmarked dip in the road.

Claiming sixth overall was the Pretoria pairing of Jacques Botha/Greg Gericke in their Bosal Brospeed Subaru Impreza WRX Sti. Back in the top production car class after a year in a lower class, Botha drove with commitment over the route but was hampered by old tyres on day one.

Japie van Niekerk and Johan Sieling, starting their second year in rallying, claimed 7th overall with their new ESPI Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8. They suffered a loose turbo pipe on day 1 but stayed out of trouble as Van Niekerk set about learning the slippery gravel stages in KwaZulu Natal to get his campaign off to a solid start.

Nicholas Ryan and Brian Carrihill (Bosal Brospeed Subaru Impreza WRX Sti) claimed an excellent 8th overall after starting day two in 30th position, having lost time with a wrong slot on day one and stopping to help Stephan van Dyk in stage three when van Dyk's car caught fire. A scorching drive through the field on day two saw Ryan rocket up the order over the remaining stages in spite of running on used tyres after his new supply was stolen from his workshop in the week preceding the rally.

Rodney Visagie and Carolyn Swan, the defending class N3 champions, ended a superb 9th overall in the Team Total Toyota RunX RSi after a solid drive, ahead of rally debutant Claudio Piazza Musso/Janine Labuschagne, 10th, in a similar Sasol Toyota RunX. Piazza Musso was on the class-leading pace from the start and closed up on Visagie during the second day's stages.

Aggie Stroh/Jurg Steyn (Team NPS Oilflow Toyota Corolla RSi) won class N2, ending 13th overall while Schalk Burger Jr/Wimpie van Greunen claimed class honours in A6. Class A5 went to the factory BP Volkswagen Chico of Nkosinathi Nzimande/Gerhard Snyman after a steady drive.

The first round of the Sasol Championship decimated the field with 29 finishers from 59 starters that left Scottburgh on Friday morning.

The second round of the Sasol SA Rally Championship is the Toyota Dealers Cape Rally in the Western Cape on 8 and 9 April.

For more information on Hitachi Power Tools Tour Natal or any aspect of the Sasol SA Rally Championship 2005, log on to www.sasolracing.co.za or call 08-22-33-4321