For Serge Damseaux in his class A8 Castrol Team Toyota RunX RSi this marks a special occasion in his rally career. If Damseaux snr wins, he will beat the 66-career win record of Sarel van der Merwe. Damseaux snr equalled van der Merwe when he won the recent Volkswagen Rally.
Among competitors there are mixed feelings on the Mountain Trial. The route if not run in wet conditions will be more suited for the A-class cars as opposed to the N4 class that are four-wheel powered and have restrictors on their turbos.
One could hear that Jean-Pierre Damseaux in the class A7 Team Total Toyota Corolla is looking forward to the rally. He said that they were doing some testing to ensure the car is ready and also to get practice for the Mountain Trial. He said: “If the route is the same as last, it will be good to compare if we are faster or slower this time round.” On his nearest rival Hergen Fekken in the BP Volkswagen Racing Polo he said that he hopes Fekken will stay in contention for a clean dice to ensure a fair fight for the class championship. Fekken was plagued by retirements in the last two rallies that lost him valuable points. JP Damseaux currently leads the class by 6 points. JP added that his non-finish in Port Elizabeth pushed him further down to eighth in the overall standings and to recover he needs to finish well at the Mountain Trial and remaining two rallies.
Guy Hodgson navigator for Enzo Kuun in the class A8 BP Volkswagen Racing Golf 4 said this is the fastest rally by far, due to the fast roads and the fact that they run on pace notes. He explains: “the notes are very comprehensive” meaning that crew and machine can push to the limit. Hodgson added that he hopes the weather will play along and that they “prefer the dry” conditions. If it rains the rally will become like a lottery and it will be a “real mean big balls fight”. He ended off saying that it takes a “very high level of commitment and courage”.
Johnny Gemmell, driver of the N4 Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 7 on the other hand, painted a different picture. Gemmell said that it was his “least favourite event on the calendar” and that it is not a good rally for class N4. Gemmell explains: “The fast roads are not slippery and the A7s will beat a lot more N4s due to the nature of the roads and the altitude. On the altitude he explained that the thinner the air, the harder it becomes for the turbos. When asked how rainy weather would affect them, he said that it would suit the car and that it will change the outcome.
As competitors remember only too well; two years ago, it rained and the results of the rally looked different to what was expected. Not only was it remembered for the change in result, but also for the element of danger that took a lot of concentration and skill to make it to the finish line. So far, the weather man predicts wet conditions and there is even talk of snow.
Doug Williams navigator for Jon Williams in the N2 Trident Press Toyota Corolla RSi said that since they won in their class at the Volkswagen rally the pressure is on them now. He said that the pace notes is still fairly new to them, but pointed out that the notes make them quicker. This makes a big difference in the speed they will run the rally at. He said that this makes them more competitive given the different levels in the playing field.
Schalk Burger driver of the N4 Subaru Impreza echoed Gemmell’s sentiments on the suitability of the route for the N4 class cars. Burger explained that the turbos lose power due to the restrictor on turbo and added that this is a “very unpredictable rally”. Despite the challenge, he is looking forward to it. When asked if it rained Burger had this to say “wet weather is to our advantage and the colder weather makes it easier for the turbo.”
With the Subaru Cape and Great North Rallies yet to come, the Sasol SA Rally Championship series is heating up. In Class A8 Serge Damseaux leads Jan Habig by 11 points overall and 5 points in class. Damseaux will want to extend the gap, while in class A7 the championship hangs between Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Hergen Fekken. In class A6 it is a two-horse race between Jakkie Joubert and Craig Trott while in class A5 Nkosinathi Nzimande has a comfortable lead over nearest rival Salie du Toit.
In class N4 nine points separate the top three respectively. Schalk Burger leads Johnny Gemmell who in turn is chased by Nicolas Ryan. Richard Behm trails Ryan by five points. Class N3 sees a different picture with Rodney Visagie and Charl Wilken tying on 24 points. In class N2 Jon Williams are close on the heels of Chris de Wit. Finally in class N1 Eugene Lourens leads by a comfortable margin to Gary Swemmer.
However, rallying as some competitors put it, is not a done deal. The competition is over only when the curtain goes down on the series.