There was plenty of action at the SASOL Rally that ran from 18 – 19 June in Mpumalanga.
Johnny Gemmell/Greg Godrich in their N4 Mitsubishi Lancer EVO7 were the first to take off from the parking area outside Sabie Town Centre to officially start the SASOL Rally. Gemmell who came fifth overall said prior to the rally that he hopes to be third on the podium.
However it was the stiff competition in the A8 class that doused Gemmell’s hopes. The first three finishers overall and in class were Jan Habig/Douglas Judd in their VW Golf 4, Etienne Lourens/Andre Vermeulen in their Toyota RunX and Enzo Kuun/Guy Hodgson in the sister VW Golf 4. It was clear from what Judd said, that Habig and he meant business. Judd said that they will be on a quick pace and that there would be no hanging around from start to finish. He said that the top three cars have the advantage of clean roads and added that there would be ‘no time to settle’. Kuun/Hodgson won the previous three SASOL rallies, but victory number four eluded them. Before the start Hodgson said that their strategy for day one was to be cool and calm, but staying within 15 seconds of the leaders. He added that day two would be when the real battle starts, due to 10 minute service parks where one couldn’t afford to take mechanical problems into the next day. Kuun/Hodgson got a minute penalty for early entry into a time zone. A very disappointed Hodgson said after the rally that they could have won if it was not for the penalty but added ‘that this is rallying’.
In class A7 Jean-Pierre (JP) Damseaux/Cobus Vrey in their A7 Toyota Corolla came sixth overall and first in class. JP Damseaux/Vrey clocked the fastest times in stages, six and seven which were both tight tar stages in Sabie and Whiteriver Town respectively. In the Grande Finale at Nelspruit Showgrounds they got in the proverbial ‘last word’ by clocking the fastest time in stage seventeen which announced the end of the SASOL Rally. JP Damseaux maneuvered the Corolla through tight corners and bends at spine chilling speeds with expertise. JP Damseaux/Vrey were in hot pursuit of Gemmell and beat them in 8 stages, which could have moved them into fifth spot. However in stage sixteen disaster struck. JP Damseaux explained after the rally: ‘the petrol pump ripped out of its bracket losing us one minute’. Vrey added that though rough, it was a clean rally apart from the drama in stage sixteen. He also said from a crew perspective that the time allowed for the open range sections was not sufficient, especially from a traffic point of view. One can understand Vrey’s concern. The spectator numbers were phenomenal. One had to walk quite a distance to get to some spectator points due to the amount of rally enthusiasts who came to see their favourite team in action. Second in class were Tony Ball/Alec Harris in their VW Playa followed by Eric Storbeck/Ronnie Webster in their VW Polo Playa.
The first car home in class A6 was the Toyota Corolla of Craig Trott/John Costa. Meeting up with Trott in a service park, he had quite a sense of humour regarding his rally up to that point. He said that even his grandmother ‘would drive faster’ than he did in the first two stages. He said that it took a little while to get into rhythm, but after stage three they were on track. In parting and on a lighter note he said that his fillings must have fallen out, after exiting a low-level bridge in stage three they hit a ditch and connected with terra firma a bit too hard for his liking. Second home, were Jaco Venter/JB van Nieuwenhuizen in their Toyota Corolla followed by Jakkie Joubert/Willie van Straaten.
Class A5 saw Steve Putter/Kelvin Flockhart in their VW Chico finish first. Zulu Gugulethu/Rod Hering in the VW Citi Golf came second followed by Dolf Coetzee/Irma du Plooy in their Toyota Tazz.
The N4 class was indeed where the biggest battle took place. First in class and fourth overall were Schalk Burger Snr/Vito Bonafede in their Subaru WRX STi followed by Gemmell/Godrich. Burger meant business right from the word go clocking the fastest times in four of the 17 stages. He put the four-wheel drive Subaru through tight corners more suited for its two-wheel counterparts. Despite what must have been tough on him as a father, Burger Snr continued like a Trojan to finish the rally. Schalk Burger Jnr/Wimpie van Greunen in their A6 Toyota Corolla rolled in stage four after which Burger Jnr was taken into hospital for observation. Burger Jnr was released from hospital on Sunday 20 June. There was a tough fight between Stephan van Dyk/Mark Pym in their Subaru STi and Callie van der Merwe/Gideon Trollip in their Subaru Impreza. Despite getting a 30 sec penalty, Van Dyk/Pym came seventh overall and third in class followed by the eight overall pair of Van Der Merwe/Trollip. For Van Dyk and Pym who returned to rallying after a three-year absence this was a well-deserved result. In seven stages they got the better of either Burger Snr/Bonafede or Gemmell/Godrich. In stage nine they beat both Burger Snr/Bonafede and Gemmell/Godrich. In stage seventeen also the final stage, they set the second fastest time along with Habig/Judd. Had they not been given a 30-sec penalty for leaving a service park three minutes later than their allocated time, they would have beaten JP Damseaux/Vrey. Van Dyk had spectator’s oohing and aahing in stages one, eleven and fifteen when he slid the Subaru STi with which appeared to be the greatest of ease, through bends and tight corners. Prior to the event, Pym was modest in his expectations saying they aimed for a finish. They did more than just that. Along with Burger Snr/Bonafede, Van Der Merwe/Vermeulen Subaru South Africa honoured them with a trophy for the top three Subaru privateer finishers.
It was a day of victory for Subaru who got the manufacturers’ award having five Subarus finishing in the top ten. This is quite an achievement, given they are four-wheel driven and more difficult to handle through tight corners and tricky bends than their two-wheel driven counterparts.
Continuing in class N4 Japie van Niekerk/Johan Sieling in their Subaru WRX STi came ninth overall and fourth in class with Mally Saville/Deon Redelinghuys in their Subaru STi rounding off the top ten. Richard Behm/Grant St Clair in their Mitsubishi EVO6 were robbed of fourth spot in class by a 3 min 40 sec penalty for lateness out of a service park after the service crew frantically tried to sort out a front driveshaft malfunction within a short space of time. The penalty was too much to make up, regardless their fast times that competed with the top five in the later stages.
The Verlaque sisters Lola and Megan in their Subaru WRX finished eleventh overall and seventh in class N4.
In class N3 twelfth overall and first in class Charl Wilken/Robin Houghton got the better of Rodney Visagie/Carolyn Swan who came fourteenth overall and second in class followed by Ferdi Koekemoer/Schalk van Heerden in their Renault Clio who finished third in this class.
Class N2 had a battle of their own. Chris de Wit/Patrick Yende in their Toyota Corolla had quite a task to fend off second in class contenders Jon and Doug Williams in their Toyota Corolla. For the father and son team from Somerset West in the Cape this was a great result. This is their first SASOL Rally and national event outside the borders of the Western and Eastern Cape. A delighted Jon and Doug Williams said that it was an achievement they are proud of. Third home was Paul de Castro/Raymond Heenop in their Toyota Conquest.
Eugene Lourens/Janine Labuschagne in their Toyota Tazz won in class N1.
In class S20 Jan Delport/Amanda Pretorious in their VW Golf finished first followed by Lukas van der Merwe/Marius Steenkamp in their Toyota Corolla and Michael Otto/Gert Nienhaber in their Toyota.
Even the giants of rally had to succumb to the harsh and treacherous route. Hopes and expectations were shattered. Upset and disappointment struck quite early in the SASOL Rally when Hergen Fekken/Dave Lewkowicz in their A7 VW Polo lost their rear wheel in stage two. Fekken said prior to the race that it was a new car and that they sorted out some teething problems and were going to try and beat JP Damseaux/Vrey. Another victim and contender in class N4 Visser du Plessis/Thilo von Westernhagen in their Subaru Impreza retired with transmission problems in stage three. Du Plessis said that they were going to give Van Dyk/Pym a good go. Overall favourites to win this year’s SASOL Rally, Serge Damseaux/Robert Paisley in their A8 Toyota RunX were on a mission. After day one they found themselves in fifth position. Day two saw a determined Damseaux Snr/Paisley setting the fastest times in stages eight to ten. They were well on their way up the ladder, when in stage eleven they were forced to retire with mechanical failure.
Apart from exciting top class rallying, there were plenty of activities to keep spectators entertained. Motorsport enthusiasts could pit their skills against each other with Playstation motorsport games, while SASOL handed out various prizes. The highlight was the various fighter jets that flew over in breathtaking formations, whilst spectators watched in awe. For visitors from far, the hospitality of locals were outstanding along with the beauty of especially Sabie.
With the SASOL Rally still fresh in our minds, competitors and crew are already preparing for the Algoa Rally in Port Elizabeth, which takes place from 16 – 17 July.