Ten stages over 186km of competitive action saw the 37 entrants to the Toyota Gauteng Dealer Rally whittle the field down to 24 survivors.
Team Total tackled Round Three of the South African Rally Championship held in the Bapsfontein and Pretoria West areas on Saturday 9 June and Sunday 10 June. The very first speed test of the event proved decisive in the outcome of the final results on Sunday afternoon, as a rocky section on this gravel stage saw a number of crews succumb to ill-fated punctures and dreaded suspension component damage. The current Championship points' leader Mark Cronje (Ford Fiesta S2000) was sidelined on this stage after hitting a hole that forced their car into retirement. Second in the Championship's standings, Johnny Gemmell (Toyota Auris S2000) suffered a string of punctures in that stage too to leave the expected leader board upside down.
After four high-speed gravel stages run over 79.6km, the competitors put on a sterling display of driving skill. A highlight from Day One included the battle for the overall lead from three crews: Jan Habig (Ford Fiesta S2000), Jon Williams (Ford Fiesta S2000) and Jean-Pierre Damseaux (Team Total Toyota Auris S2000). The dust plumes, the mielie fields and the twisting gravel roads made for thrilling sideways action for the cheering spectators that was capped on the Saturday evening with a dramatic Super Special Stage at the RallyStar Motorsport Academy's purpose-built track. Crews hurtled their rally weapons into the air over the big jumps, and left their braking late into corners to eke out any advantage possible over their rivals in a head-to-head challenge.
Rallying resumed early on a cold and frosty Sunday morning with a repeat of the Super Special Stage from the night before, which was then followed by three intense gravel stages on the nearby farm roads before ending at Zwartkops Raceway for what was a nail-biting finale.
Overnight leader Jan Habig suffered his first puncture of the event on the day's second stage to drop over two minutes of stage time to his rivals. This promoted a hard-charging Williams and Damseaux into first and second overall, with a slender 15 seconds separating them, and Hein Lategan (Peugeot 207 S2000) fast gaining on the two leading cars.
Careful driving lines and a concerted effort in the final stage of the event on Sunday afternoon sealed Williams' first overall national rally victory, with Lategan pipping Damseaux to second place by just 4.9 seconds.
Team Total is South Africa's largest privateer squad, boasting four Toyota rally cars in two categories. Jean-Pierre Damseaux/Grant Martin (car #10) and Mohammed Moosa/Andre Vermeulen (car #13) compete in the premier Class S2000 in Toyota's Auris S2000 rally weapons and battle it out against their factory-backed rivals for the prestigious Drivers' Championship title. Craig Trott/Robbie Coetzee (car #62) and the only all-female rally crew in competition at national level of Stefanie Botha/Angela Shields (car #74) proudly fly the Team Total livery in Class S1600 with Toyota RunX machines.
Day One saw Damseaux pick his lines carefully through the tortuous rocky sections on stage one, and this considered approach rewarded the Somerset West-based rally driver with a top three overall position. His determination was spurred on with a potential podium result on the cards, and Damseaux attacked throughout the remainder of Day One's speed tests. As Sunday morning dawned, this experienced competitor charged from the first corner to move up to second overall and continued to hold this position until the penultimate stage. Winner Williams, Damseaux and Lategan were embroiled in an all-out fight for the overall victory, and with no more than 20 seconds separating them throughout the morning's stages, it was Lategan that pipped Damseaux to the finish line. Damseaux ended the rally with a strong third position, just 11.8 seconds off the winners.
“It was a good day in the car,” said Damseaux. “I needed to keep my focus on the finish, keep Hein [Lategan] in check and drive through the rocky sections without problems. We did this, and we are very happy with our result. The podium position is great for Team Total, as we all worked hard for this result here this weekend.”
With Lady Luck seemingly having abandoned Class S2000 team-mates Moosa/Vermeulen after their early Day One exit from the event due to punctures and rear suspension damage in stage one. The crew decided to rather withdraw from the running on Day One to repair their rally machine to tackle Day Two under SupeRally regulations.
On his fight back up the leader board, Moosa showcased his tenacity to bring his Auris S2000 to the finish in 17th position overall after a punishing Day Two. Encouragingly, Moosa and Vermeulen posted fast stage times in two of the morning's speed tests to remind their rivals that this pairing will return eager for a top five result at the next event.
Class S1600 and Two Wheel Drive Championship contenders stunned spectators with their cars' performance over the two day's of action, offering up large doses of close rally action throughout this field for position.
On Day One Team Total's Class S1600 entrants of Trott/Coetzee and Botha/Shields battled fiercely for the Class podium on the opening three stages of the event. However, an electronic gremlin forced Stefanie Botha and co-driver Angela Shields to retire in stage three.
Once the electronic problem was solved, the pairing re-entered the event under SupeRally rules for Day Two where they once more showed their speed. Sadly, on the final stage a racing incident involving another competitor saw the all-female team's event come to a screeching halt with damage that heartbreakingly ruled them out of continuing to the finish line.
It was all smiles, congratulations and celebrations for Trott and Coetzee as they claimed a well-deserved second place in Class S1600. Following a fine performance on Day One that proved that Mr Consistency, as Trott is known in the Service Park, also knows when to put the proverbial hammer down on the accelerator pedal. Consolidating their overnight second place in Class after a faultless performance on all of Day One's four tests, Trott/Coetzee continued on their march to the second step of the podium despite a puncture costing them valuable time to their rivals.
“This event was a tough one, and we needed to stay in the fight for Class position to keep pressuring the leaders,” said Trott. “We built up a good rhythm in the gravel stages, but the puncture slowed us. Fortunately, we were able to limp through the stage with the flat tyre and not lose our position. It was a great event for Team Total!”
The Next Event:
Team Total next takes on the Volkswagen Rally in and around Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape on 13 and 14 July.
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