Lowveld’s forest lay down challenge for Team Total

The Challenge:
From the sugar cane fields laced with treacherously slippery gravel roads, Team Total moves its army of brave soldiers to the mountains of the spectacular Mpumalanga Lowveld. Round Two of the 2012 South African Rally Championship, the Sasol Rally, follows four weeks on from the Total Rally 2012, Team Total’s “home” event that saw the South Africa’s largest privateer rally team impress all in the Service Park with their quick stage times, aggressive attacking and dogged perseverance.

Forest rallying is regarded as the most challenging for drivers, as the twists and turns snake through gravel roads that have numerous surface and traction differences each kilometre. For the Sasol Rally, the forests around Sabie, Graskop, Hendriksdal and White River provide testing tracks for the South African Rally Championship regulars as well as the FIA African Rally Championship contenders. As with the Total Rally, this is a mainstay on the motorsport calendar. In 2012, crews will tackle 14 stages covering 200km of a 700km route, of which ten stages will be on gravel, three on tarmac and the remaining one staged on grass. Weather conditions in this part of the country are notoriously difficult to predict, and if the heavens open above the stages as they did in 2011 the forest roads will become sticky and rutted quickly. This, however, will not dampen the drivers’ quest to be on the top spot of the leader board.

The Crews:
Musical chairs within the four-car team has proved fruitful. Jean-Pierre Damseaux and new co-driver Grant Martin (car #10 Team Total Toyotas Auris S2000) were consolidating their third place overall on Day Two of the season opener on the KwaZulu-Natal central and south coasts when disaster struck for the pairing in stage ten of the 16-stage rally: a snapped sideshaft slowed the pairing considerably, but their position on the overall leader board changed dramatically when a puncture robbed them of more time in the luckless stage. Damseaux dropped from third to seventh, where he finished the rally. Encouragingly, the Somerset West-based driver matched the factory teams wheel-for-wheel in the speed tests and is relishing the second act of this duel in Mpumalanga this week.

By choosing car #13, it is apparent Mohammed Moosa does not subscribe to superstitions. The Tzaneen businessman and his new co-driver Andre Vermeulen opened their partnership together in the South African Rally Championship on the back foot, unfortunately. A slipping clutch and a puncture on Day One’s stages in the Total Rally saw the team knocked out of the top ten, but Moosa is regarded for his fighting spirit and he muscled his way into eighth place overall after 200km of intense rallying. Moosa and Vermeulen set stage times mere fractions of a second off the leading crews on Day Two’s tests on his charge up the classification, and in doing so the driver reached a new-found confidence in his Toyota Auris S2000.

Team Total is represented in Class S1600 and the Two Wheel Drive Championship by two crews, the ever-experienced Craig Trott and the young gun of Team Total, Stefanie Botha, both in Toyota RunX S1600s. Craig Trott, who lives in Durban, won his Class by a whopping four and half minutes and starting his season off in the best possible way. Co-driver Robbie Coetzee and Trott form a strong pairing in rallying, with the partnership netting Class championships and most recently the runner-up spot in 2011. Trott’s consistent and tactical approach will stand him in good stead for the Sasol Rally.

The only all-female rally crew competing at national level, Stefanie Botha and Angela Shields endured a steep learning curve in the 2011 season. This their second full season at national level, Both/Shields showed their Class rivals that they have the pace to match: Botha set the fastest stage time in stage four of the Total Rally 2012 for Two Wheel Drive category cars. This achievement underlines their potential, but a non-finish in the Total Rally after going off the road on stage five will unlikely affect their confidence going into the Sasol Rally.

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