The 2009 Sasol SA Rally championship promises to be another humdinger between the VW and Toyota factory teams in a battle that will be fought from March until the final round in October. The South African motor industry is part of the international motoring community but despite financially challenging times has put on a brave face and fielded highly competitive teams.
A healthy 35 cars should be chasing the various championships, the field boosted irregularly by another dozen cars as they dip in and out of the championship as funds allow. Heading the race for the overall title chase that will start on Friday, March 13 with the Tour Natal will be the three-car VW Polo trio of defending champions Hergen Fekken/Pierre Arries, 2007 titleholders Jan Habig/Douglas Judd and 2006 champs Enzo Kuun/Guy Hodgson
. VW finished the 2008 season with a 1-2-3 – doing that again will be tough.
Toyota spent 2008 re-building its team after Serge Damseaux retired at the end of 2007 and developing an S2000 Auris. There were two unexpected but very welcome victories. Fekken and Arries, who won four times in 2008, have a new car to defend their title, with Habig and Kuun making do with what they had, but refurbished.
In the Toyota camp, Johnny Gemmell/Peter Marsh and Mark Cronje/Robert Paisley will take the fight to VW. The Toyota teams were ultra-competitive in 2008 but prone to mistakes and niggling mechanical issues
. The Auris, launched late in the year, showed it had the pace to fend off the Uitenhage challenge and this is where the real action will be this season – a five-way fight for an overall win on every outing.
Both brands have a number of S2000 private entries to add points towards the Manufacturers’ championship, won by Toyota these past 11 years. Leading them will be JP Damseaux and new co-driver Andre Vermeulen in their re-shelled Toyota RunX. Damseaux had his first career win in 2008.
He’ll be up against Fernando Rueda/Dave Lewkowicz in a new S2000 RunX. They were third overall on a recent Regional event that was won by Damseaux. Japie van Niekerk/Robin Houghton will return in another S2000 RunX. Van Niekerk finished third overall on his first outing in S2000 last year in KZN and became one of the season’s most consistent points-scorers.
VW has Theuns Joubert/Hennie Botes in a new S2000 Polo as well as the Rally Chicks, Lola and Megan Verlaque in the ex-Williams Polo as and when their African championship campaign allows them a local outing.
OUT OF THE WILDERNESS
Joubert is still relatively new to rallying and his progress will be watched. The Rally Chicks, on the other hand, were fourth overall in the recent Tanzanian Rally.
Class A7 will be back after a year in the wilderness led by defending champions Chris de Wit and Dean Redelinghuys in their RunX. The KZN pair are always there or thereabouts and should start the year with a bang on home soil but their biggest threat will come from Evan Hutchinson and new co-driver Elvene Coetzee.
They in turn will have young hotshot Stevan Wilken and Greg Gericke in a brand-new VW Polo in their mirrors. Wilken has been quick in the lower classes, if a little hairy.