The third round of the Sasol South African Rally Championship 2004 is expected to provide a fierce battle for overall honours when the Total Rally South Africa kicks off at Zwartkops Raceway in Pretoria on 6 May. Doubling up as the 2nd round of the FIA African Rally Championship (ARC), the nature of the event should provide fireworks between the premium class A8 factory entered cars and the top class N4 Production Car teams. -

- Leading the Sasol points log is the defending championship pairing of Serge Damseaux and Robert Paisley in the factory Team Castrol Toyota RunX RSi. The nine-times champion has won both of the opening rounds of the series and is aiming for his hat-trick, which would put him one victory short of the all time record of 66 wins, held by the legendary Sarel van der Merwe. -

- Challenging the Toyota crew is the pair of BP Volkswagen Golfs of former champions Jan Habig/Douglas Judd and Enzo Kuun/Guy Hodgson. Habig has scored points twice this year, but Kuun has yet to open his account after two successive retirements. Volkswagen have conducted an intensive development programme in a bid to close the gap to Toyota and the A8 challenge will thrill the thousands of spectators along the 300km route over the three day event. -

- Second overall in the championship race and leading the production car category and class N4 is South Africa’s first-ever ARC champion Schalk Burger, who with co-driver Vito Bonafede is expected to take the fight to the A8 cars with their Bridgestone Sasol Subaru Impreza WRX STI. Equally determined to make up for their disappointment on this event last year, when they retired from the lead, is Johnny Gemmell/Greg Godrich in their similar L&J Plant Services Impreza WRX STi. Gemmell has added the latest FIA 2004 specification motor to his arsenal since the car last appeared. -

- The current ARC champion, Fernando Rueda and co-driver Pierre Arries, are as focused on victory and have sorted out their engine power problems in the Sasol Motion Motorsport Mitsubishi Lancer Evo7, which blunted their challenge on the Cape Rally in March. As FIA-seeded drivers, the top three N4 cars will run first on the road on day one and day two, which may play into the hands of the A8 cars. -

- Team Total’s hopes for victory lie firmly with the class A8 entry of Etienne Lourens/Andre Vermeulen and their Toyota RunX RSi. Lourens moved up to class A8 this year and is quietly confident that his development work will take him closer to the sharp end of the field and allow him to challenge for outright victory. Rounding out the class A8 entry is the Topcar Bosch BMW of Natalians Cliff Blackman/Johan Klaasen, who usually run within the top 10. -

- The Total Rally will mark the debut of the new shape BP Volkswagen Polo for Hergen Fekken/Dave Lewkowicz who have two class wins to their credit. New car niggles may allow the hard-charging Team Total entry of Jean Pierre Damseaux/Cobus Vrey into the top spot, but the pressure is on Damseaux as he has yet to finish an event in 2004. -

- Returning to class A7 after two forays in the top class, Tony Ball/Alec Harris (Bulwer Park BP Volkswagen Polo Playa) are hoping to take on the works cars and engage in battle with the similar NetConnect Polo Playa of Adrian Karth/Rikus Fourie. Youngsters Steve Mearns/Ciaran Nunan field the ever-improving Sasol BMW and their progress will be watched with interest. -

- Able and willing to fight for points placings in the top 10 are a veritable fleet of class N4 cars – nine additional Subarus and a lone Mitsubishi. Heading the chase for points is the talented Gauteng pairing of Nicholas Ryan/Brian Carrihill in a Bosal Subaru and the quick Callie van der Merwe/Gideon in a similar Mobil-supported Impreza GT. -

- Rocky Reyneke/Andre Pheiffer (Hencom Subaru), Japie van Niekerk/Mark Boekee (New Africa Developments Impreza WRX STi), Barry Grobbelaar/Mike Burrows (Sasol Impreza WRX) and Jose Ferreira/Miguel da Costa (Italian Panelbeaters Impreza GT) are all capable of running strongly. -

- Fresh from their career first podium on a recent regional rally, the affectionately named Rally Chicks team of sisters Lola and Megan Verlaque are hoping to take a significant leap up the running order in their Sasol Impreza WRX, while Visser du Plessis/Thilo von Westernhagen (Metmeister Outsurance Impreza WRX STi) are also due for a change of fortune. -

- Newcomers to the class, Capetonians Richard Behm/Grant St Clair (Palbin Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6) proved they are quick in the Cape Rally last month and will again be a contender for a top finish. -

- Three points separates the top three class A6 runners, led by Craig Trott/John Costa (Team Total Toyota Corolla RSi) after winning his class in the Cape. One point adrift are newcomers Aggie Stroh/Jurg Steyn who scored a surprise win in the opening rally of the year in Natal, while Schalk Burger Jr/Wimpie van Greunen (Godrich Toyota Corolla) have been consistent so far. -

- They will be chased hard by the JoJo Tanks Corolla of former off road Beetle racing star Jakkie Joubert/Willie van Straaten and Jaco Venter/JB van Nieuwenhuizen in their Venter Motors Corolla. Andy Haigh Smith/Gerald Brace (Team REACT Corolla) round out the expected class runners. -

- One of the closest tussles for class victory should come from the N3 runners, where the evenly matched Team Castrol Toyota RunX RSi entry of Charl Wilken/Robin Houghton and Team Total’s Rodney Visagie/Carolyn Swan will slug it out for honours. To date, they each have a class win apiece, and have left the Ford Focus of Jacques Botha/Greg Gericke and the privately entered RunX RSi of Jurg Nel in their wake. -

- Class A5 fields the petro-chemical giants’ development teams, and stars Gugu Zulu/Dave McGregor in the Sasol Volkswagen Chico, Team Total Sowetan’s Vusi Mabanga/Gert van Rensburg and the BP Volkswagen Chico of Nkosinathi Nzimande/Derek Jacobs. Nzimande won the battle through the Western Cape in late March, while the others have yet to finish an event. -

- Privateer entries include Bryan/Keith Heine (Penny Pinchers Volkswagen Chico) and Allen Worms/Llewellyn Fourie, who have also failed to finish an event in 2004. -

- Class N2 should be the preserve of the current champion Chris de Wit/Patrick Yende in their Team Total Kaya-FM Toyota Corolla, but the unpredictable nature of rallying could leave the way clear for Hylton Belitzky/Justin Wade (LUK Protea Hotels Corolla), Wessel Venter/Patrick Johnson (Shell Helix Corolla) or the similar Trident Press Corolla of Jon/Douglas Williams to pick up the silverware. -

- Rallying’s baby class N1 is tied on points after two rounds between Marinus du Plessis/Alwyn van den Heever (Gardiner Ross Volkswagen Chico) and the similar German machine of Gary Swemmer/Peter Davidson. Eugene Lourens/Janine Labuschagne (Hitachi Tools Toyota Tazz) round out the entry. -

- Up to eight African visitors are expected to make the trip south, while a number of invitational, non-points scoring class S20 cars will bring up the rear of the field, including the exciting new, as yet un-homologated class N2 specification Centurion Mitsubishi Lancer of Tony Barbosa/W.Coetzer. -

- Spectator information: -

- The 2004 TOTAL Rally South Africa, to be held from 6-8 May in Gauteng and Mpumulanga, will once again be a feast for rally enthusiasts and a large number of spectator opportunities have been planned by the organisers, the Sports Car Club of South Africa (Pretoria Branch). -

- The event will start on Thursday, 6 May at Zwartkops Raceway near Pretoria. Two super special stages will be held on the track, the first, starting at 16h30 and the second at 18h30. TOTAL South Africa, the sponsor of the event, is once again planning a feast of exciting entertainment at the Zwartkops Raceway to make the start of the event exciting and something to remember. -

- On Friday, 7 May, the competitors travel from Pretoria for a special stage at Bronkhorstpruit, two at Witbank and two in Ermelo, where the lunch stop will be held with more spectator entertainment has been planned. -

- From Ermelo, the competitors will do three stages to the service area at the Warburton Club to end day two. A central service park will operate at Warburton Club from Friday late afternoon and the whole of the third day on Saturday 8 May. -

- On Saturday, seven stages will be held around Warburton and Busby. The cars will return to Warburton Club for servicing after the stages and entertainment has also been laid on for spectators there. The Club will be selling food and other refreshments and there is ample space for spectators to "camp" for the day. In addition, Warburton Club have caravan sites available free of charge with all the necessary facilities, including electricity and ablution blocks. -

- Spectators are welcome to make a weekend of spectating at Warburton and stay there in their caravans. The spectator points are in close proximity of the Club and there are three spectator points within walking distance of the service area. -

- "Spectators will be able to combine a weekend of relaxation with the excitement of seeing the country's top rally competitors in action at close range. A large contingent of top competitors from other African countries is expected to enter. Spectators will also be able to se the cars close-up in the service area", Andries van der Walt, TOTAL South Africa's Motorsport Consultant said. -

- "There will also be TOTAL Motorsport give-aways and we also plan on selling TOTAL Motorsport gear on the whole of the event", he said. "It is an opportunity not to be missed", he added. -

- The rally ends at the Aventura resort, Badplaas, with the first car expected at 15h40 on Saturday. -

- For further information and results of the event and Sasol Rally Championship 2004 visit: www.sasolracing.co.za or call 08-22-33-4321. -

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Original article from Car