Defending champions Serge Damseaux and Robert Paisley dominated the Hitachi Power Tools Tour Natal Rally, round 1 of the Sasol SA Rally Championship 2004 in their class A8 Team Castrol Toyota RunX RSi, mastering the changeable conditions on Friday and Saturday, to lead from start to finish, winning 8 of the 15 stages. -

- The opening round the eight event series took place on a rain-soaked KwaZulu Natal South Coast and saw just 25 finishers from the 64 starters reach the finish in Durban. -

- “It was a good event – the changing conditions made it very interesting”, said Damseaux. The Toyota fended off the attentions of the leading BP Volkswagen Golf of Jan Habig/Douglas Judd, ending day 1 a comfortable 63 seconds ahead. -

- Habig ended 2nd overall in his newly built Golf, suffering from a lack of testing miles. The set-up didn’t suit the conditions and he had to defend his position from the attentions of the flying Johnny Gemmell/Greg Godrich in their L&J Plant Services Subaru Impreza WRX, who ended 3rd overall and first in the Production Car category and class N4. -

- Gemmell went for broke in stage 13 as he tried to reel in the Golf, but slid wide five km from the end of the stage hitting a tree. The impact bent the left side panelling and windows and broke a lower control arm, but cost the pairing little time. -

- Second in class N4 and 4th overall were the veteran pairing of the reigning Production Car champions, Schalk Burger Snr/Vito Bonafede in their Bridgestone/Sasol Subaru Impreza WRX Sti. Burger had a puncture in stage 6 and dropped two minutes that he couldn’t make up in the treacherous conditions, which saw stage mileage reduced still further with the cancellation of two stages on day two. -

- Etienne Lourens/Andre Vermeulen debuted their class A8 Team Total Toyota RunX RSi, ended 5th after a torrid first day, which saw the left rear suspension collapse and shed a wheel, arriving in service after stage 5 on three wheels. Frantic service repairs got Lourens running again, and he raced up the leaderboard on day two from his overnight 10th position. -

- Hergen Fekken/Dave Lewkowicz won class A7 and ended 5th in their BP Volkswagen Polo Playa after a high speed off road excursion into the sugar cane on day 1. From stage 4 the Polo was stuck in third gear and completed day 1 with the ailment, but incredibly, managed to lead the Team Total Toyota Corolla entry of Jean Pierre Damseaux/Cobus Vrey by 13 seconds after the opening day’s activities. Damseaux Jr finished 7th overall, after losing 100 seconds with three punctures over the event. -

- Callie van der Merwe/Gideon Trollip drove their Mobil Subaru Impreza GT to an untroubled 8th position, while class N3 went to class debutants Rodney Visagie/Carolyn Swan in their Team Total Toyota RunX RSi. -

- The N3 champions Charl Wilken/Robin Houghton, retired their Team Castrol Toyota RunX RSi after leaving the road in slippery conditions on day 2. -

- Rounding out the top 10 was the Gauteng pairing of Nicholas Ryan/Brian Carrihill in their Bosal Subaru Impreza GT after running the entire day 1 gravel stages without mud tyres. -

- Chris de Wit/Patrick Yende won class N2 in their Team Total Toyota Corolla RSi, while class A6 went to Aggie Stroh/Jurg Steyn (Toyota Conquest). -

- Watch highlights of the Hitachi Power Tools Tour Natal Rally on Topcar on Supersport (Mnet/SS2) at 14h00 on Saturday, 13 March, with further coverage on “Sasol Rally Scene” on SABC3 after the Malaysian GP qualifying on 20 March. -

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

- Round 2 is the Toyota Dealers Cape Rally in the Western Cape on 26 and 27 March. -

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Original article from Car