The 2003 South African National Rally Championship blasts into action next Friday and Saturday (7 & 8 March) with the running of the Hitachi Power Tools 45th Tour Natal Rally, organised by the Natal Motorcycle and Car Club (NMCC), with further support from KZN Oils, Hi-Q Gateway, Supa Quick Gateway and Bigfoot Express. -

- Running entirely on the slippery South Coast sugar cane plantation roads, with three spectator oriented stages at the start/finish venue, the Umhlanga Gateway Theatre of Shopping and one in Westmead, the Tour Natal Rally will set the scene for the thrilling season ahead. -

- The eight event series promises spectacular action from the two factory-entered protagonists, Volkswagen and Toyota, while a fleet of class N4 turbo-charged and four wheel driven privateer teams are expected to mount a serious counter challenge for the ultimate honour – the SA National Drivers’ and Co-Drivers’ championship titles. -

- Heading the 52-strong entry are the defending champions Jan Habig and Douglas Judd, back at the wheel of their factory-entered Sasol DualFuel Volkswagen Golf 4, sporting a new lighter sparkling blue livery. Their objective this season will be to secure their 5th and 6th titles respectively and deliver the prestigious Manufacturers’ Championship to Volkswagen. Teammates Enzo Kuun and new for 2003 navigator, Guy Hodgson are as determined to secure their first championship titles and are expected to challenge for victory from the outset. Kuun has seven rally victories to his credit while Hodgson has tasted the winner’s champagne on ten occasions. -

- Team Castrol Toyota will debut their brand new works RunX RSi on the Hitachi Power Tools Tour Natal Rally, driven by their multiple championship winning driver Serge Damseaux, while the current African Rally Co-Drivers’ Champion, Robert Paisley, will sit alongside the veteran driver. The Toyota outfit had a torrid season in 2002, winning just two rallies, and are expecting a turnaround in fortunes with their immaculate new Class A8 contender. -

- The ex-works MrMr Toyota Conquest of Peter Alterskye and Alan Bisset will be making their annual appearance on their home event in Class A8. -

- Class A7 will once again be a fierce battle for supremacy between the petrochemical giants Sasol and Total and manufacturers, Volkswagen and Toyota. The current class champions, Etienne Lourens and Andre Vermeulen will head the class in their Team Total Toyota Corolla RSi, but will face increased competition from Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Cobus Vrey in an identical Total Corolla RSi. Damseaux will drive his fathers 2002 ex-factory machine, suitably “de-tuned” to class A7 specification. -

- Challenging the red onslaught are the Sasol DualFuel Volkswagen Polo Playa twins of Hergen Fekken and Dave Lewkowicz and Tjaart van der Walt and Mike Burrows. The teamsters will start the season with their re-liveried and updated 2002 cars. -

- All four teams are spectacularly quick on all types of road surfaces and the challenge for class A7 honours will be as thrilling as the confrontation for overall honours. -

- Adding further depth to the entry is the long awaited debut of the E46-bodied Topcar Bosch BMW 320i of Cliff Blackman and Johan Klaasen. As the only rear-wheel drive car in the field, the tail-wagging antics of the KwaZulu Natalian pairing will remain a crowd favourite. -

- Tony Ball and Dean Redelinghuys will appear in another Polo Playa, adding to Volkswagen’s points-scoring armoury, while Capetonians Deon and Stella Coleske will make their national debut in another Polo Playa. Gert Janse van Rensburg and Geoffrey Sill provide some variety in class A7 with their Middelburg Nissan Sentra 200 Sti, while John Brewin and Terry Porter have entered their venerable Opel Kadett. -

- Heading the Production Car championship, for near standard production cars, is the enormously popular class N4 with ten entries expected for the ‘Tour’ including a number of brand new cars. The Cape Town-domiciled Fernando Rueda and co-driver Martin Botha are campaigning a brand new Motion Vehicle Wholesalers Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8, with support from Sasol in this the very latest rally machine from the Japanese brand. Rueda, the most improved driver of 2002, led the class N4 and overall Production Car championships until the very last kilometre of the last stage of the 2002 season, when mechanical bothers cruelly robbed him of both titles. Nothing less than claiming those lost titles will do for the genial Spaniard. -

- Schalk Burger, the 2001 FIA African Rally Champion, has built a new Subaru Impreza WRX STi to full Prodrive specification, and features the new white, red and black livery of Bridgestone tyres, with additional support from Sasol DualFuel. Burger has acquired the navigational skills of Vito Bonafede, a seven times Co-Drivers’ champion and former co-driver to Serge Damseaux. Bonafede has returned from an overseas assignment for his employer, and is relishing his return to SA rallying. -

- The current class N4 champion, after competing in just five of the eight events last year, is Leon Botha. Teamed with Johan Sieling for this season, the Pretoria Subaru Impreza STi-mounted Botha is hoping to, budget allowing, to defend his giant-killing act this year, albeit without the element of surprise he enjoyed last year. His Impreza has been upgraded to FIA specification to ensure he remains at the sharp end of the title fight. -

- Visser du Plessis and Thilo von Westernhagen, the 2001 class N2 champions, have re-united and bought Schalk Burger’s old Subaru Impreza WRX STi. The Pretoria businessman is confident of his chances this year, following a successful pre-season test recently. -

- The Pietermaritzburg team of Malcolm Saville and Alec Harris return with their familiar jet-black Auto Services Subaru Impreza WRX Sti and have a wealth of rallying experience between them. -

- Talented youngsters Nicholas Ryan and Brian Carrihill have entered a new ABC Motors-supported Subaru Impreza GT, while Rocky Reyneke and Andre Pheiffer have built a similar GT-bodied Impreza, run under the Hencom Panelbeaters banner. -

- The “Pink Ladies” team of Lola and Megan Verlaque, the only all-girl crew in SA rallying, start their third season of dirt racing with their re-liveried Rally Chicks Subaru Impreza WRX Sti, while the spectacular Werner Koekemoer and returnee navigator Graham Hooper, field their Hyper AgroChem Impreza GT. Koekemoer, although highly experienced and hugely spectacular, has never competed in the KZN event. -

- Rounding out the class N4 runners is Jacques Botha and Pieta Labuschagne in their Subaru Pretoria Impreza GT. The son of Leon Botha, Jacques won the final regional event of 2002 and is very quick, but inexperienced. -

- There is a dearth of entries in class A6, with just Team Total’s Craig Trott and Gerhard Snyman (Toyota Corolla Rsi) confirmed for the season. KZN rallyists, Ken Westermeyer/Detlef Wedekind and Peter Teague will compete in their home event, with Transaxle backing on their Volkswagen Polo Playas. Andy Haig Smith and Gerald Brace round out the class entries in their upgraded Toyota Conquest. -

- Class A5 sees the reigning champions Rodney Visagie and Carolyn Swan return to defend their title in their rapid Team Total Toyota Tazz, but will face a stern challenge from the Toy Toy Tazz entries of Michael Houghton/Bryn Doherty and Gregory Bloomer/Gregory Wood. The Lessan Engineering Tazz of Allen Worms/Cirian Nunan will also make the trip to Natal. -

- Sasol DualFuel and Volkswagen have created the “impi” team of Citi Golf drivers Nkosinathi Nzimande/Fani Fani Meyiwa and Gugu Zulu and Dave McGregor. Nzimande has become quicker as his experience has increased, while Zulu was a steady runner under the watchful eye of the experienced McGregor, and is expected to put last year’s lessons to good use as he moves up the class leader board this season. -

- The young Cars In Action journalist Steve Mearns will compete in a Sabat and Sasol-backed Toyota Tazz. Mearns was the revelation of 2002, winning his class on his debut on the treacherously wet Motorpics Mountain Trial, the most fearsome rally on the calendar. -

- Class N3 sees the debut of Charl Wilken and Robin Houghton in a factory-entered Team Castrol Toyota RunX Rsi. Wilken, a highly experienced multiple saloon car champion has switched from track racing to rallying, while Houghton is a multiple Off Road navigator’s champion. -

- Wiley Harrington, with Willie van Straaten in the co-driver’s seat, has entered a new Renault Clio under the Friendly Grocer banner. -

- The overall Production Car and class N2 champion of 2002, Dean Sanders has teamed up with Rod Hering to defend his crowns in his familiar Team Total Toyota Corolla Rsi. Young Richard Behm and Grant St Clair provided a stern challenge to Sanders last year in their similar Palbin Corolla, and will be joined by the LUK Africa/Godrich Toyota Corolla Rsi of Robin Goodman/Greg Godrich. -

- Chris de Wit has built a new Corolla Rsi and with continued backing from CTH Transport, is a favourite amongst his ‘hometown’ spectators in Natal. -

- Rounding out the entry is the class N1 car of Team Total Sowetan Toyota Tazz pairing Vusi Mabanga and Patrick Yende. The Total development team experienced a steep learning curve last year, but have gained a wealth of knowledge, which will be put to good use this year. They are joined by national rally debutants Hylton Belitzky and Justin Wade, who make the jump from Regional rallying to a full national campaign. -

- Brian and Keith Heine complete the class in their N1 Volkswagen Chico, while seven KwaZulu Natal Regional entries have entered their home event. -

- ROUTE OVERVIEW: -

- The Hitachi Power Tools 45th Tour Natal Rally gets underway from the Gateway Shopping Centre, Umhlanga, at 11h00 on Friday, with a short 1 km stage “Hi-Q Gateway”, before heading down the South Coast for three dirt stages. The first is a new 17km stage followed by the favourite spectator stage of the event, the Equeefa Watersplash. A 39km tight and twisty stage follows before crews head to a holding area in Pinetown. -

- At 18h00, “ Bigfoot Express”, a 5km dirt and gravel stage in Westmead, using the roads which once hosted the Durban Grand Prix, precedes a return to the Gateway Centre for the “Supa Quick Gateway” final stage of the day, starting at 19h00. -

- An early 07h00 start on Saturday morning takes crews down south to the 22km Ellingham stage, followed by a repeat of the crowd-pleasing Equeefa watersplash. A further two stages, totalling 20km inland from Equeefa takes teams to the “KZN Oils” Drumdarroch Service Park. A lengthy open section along a rural road leads to the Dududu area for 34km of action over 4 stages, including a shortened “Harding” stage, where both Johnny Gemmell and Serge Damseaux crashed in the 2002 Tour Natal. -

- The final stage, “KZN Oils” will be held at the Gateway Centre, with the stage ending in Palm Boulevard at approximately 16h00. Spectators can celebrate with the winners on the podium, which is situated next to the main fountain. -

- Rally enthusiasts can stay in touch with developments on the Hitachi Power Tools Tour Natal by calling 08 22 33 4321 from 13h00 on Friday. -

- Further information on the event is available from NMCC (Richard Vaughan – 083 775 8166 or Natasha Flack – 083 264 3353). -

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Original article from Car