Thilo Himmel and the new rally Toyota Etios R2 enjoyed a dream debut in the season-opening Total Rally in kwaZulu-Natal. Himmel (from Namibia) and his South African co-driver Armand du Toit won the Two Wheel Drive category for S1600 cars.The pair led the two-day, 16-special stage event which formed Round 1 one of the 2013 National championship. Himmel/Toit were challenged by Ashley Haigh-Smith/Craig Parry (Ford Fiesta R2) and Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy-Lyle (Toyota RunX).The race was reduced to 13 stages due to incidents.FANTASTIC DEBUT WINBotterill and Vacy-Lyle had led throughout Saturday's (March 8) five stages but were penalised by two minutes for finishing early at a control. This demoted them to fifth and 1min45 behind Himmel and Toit. Haigh-Smith and Parry were second, ahead of Matthew Vacy-Lyle and Schalk van Heerden (Toyota RunX) and reigning Two Wheel Drive champion Craig Trott and new co-driver Janine Lourens (Toyota RunX).Himmel and DToit led throughout Saturday while Botterill and Vacy-Lyle mounted a stirring challenge that saw them move up to second place ahead of Haigh-Smith and Parry with two stages remaining. The gap at the finish at the old Durban drive-in was 33 seconds.Haigh-Smith, whose Ford mysteriously lost power as the rally progressed, finished third, 39 seconds behind Botterill and Vacy-Lyle and 1min28 ahead of Trott and Lourens.Vacy-Lyle and Van Heerden were fifth, followed by Megan and brother Oliver Verlaque (VW Polo). Former circuit racer Chad van Beurden made a workmanlike rally debut with the experienced Henry Dearlove jnr and was seventh in a VW Polo.GROWING POPULARITYThe youngest driver in the event, 16-year-old Richard Leeke jnr, and Pierre Jordaan were eighth in an ATS Ford Fiesta R2 in only their second National championship rally together. The husband and wife combination of Danie and Debby van der Westhuizen were ninth in a Ford Fiesta R2.It was one of the best S1600 battles seen in local rallying with a record 14 entries underlining the growing popularity of the "entry" formula. Sadly for one of the pre-race favourites, the experienced Clint Weston and Christoff Snyders in a very quick Citroen C2 R2, it was a battle in which they never featured. Fuel pump problems on Friday's Stage 1 cost them 36 minutes and a five-minute penalty for lateness. No way to recover that so, an unfamiliar 10th in class.The next round of the championship will be the Sasol Rally in Mpumalanga over April 19/20.