The 2013 South African Rally Championship got off to a rough start with the season-opener Total Rally in KwaZulu-Natal this past weekend (March 8/9). It was the 55th Total organised by the Natal Motorcycle and Car Club with 11 stages running through the Scottburgh, Umzinto and Pennington areas and winding through the canefields of the South Coast. The event closed off with a 1.29km all-tar special stage at the old Durban drive-in on both days.TOUGH OBSTACLESThere were 16 stages and 171.32km of timed competition over two days in a route of 489.34km. Six of the 30 dropped out on Day 1 though two two crews restarted under SupeRally regulations on Day 2 but organisers cancelled three of the 16 scheduled stages because of mechanical issues and "low erosion" on the route, .A dominant display from defending champions Mark Cronje/Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta S2000) took them to the finish on Saturday with a commanding winning margin over Jan Habig/Robert Paisley (Ford Fiesta S2000).The final podium spot was a close-fought affair on the final three stages, only decided when the last car’s wheels stopped turning. Jean-Pierre Damseaux/Hilton Auffray (Toyota Auris S2000 Challenge) snatched this position from Leeroy Poulter/Elvene Coetzee and bravely fought to keep team mates Mohammed Moosa/Andre Vermeulen (Toyota Auris S2000 Challenge) behind them.The Two Wheel Drive championship category and Class S1600 for front-wheel drive rally machines was won by first-time Class winners Thilo Himmel/Armand du Toit in their new Toyota Etios S1600’s debut event. AMAZING RESULTSDamseaux said at the prizegiving: “To finish on the podium in the first event of the season is a fantastic way to start the championship and a great way to thank our sponsors for their continued support of motorsport. “The roads this weekend were very slippery but Saturday’s gravel stages were challenging even by KZN standards. To win the Class S2000 Challenge in our first event with five crews potentially capable of victory, and to nip past the newer Class S2000 machinery to record this overall rally podium, was such a fantastic feeling.”Damseaux started the event on Friday morning as the first car on the road, meaning he served as road sweeper to clean the ‘racing line’ for his rivals. This disadvantage was somewhat negated by two of the six gravel stages being cancelled and that day one’s six stages were divided into two loops of three stages which were repeated in the afternoon, with Damseaux able to benefit from the clean ‘racing line’ then too.LOSING GROUND A fierce battle raged between himself and hard-charging team mate Moosa, and the two crews swopped overall positions twice throughout Saturday’s eight stages. “We lost more than 30 minutes on the final gravel stage of the rally, which was the penultimate stage of the event. We went wide into a corner, hit a ditch and the car rolled on to its roof. We were just not able to roll the car back onto its wheels by ourselves and we went in search of spectators to assist us.” “We eventually got the car righted and finished the stage. Unfortunately, we dropped from fourth overall and second in the Class S2000 Challenge fight with Damseaux to 26th overall,” said Moosa.LOCAL FAVSDurbanite Craig Trott and new co-driver Janine Lourens pushed their Team Total Toyota RunX S1600 to maximum engine revs and top speed as they jostled for position in the Two Wheel Drive championship and Class S1600. Starting the event on the defensive as reigning category champions and local favourites, the Durbanite was used as the yardstick by which his rivals measured their pace and performance. “It was a trying and a very testing weekend for us,” Trott said. “We had a problem on stage 10 when we struck something that we think could have been a tree stump on the side of the road that shot us into the air and damaged our car’s front end. We lost only 30 seconds in that moment and we were then forced to knuckle down to some serious rallying to keep our fourth place in Class S1600. It is a very intensely competitive class this year.”The next leg of the SA Rally championship will be the Sasol Rally in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga over April 19/20.