DURBAN, South Africa - With the opening round of the 2012 South African Rally Championship, the Total Rally, mere weeks away, excitement is building for what could be one of the most closely-contested competitions in many years.The 54th running of this traditional season-opener is expected to feature factory teams from Toyota, Volkswagen. The factory teams will do battle against at least five privateer teams, including Ford and two privateer team Toyotas, in the top Super 2000 class. There will also be several teams fielding older generation cars in the new S2000 Challenge.With just two classes in the 2012 championship, the Super 1600 class is also expected to attract privateers with one or two factory-supported cars.SPECIAL STAGE PLANNEDThe rally will consist of 16 stages (14 gravel and two tar) covering 196kms over two days, paced around the Sun Coast Casino complex.The event will feature a new special stage through Durban. The stage will see two cars at a time racing alongside each other under controlled conditions over a distance of three kilometres.The unique stage, of which there are two parts, will pit drivers through two car parks, connected by a 600m section which will cross over the coastal highway close to Sun Coast Casino with the stage ending near the Moses Madhiba stadium.The new stage will end both days of racing and is scheduled to start at 7:15pm on Friday, March 23 and at 4:15pm on Saturday, March 24. The special stage will complete the 10 stages run on Saturday, March 24 and will begin at 16:15pm.All gravel tests will be run on the infamous kwaZulu-Natal south coast roads.PROGRAMME:Day one will start with a shake-down on the super special stage in the centre of Durban, to determine the starting order for the event. Five gravel stages await crews on the south coast of KZN, followed by the special night stage. Day two’s challenge will consist of nine gravel stages in the south coast area and end with the final tar stage. This will be followed by the podium and prize-giving presentation.The Total Rally takes places between March 23 and 24.