After three of the eight rounds of the South African Rally National championship the top five contenders are now clearly identified and include defending champions Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta) despite a very poor start to the 2014 season.Team Toyota’s Leeroy Poulter/Elvéne Coetzee and Hergen Fekken/Carolyn Swan (in Yaris all-wheel drive cars) remain in the top two positions but with a reduced lead after a disappointing round 3, the Pretoria Motor Club Gauteng Rally over May 23-24 2014. They are tied on 57 points.After winning the first two rounds, Poulter and Coetzee had engine problems on Day 1 in Gauteng and completed the event under half-points Super Rally rules in seventh to score only seven points. Fekken and Swan, in their first season together and Fekken’s debut with Toyota after several years with Volkswagen, have been models of consistency and are the only crew to have completed each round with a second, third and fourth. NON-FINISHES Every other crew has either completed at least one event under Super Rally rules or failed to finish.Henk Lategan (VW Polo) moves up to third in the Drivers’ championship with 44 points after his season’s best result, second in Gauteng. Co-driver Barry White, who missed the opening round, is fourth in the Co-drivers’ championship with 36 points. A very impressive charge on Day 2 of the PMC Rally saw the pair improve from fifth on day one to finish second after winning three of Saturday’s six special stages.Volkswagen team mates Hans Weijs from Holland and Björn Degandt from Belgium produced their second top-three result of 2014 to see Weijs move up to fourth in the Drivers’ championship and Degandt into third in the Co-drivers’ championship on 43.5 points.Cronje and Houghton, champions in 2012 and 2013, jump up to fifth with 31.5 points after recording their first win of the 2014 season in Round 3. It was the kind of dominant performance one has come to expect of the Ford pair and it puts them within a win (25 points) of the current leaders.While it would be fair to assume that the 2014 champions will emerge from one of the top five crews already mentioned, the other half of the top 10 is likely to play more than a minor role in the final outcome.Giniel de Villiers and Greg Godrich, in only their second season together, have improved every time they’ve ventured out on to the special stages and were third behind their Toyota Motorsport team mates after Round 2. Engine problems on Day 1 in Gauteng could not be fixed overnight and they were forced to retire. They are now sixth in the championship with 31 points.OLDER SPECIFICATION Namibia’s Thilo Himmel and Armand du Toit moved up from the two-wheel drive S1600 class to the premier category in 2014 and are seventh overall on 28 points with a best result of fifth in Round 2, the Sasol Rally in Mpumalanga. They are also the leading crew in the S2000 Challenge for older specification all-wheel drive cars in a VW Polo.Privateers Japie van Niekerk and Gerhard Snyman (Ford Fiesta) also had a best result of fifth in Round 3, but problems in the opening two rounds saw them finish under Super Rally rules and are eighth with 27 points.Piet Bakkes and Shaun Visser (Toyota RunX) are ninth overall with 25.5 points and second in the S2000 Challenge. Rounding out the top 13 are two crews tied on 22.5 points. Former S2000 Challenge winners Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin, competing in S2000 for the first time in a factory VW Polo, have a best result to date of fourth in Mpumalanga, but a did not finish in Round 1 and a 10th under Super Rally rules in Round 3 restricted their points haul.Namibian Wilro Dippenaar and Kes Naidoo (Toyota Auris) are joint 10th with a best result of sixth in Gauteng to make up for a DNF in Round 2 and a reduced points Super Rally finish in Round 1. They are also contesting the S2000 Challenge and are currently third. Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle (Toyota Etios) continue to enjoy a trouble-free run at the top of the S1600 championship for two-wheel drive cars and with a maximum 75 points from three successive victories and have a handy 32-point advantage over their closest rivals. It is their first year in the Jemsport-developed Toyota Etios, which showed a lot of promise in 2013 in the hands of Thilo Himmel.EXCITING SHOWThe battle for the remaining podium positions is turning out to be an exciting side show with a nice blend of youth and experience. Joint second in the Drivers’ championship on 43 points are Willie van Straaten (Toyota RunX) and Ashley Haigh-Smith (Ford Fiesta). Their co-drivers Scott Howden and Damian van Ass are respectively third and fourth in their championship. Second in the Co-drivers’ championship with 49 points is the experienced Pierre Jordaan who has partnered a different driver in each round. Fourth in the Drivers’ championship is Matthew Vacy-Lyle (Etios), brother of Simon, who benefited from two fifth finishes in the first two rounds to accumulate 39 points. But for problems in Round 3 he and co-driver Schalk van Heerden might well be higher in the standings. Van Heerden is fifth in the Co-drivers’ championship after the first three rounds. The promising Richard Leeke Jnr, who turned 18 after the start of the season and is the youngest driver in the championship, is fifth with 38.5 points after piloting his Ford Fiesta to third and fifth in the last two rounds. Chad van Beurden and Nico Swartz (VW Polo) is another potential winning combination but are battling to find the consistency to challenge for the championship. They are sixth overall on 35 points with their best result third in the Sasol Rally. POOR SEASON SO FARThe season just seems to go from bad to worse for defending champions Clint Weston and Christoff Snyders (Citroen C2). Unbelievably they are 17th with only 6.5 points after a reduced points left them eighth in the opening round and two successive non-finishes. They’re determined to get their season back on track and certainly have the credentials – as they showed in 2013 – and the desire to get back on the top step of the podium.Toyota is leading the Manufacturers’ championship with 290 points, ahead of Volkswagen (204) and Ford (168.5). The next round of the SA Rally National championship is the Volkswagen Rally will be the Eastern Cape over July 11-12 2014.