The Sasol Rally, generally regarded as the Blue Riband round of the South African National Rally championship, will return to the Mpumalanga Lowveld for the 24th time over April 17/18 for a feast of special-stage racing through the forests.
SEEKING MORE GLORY: Henk Lategan and Barry White (VW Polo) will be looking to build on VW's successes, this time at the 2015 Sasol Rally. Image: Dave Ledbitter
The event, one of the biggest and most popular sporting events in Mpumalanga, is the second round of the championship and Round 2 of the African Rally championship so at least five of the leading ARC contenders from Zambia, Zimbabwe and Kenya are expected to enter.
The Sasol, first run in 1992 as a round of the SA championship also became an international event in 2011 with South Africa's re-entry to the African Rally championship and will again be organised by the South African Motorsport Club (SAM) under the overall direction of clerk of the course Willie du Plessis who has long carried the responsibility of ensuring that the event lives up to its reputation.
SIX WINS FOR HABIG
South African rally legend Sarel van der Merwe gave title sponsor Sasol a fairy-tale start to its involvement with local rallying by winning the inaugural event in a Sasol-backed Ford Laser. The 11-times SA rally champion won again in 1993 and the following year it was team mate Enzo Kuun who gave Sasol and Ford a hat trick.
However multiple SA Rally champion Jan Habig is the most successful driver in the rally’s history: six wins over eight years from 1999-2006, each time in a VW Polo. Kuun, also in a VW, won the event five times and Toyota-stalwart Serge Damseaux four times.
The familiar gravel forest roads in the Sabie, Graskop, Pilgrim’s Rest, White River and Hendriksdal areas, courtesy of York Timbers and the MTO forestry company, will again form the heart of the rally.
Du Plessis explained: “There will be 15 special stages over the two days - seven on Friday, April 17 and eight on Saturday April 18. Five of these will be on tarmac, including the traditional Sabie and White River town stages on the Friday evening.
“On Saturday morning spectators will be treated to a double dose of the very popular “Spaghetti Junction” Super Special in Nelspruit, where two cars compete against each other, and a tarmac stage around the Mbombela soccer stadium.
“The total stage distance is 206km with road conditions expected to be excellent, thanks to the ongoing maintenance efforts of York Timbers and MTO. We owe them a big thank you!"
GREAT FOR SPECTATORS
Competitors can familiarise themselves with the route - twice - under African Rally championship rules on Wednesday April 15 but at a maximum speed of 60km/h - in sharp contrast to the more than 160km/h some cars will achieve on the event.
There will also be a shakedown stage at Hendriksdal on April 16 from 1pm covering some six kilometres of Saturday’s special stages 12 and 14. Competitors may repeat this as often as they wish.
This is a great opportunity for rally fans and spectators to get a close look at the cars and crews in action ahead the actual start of the rally in the carnival atmosphere of Sabie Market Square at 10am on the Friday before the first stage of the rally at Olifantsgeraamte.
Four more gravel stages in the forests in the Sabie, Graskop and Pilgrim’s Rest areas will follow. The day will be rounded off with the traditional and exciting tarmac night stages in Sabie and White River before the overnight stop in Nelspruit.
Saturday’s first stage will be the Super Special in Nelspruit from 8am, followed by the tarmac stage at Mbombela stadium and a repeat of the Super Special in Nelspruit from 9.10am before returning to the forests and a new gravel stage near Klipkop, followed by four more gravel stages in the Hendriksdal and Sabie areas.
The rally will return to Nelspruit for the traditional short special stage on grass inside the main arena of the Lowveld Showgrounds.
PREVIOUS WINNERS OF THE SASOL RALLY1992 Sarel van der Merwe - Ford Laser
1993 Sarel van der Merwe - Ford Laser
1994 Enzo Kuun - Ford Laser
1995 Serge Damseaux - Toyota Conquest
1996 Serge Damseaux - Toyota Conquest
1997 Enzo Kuun - Daewoo Cielo
1998 Serge Damseaux - Toyota Conquest
1999 Jan Habig - Volkswagen Polo
2000 Jan Habig - Volkswagen Polo
2001 Jan Habig - Volkswagen Polo
2002 Enzo Kuun - Volkswagen Polo
2003 Jan Habig - Volkswagen Polo
2004 Jan Habig - Volkswagen Polo
2005 Serge Damseaux - Toyota RunX
2006 Jan Habig - Volkswagen Polo
2007 Johnny Gemmell - Toyota RunX
2008 Enzo Kuun - Volkswagen Polo
2009 Johnny Gemmell - Toyota Auris
2010 Enzo Kuun - Volkswagen Polo
2011 Leeroy Poulter - Toyota Auris
2012 Mark Cronje - Ford Fiesta S2000
2013 Mark Cronje - Ford Fiesta S2000
2014 Leeroy Poulter - Toyota Yaris S2000