The event, one of the biggest and most popular sporting events in Mpumalanga, is the second round of the national rally championship and also round two of the FIA African Rally Championship, with at least five of the leading ARC contenders from Zambia, Zimbabwe and Kenya expected to enter.
The Sasol Rally, first run in 1992 as a round of the South African 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.
South African rally legend Sarel van der Merwe gave title sponsor Sasol a fairy-tale start to their involvement with local rallying by winning the inaugural event in a Sasol backed Ford Laser. The 11-times South African rally champion in 1993 repeated this feat, while the following year it was team mate Enzo Kuun who gave Sasol and Ford a hat-trick of wins.
But it is multiple South African rally champion Jan Habig who is the most successful driver in the rally’s history, with six wins in an eight year period from 1999 to 2006, all in Volkswagen Polo’s. Kuun also in a Volkswagen won the event five times while Toyota-stalwart Serge Damseaux was victories on four occasions.
The familiar gravel forest roads in the Sabie, Graskop, Pilgrim’s Rest, White River and Hendriksdal areas, which are generously made available by York Timbers and the MTO forestry company, will again form the heart of the rally.
“There will be a total of 15 special stages over the two days, seven on Friday, April 17, and eight on Saturday, April 18,” said Du Plessis. “Five of these will be tarmac stages, including the traditional Sabie and White River town stages on Friday night.
“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 at the same time, and a tarmac stage around the Mbombela soccer stadium.
“The total stage distance is approximately 206 kilometres with road conditions expected to be excellent, thanks to the on- going maintenance efforts of York Timbers and the forestry company MTO, who as usual are completely on board and as enthusiastic and helpful as always. We owe them a big thank you! ” said Du Plessis.
In order to familiarise competitors with the route under FIA African Rally Championship rules, there will be a recce of all the gravel stages on Wednesday, April 15 during which competitors are given the opportunity to drive the route twice at a maximum speed of 60 km/h (in sharp contrast to the upwards of 160 km/h some cars will achieve on the actual event).
There will also be a shakedown stage at Hendriksdal on Thursday afternoon, April 16 starting at 13:00 and covering some 6,29 kilometres of Saturday’s special stage 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 Sasol Rally in the carnival atmosphere of the Sabie Market Square at 10:00 on 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 is the Super Special in Nelspruit, which starts at 08:00, followed by the tarmac stage at the Mbombela stadium and a repeat of the Super Special in Nelspruit at 09:10 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 returns to Nelspruit for the traditional short special stage on grass inside the main arena of the Lowveld Showgrounds.