With a 25-point lead in hand - equivalent to a rally victory - defending champions Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton seem headed for a second straight title in their Ford Fiesta S2000 as the championship heads for the Western Cape for the third last round of the championship, this weekend's Toyota Cape Dealer Rally.
Cronje and Houghton's winning run last season followed Ford's first National championship in 29 years with Zimbabwean Conrad Rautenbach taking the title in 2011 in a Fiesta S2000. Ford's previous title was won by the legendary Sarel van der Merwe way back in 1982.
Not only do the Toyotas and Volkswagens have to catch Cronje and Houghton, who have won four of the five events so far, they also have to catch second-placed privateers and former champions Jan Habig and Robert Paisley - also in a Ford Fiesta S2000 - the only other crew to have won this year.
The leading works Toyota is the Castrol Yaris S2000 of perennial runner-up Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan, who are 11 points behind Habig and Paisley, and 36 behind Cronje and Houghton. Gemmell, a former African rally champion and SA Production Car Rally champion, has finished second in the championship four times and would like nothing better than to rectify this. He and Swan have a second and a third to their credit to date and will be aiming for the top step on the podium this weekend, and a rare win by a manufacturer in its own rally.
The locally developed and built all-wheel drive Yaris S2000 rally car is showing pace and promise in its first season and Gemmell's works Toyota team mates Giniel de Villiers and Greg Godrich, and Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee - fourth and fifth respectively in the standings - are also contenders for a maiden Yaris win should Cronje and Houghton run into any problems.
The top factory Volkswagen is the Polo S2000 of 19-year-old Henk Lategan and Barry White, joint fifth with Poulter and Coetzee. Lategan has impressed in his first season in the premier class, with second in the recent Ford Dealer Rally. Looking to regain their former glory but enduring a disappointing season so far are Volkswagen's former champions Enzo Kuun and Douglas Judd, and Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries in the other two works Polos.
Seventh overall and leading the S2000 Challenge class for older specification four-wheel drive cars with 30 points are Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Hilton Auffray in a Toyota Auris with two class wins to their credit in the first five rounds. Nine points behind in the Driver's category is defending Challenge title holder Gugu Zulu (VW Polo) who has a class win and two seconds but also two DNF's to his name.
Mohammed Moosa is third in the Driver's category, with navigator Andre Vermeulen second in the 'hot seat' standings in the second Auris; they also have a class win to their credit and any one of these top three crews, who are covered by just 9.5 points, is capable of winning.
S1600 TWO-WHEEL DRIVE CLASS
With just 9,5 points separating the top five and three different winners in the past five rounds, the S1600 class for two-wheel drive cars is the most hotly contested in the South African Rally Championship.
The lead in this class has chaged from round to round and, with just three of the eight rounds remaining, time is running out for the champions-in-waiting to make their move.
Heading the points table are Matthew Vacy-Lyle and Schalk van Heerden in a Toyota RunX. Surprisingly, they have yet to win a round, but their consistency - they have finished in the top five in every rally so far this year - has paid off.
Second, also in a RunX and just two points in arrears, are the vastly experienced Craig Trott and navigator Janine Lourens, who have scored in every round - including two podiums - and are looking for their first win of the season.
SO NEAR AND YET SO FAR
Trailing them by 1.5 points are former championship leaders Clint Weston and Christoff Snyders (a former champion driver turned navigator) in a Citroen C2 R2, who have two class wins so far, but also two low-scoring rounds where they finished under Super Rally rules after experiencing problems on the opening day.
They led the recent Ford Dealer Rally on the final day for the first six special stages before rolling out of contention on the final stage.
Joint fourth, and a further six points off the lead, are Namibian Thilo Himmel and Armand du Toit in the debut season of the all-South African Toyota Etios R2, and circuit racer turned rally driver Chad van Beurden in a VW Polo R2. Himmel and Du Toit have been the most consistent stage winners this year and led the championship after the first three rounds thanks to two class wins and a second place.
STILL IN IT
Sixth after an incident-filled season that has included a win in the most recent round and three low-scoring Super Rally finishes is Ashley Haigh-Smith (Ford Fiesta R2), whose British navigator Chris Parry is fifth in his category thanks to Van Beurden's regular navigator, Henry Dearlove, missing the Ford Dealer Rally.
With a deficit of 21 points to the class leaders - equivalent to a second place finish - Haigh-Smith and Parry are by no means out of championship contention.