Castrol Team Toyota’s Leeroy Poulter and navigator Elvéne Coetzee (Toyota Yaris S2000) kept the defense of their South African National Rally Championship title alive, when they won the tough and dusty Imperial Toyota Tshwane Motor Rally in fine style. The pair now lead the championship, with two rounds to go. This weekend’s victory, however, came after a stunning battle that had spectators enthralled, as the crews tackled ten tough rally stages between the Gauteng towns of Cullinan and Bronkhorstspruit.
The action got under way at noon on Friday, 14 August, at the Pretoria landmark of Fort Klapperkop. Day One of the rally featured just four stages, run near the town of Cullinan, and while Poulter/Coetzee were always in touch, they ended the day in second place, some 12 seconds adrift of early leaders Mark Cronje and navigator Robin Houghton (Ford).
However, Day Two of the event was always going to be the decider, with a number of long stages, as well as extremely tough road conditions. Poulter/Coetzee drew first blood on Saturday, when they took just over eight seconds from Cronje/Houghton on the opening stage of the day.
“Unfortunately we had a puncture on the next stage,” explained Poulter after the event. “We lost time to Mark, but then he had a puncture on the very next stage, and we got all the time back again.”
Mid-way through the day, the gap had shrunk to less than two seconds, and with only two stages to go all eyes turned to the clock at the end of the penultimate stage. But Cronje/Houghton failed to arrive at the end after hitting a rock and damaging the steering on their Fiesta. This took the pressure off Poulter/Coetzee, who completed the rally without incident, while the Ford pair managed to repair their car, finishing 15th in the end.
“This was an epic victory for us,” beamed Team Principal Glyn Hall after the podium ceremony at the Zonderwater Correctional Services facility in Cullinan. “Leeroy and Elvéne delivered the win that we needed in order to keep the championship alive, despite tremendous pressure. Quite a performance.”
Behind the two leaders, an equally epic battled raged for – what was then – the final step of the podium. Castrol Team Toyota’s Giniel de Villiers and Carolyn Swan, third in the overall standings at the start of the Imperial Toyota Tshwane Motor Rally, were embroiled in a ding-dong-battle with Volkswagen’s Hergen Fekken and navigator Pierre Arries.
Fekken/Arries, twice national champions in the past, drove an excellent rally and repeatedly challenged the Castrol Team Toyota crew for third place overall. But in the end De Villiers/Swan prevailed, after posting a number of exceptional stage times. With Cronje/Houghton slipping down the order after damaging their car in the penultimate stage of the rally, Toyota secured the top two steps of the podium, with Fekken/Arries taking third overall, just 7.3 seconds behind De Villiers/Swan.
In Class S1600 it was the Yato Toyota Etios crew of Guy Botterill and navigator Simon Vacy-Lyle who recorded yet another victory, regaining the lead of the championship. The pair drove a faultless event and took line honours by 1:40 over the Volkswagen crew of Paul Franken and Henry Kohne.
The Class S1600 headlines, however, were dominated by the spectacular crash of Matthew Vacy-Lyle and Schalk van Heerden, who topped the log going into the Imperial Toyota Tshwane Rally. The Fragram Toyota Etios crew landed awkwardly after hitting a big jump in stage eight of the event, and rolled multiple times at high speed. Both driver and navigator emerged from their stricken car without injury, but their championship hopes were dealt a crushing blow by the crash.
Two rounds remain in the 2015 South African National Rally Championship, and next up is the Toyota Cape Rally, which takes place on 18 and 19 September this year.