Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Guy Botterill and navigator Simon Vacy-Lyle secured the 2017 South African National Rally Championship with a second-place finish at the final round of the season, the Carnival City Rally. The pair started the event trailing championship leaders Richard Leeke and navigator Henry Köhne (Ford) by just four points, ensuring a tight race at the top.
As it turned out, it was Leeke/Köhne who drew first blood, when they opened up a 10 second lead on the opening stage after the Toyota crew wrong-slotted. But Botterill/Vacy-Lyle fought back on Stage 2, clawing back a single second – only to lose two more seconds to the Ford crew on the next stage. The championship fight was clearly turning into the battle fans had hoped for.
Leeke/Köhn pushed hard on Stage 4, extending their lead over Botterill/Vacy-Lyle by three seconds, but the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA crew remained in touch with the early leaders, planning on striking back at the start of Day 2.
“Unfortunately, the fight never reached day two,” said Botterill after completing the event. “Richard and Henry’s car wouldn’t start on the open section after Stage 4. They had an electrical problem of sorts, and were forced to retire.”
Interestingly, Leeke’s retirement increased his lead in the championship, as he now had a DNF’s score to drop – putting him 9 points ahead of Botterill/Vacy-Lyle by retiring from the final round. This meant that the Toyota Etios crew had to finish on the podium in order to ensure victory in the title race.
“We knew we couldn’t relax entirely,” continued Botterill. “But at the same time, it took the pressure off us in a big way.”
With Leeke/Köne out, Botterill/Vacy-Lyle set about their business in a professional manner. The pair maintained an excellent pace throughout the remainder of the rally, but never took any chances. They finished the event in second place overall, 42 seconds behind event winners AC Potgieter and Nico Swartz (Volkswagen).
“This year’s championship was a really tough one. Richard was a fierce competitor throughout, and it is a pity that the fight didn’t last to the final day of the season. Even so, we are over the moon with our championship,” said Botterill after the rally.
Botterill/Vacy-Lyle had won the Class S1600 championship three times previously, but this is their first championship in the new front-wheel-drive era, which sees the former Class S1600 cars as the top-flight of South African Rallying.
This means that Botterill will now join rally legends such as Leeroy Poulter, Serge Damseaux, Jan Habig and Hergen Fekken as a South African National Rally Champion.