A round of musical chairs has preceded the Toyota Cape Dealer Rally, penultimate event in the 2015 National Rally Championship to be staged in the Swartland area of the Western Cape on 18 and 19 September.
With the leading teams in this year’s game of thrones level-pegged after the Imperial Toyota Tshwane Motor Rally early log leader Mark Cronje and the Ford Performance Rally team announced that Cronje’s co-driver, the highly experienced and decorated Robin Houghton, will step down for the remainder of the season.
According to the release, Houghton’s decision was taken “in an effort to reduce the weight of car and crew to help improve Mark Cronje’s fight for the championship”.
It added that Houghton will still be involved in the running of the team and work closely with Cronje’s new navigator, and thanked and applauded Houghton for “his dedication and selfless decision”.
Meanwhile it has been confirmed that Gerhard Snyman, long-time navigator for Japie van Niekerk, will now fill the hot seat next to Cronje to take on arch-rivals Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee (Castrol Team Toyota Yaris S2000) in the Toyota Cape Dealer Rally.
With Snyman on duty in the official Ford Performance entry and Van Niekerk, due to business commitments not making the trip to the Western Cape, rally stalwart and ex-champion Enzo Kuun will be taking his seat in the NAD Ford Fiesta, directed by Kes Naidoo, who normally navigates for Wilro Dippenaar in the NRC4 Class Northern City Panelbeaters Toyota Auris.
The Namibian has decided not to participate in the Cape event, leaving Naidoo free to partner with Kuun, who won the SA national rally championship in 2006 for Volkswagen together with Guy Hodgson. Interestingly Hodgson will officiate as competitor liaison officer on the Cape event.
While the scoreboard may show Poulter and Coetzee leading the championship with 79 points after their victory in Tshwane – 7 points clear of Cronje – they are in reality even in terms of points as they must drop their worst result – in Poulter’s case the Secunda Motor Rally, and in Cronje’s the Imperial Toyota Tshwane rally result.
Such is their dominance that with two events remaining third-placed Giniel de Villiers and Carolyn Swan (Castrol Team Toyota Yaris) – on 48.5 points – is the only other team still in with a mathematical chance (after dropping their worst result) of winning the championship.
The Dakar star is 7.5 points clear of the consistent Gugu Zulu in his Volkswagen Sasolracing Polo– the only contender besides Poulter/Coetzee to finish every rally up to this point in the season –but with only two events remaining Zulu’s best hope is to challenge De Villiers for third place in the driver’s championship.
From Zulu there is a big points gap to team mates Henk Lategan/Barry White (24 points), while Thilo Himmel/Armand du Toit (Volkswagen Sasolracing Polo) is seventh, two points ahead of team mate Hergen Fekken who did not participate in the first two events of the year.
The S1600 class also sees a change of seats, actually even more, as it involves a change of cars for championship contenders Matthew Vacy-Lyle and Schalk van Heerden.
The pair, only seven points shy of log leaders and team mates Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle (Yato Tools Toyota Etios R2), has secured the Electrothread Toyota Etios S1600 R2 of Chris Coertse for the Cape event after they spectacularly rolled their Fragram Tools Etios S1600 R2 in the Tshwane rally.
Botterill/Vacy-Lyle is only 2.5 points clear of the Imperial Toyota Tshwane Motor Rally runners-up Paulus Franken/Henry Kohne (Manitou Group VW Polo R2), so an electrifying duel can be expected in the Swartland.
The seventh and penultimate round in the 2015 championship, supported by the Toyota and the Toyota dealers in the Western Cape, will kick off with four tar stages on Friday, 18 September, and eight gravel stages in and around Malmesbury on Saturday, 19 September, for a total distance of approximately 380 km.