Championship thrown wide open as Toyota’s Poulter and Coetzee secure victory in tough and dusty Imperial Toyota Tshwane Motor Rally
It was a fascinating, exciting, yet tough duel between the leading championship contenders, yet in the end Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee (Castrol Team Toyota Yaris S2000) emerged victorious in the Imperial Toyota Tshwane Motor Rally.
The outcome of the rally, sixth round in the SA National Rally Championship, was hanging in the balance until the penultimate stage when Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Performance Fiesta) fell by the wayside due to steering problems with their Fiesta. Up to that point, with two stages to go, the championship leaders led their Toyota challengers by a margin of only 1.3 seconds, and all was set for a nail-biting finale to the dusty rally in and around the town of Cullinan in Tshwane.
But it was not to be…
After winning all four stages yesterday Cronje and Houghton had a handy lead of 12.7 seconds over Poulter/Coetzee, but in the opening stage this morning (won by Henk Lategan/Barry White in their VW Sasolracing Polo racing under Superally rules) were eight seconds slower than the Toyota crew.
Cronje/Houghton duly made up the lost time in the next stage, winning it, but then lost 10 seconds to Poulter and Coetzee in stage eight, cutting their lead down to only 2.3 seconds. In the next stage Poulter took another 0.4 seconds out of their lead, to now trail by only 1.9 seconds.
The Ford Performance pair’s woes in the next stage (they managed to fix the steering, losing 16 minutes, and eventually were classified 15th overall) saw Poulter and Coetzee take their third consecutive victory in the series – thereby level-pegging their championship chances…
It also secured a double podium for the Castrol Team Toyota with Giniel de Villiers and Carolyn Swan finishing runners-up – just under half a minute adrift of their team mates.
However, getting lost in the excitement of the battle for victory was the mighty tussle between De Villiers/Swan and the experienced Volkswagen Sasolracing crew of Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries. The two teams were swopping virtually identical times in the stages, and at the finish the difference between them was only 7.3 seconds – while they were split by only 5.6 seconds after the first day of the event.
While team mates Lategan and White were making hay under Superally rules, winning three special stages on day two, Gugu Zulu and Hilton Auffray (VW Sasolracing Polo S2000) drove a steady race to secure fourth position. They were followed by team mates Thilo Himmel and Armand du Toit, scoring a rare race finish in fifth, followed by Ernie van der Walt/Greg Godrich ((Vecto Fuel Toyota Yaris) in sixth position, in the process also winning the Northern Championship regional rally overall.
Theuns Joubert and Mari van der Walt (Salom Agri Toyota Auris) drove a measured race to finish seventh overall and win the NRC4 challenge after the Namibians Wilro Dippenaar/Kes Naidoo (North City Panelbeaters Toyota Auris) had to withdraw just before the final stage. This effort also saw Joubert and Van der Walt finish second in the regional event.
The battle royal in the S1600 class was highlighted by the spectacular crash of log leaders Matthew Vacy-Lyle and Schalk van Heerden. The pair hit a big jump in stage eight and their Fragram Tool Toyota Etios R2 landed badly, causing it to roll over at high speed. Luckily both of them were unhurt.
Meanwhile their fellow Toyota campaigners and overnight class leaders Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle (Yato Tools Toyota Etios R2) stretched their advantage over Chad van Beurden/Nico Swartz (Jem Sport Ford Fiesta R2) after the Ford pair lost over 3 minutes in stage six.
With Richard Leeke/Rikus Fourie (ATS Ford Fiesta R2) rolling out of contention after breaking a control arm and AC Potgieter/Tommy du Toit (Ricky B VW Polo R2) damaging the radiator when hitting a major jump, both retiring in stage nine, Paulus Franken/Henry Kohne (Manitou VW Polo R2) moved up to second in the class, finishing nearly 1 minute and 40 seconds behind the Etios team, with Van Beurden/Swartz third.
The seventh and penultimate round of the 2015 South African Rally championship, the Toyota Cape Rally, is scheduled for 18 and 19 September in the Western Cape Province.