It will be make-or-break for Mark Cronje (Ford Performance Fiesta S2000) and Leeroy Poulter (Team Castrol Toyota Yaris) in the 2015 Polokwane Motor Rally, final round of the South African National Rally Championship.
With only 7.5 points separating the two leading contenders in this year’s championship the title race can still go either way, but defending champ Poulter is under more pressure as he would need to repeat his winning performance of last year in order to retain the national rally crown.
Cronje, on the other hand, only needs to finish in third or higher to again clinch the title he won in 2012 and 2013. However, this event last year brought his title chase to a premature end when he had to retire after hitting a gate post – gifting Poulter the championship with one round to go…
The rough and dusty stages around the city of Polokwane in Limpopo traditionally favour the Toyotas, so for Cronje and co-driver Gerhard Snyman, who guided him to an emphatic victory in the Toyota Cape Dealer Rally, the game-plan will probably be just to keep Poulter in their sights, ready to pounce on any mistake from the Castrol Toyota driver.
They will also have to ensure that they stay ahead of the chasing pack, spearheaded by runner-up in the Toyota Cape Dealer Rally, the Sasolracing Volkswagen Polo driver Gugu Zulu.
Zulu, on 53 points, leads Poulter’s Castrol Toyota team mate Giniel de Villiers by only 3.5 points, and a major tussle between them on the dusty stages can be expected in their quest to secure third place in the championship.
In the co-driver’s championship Elvéne Coetzee, navigating for Poulter, has for all intents and purposes already clinched the 2015 title, irrespective of whether the Castrol Toyota pair finishes the final event.
With a total of 80.5 points, and with points for her worst result subtracted, Coetzee cannot be overtaken by team mate Carolyn Swan (49 points), but with the Sasolracing Volkswagen Polo navigators Pierre Arries and Hilton Auffray on 40 and 39 points respectively, the battle for the runner-up position is far from settled.
However, Arries and driver Hergen Fekken will have to finish third or higher in their Polo with Swan and De Villiers finishing outside the points, for the Capetonian to steal this position from Swan.
Fekken will also be chasing team mate Henk Lategan for fifth position in the championship – the points gap between the two Sasolracing Volkswagen drivers a mere five points before the final event.
In NRC4 the battle for overall class honours is still wide open. Piet Bakkes and Shaun Visser (Accident Guru Toyota Auris) leads the Challenge from Namibians Wilro Dippenaar/Kes Naidoo (North City Panelbeaters Toyota Auris) by a single point, and they are only two points ahead of Theuns Joubert/Mari van der Walt (Salom Agri Toyota Auris), so anything can still happen in the final event…
In the S1600 class the KwaZulu-Natal pairing of Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle (Yato Tools Toyota Etios R2) needs only to finish sixth or higher to seal their second national class title on the trot.
Team mates Matthew Vacy-Lyle and Schalk van Heerden (Fragram Tools Toyota Etios R2) is well set to take second position in the championship after finishing runners-up in the penultimate round of the season.
They are 7.5 points clear of Capetonians Paulus Franken and Henry Kohne (Manitou Group Volkswagen Polo R2), so a good scrap between them can be expected in the Limpopo Province.
The Polokwane Motor Rally on Friday, 16 and Saturday, 17 October, with the support of the Polokwane Municipality, the National Rally Commission and its partners Dunlop, Ford, Sasol, Toyota and Volkswagen, will be run over a distance of approximately 572 kilometres, comprising ten gravel special stages of about 187 kilometres and 385 kilometres liaison section.
The event will start at 13:00 on Friday from the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane and the first day will finish at around 19:00 at the stadium. The rally will restart at 7:00 on Saturday from the stadium and the first car is expected to finish at around 14:30 on Saturday at the stadium.