Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Guy Botterill and navigator Simon Vacy-Lyle accomplished their mission of finishing in the Top 3 at the TracN4 National Rally, Round 6 of the 2019 South African National Rally Championship. Botterill had already won the drivers’ title for the year – making it six titles in a row – but the Toyota Etios crew had to attain a podium spot in the penultimate event of the year in order to secure the navigators’ title for Vacy-Lyle. This they achieved, despite a tumultuous event.
“Things started well for us,” explained Botterill after completing the Gauteng-based event. “We ended Day 1 with a lead, despite struggling through some very thick sand caused by the extremely dry conditions.”
All the crews battled in the sand, which made it very tricky for the front-wheel-drive rally cars to set a good pace. Overheating was a constant threat, as was the possibility of snapping a side-shaft due to excessive wheelspin in the loose sand.
“Unfortunately, we fell foul to exactly that problem early on Day 2,” continued Botterill. “We snapped a side-shaft on the Toyota Etios, and suddenly found ourselves with just one-wheel-drive. We considered abandoning the rally, as getting through the very thick stuff was almost impossible in the circumstances.”
But with their eyes on the prize for Vacy-Lyle, the pair pushed on. They cleared one stage, and then drove at nothing more than limping pace through another stage, before reaching the service park mid-way through Day 2.
“Our crew did an amazing job repairing the car. They fitted a new transmission, and also replaced the diff and both side-shafts. With the work done, we were right back on the pace,” says Botterill.
Unfortunately, the pair had lost a bundle of time, and had slipped down to fifth in the standings – too far down the order to secure the championship for Vacy-Lyle. But then fate intervened: “Chris Coertse rolled his car in the third-last stage – nothing spectacular, but unfortunately the car came to rest in some extremely dry grass. The hot exhaust set the grass alight, and soon the Mazda was on fire.”
The competitors behind the stricken Mazda stopped to assist, using their fire-extinguishers to try to save the car. One spectator even attempted to push the car out of the burning grass with his own car, but sadly the spectator’s car also caught fire, and both cars had to be abandoned.
“In the end, the organisers had no choice but to stop the event at that point, simply because many competitors had exhausted their fire-extinguishers, and couldn’t race without them for safety reasons,” explained Botterill. “With Chris out, and one other competitor excluded for a technical infringement, we suddenly found ourselves promoted from fifth place to third – just what we needed!”
As a result, the Toyota Etios Crew scored enough points to seal the deal for Vacy-Lyle, with one round in hand. The final event for 2019 is the Ermelo Rally, which is scheduled for the weekend of 25-26 October.