Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee (Castrol Team Toyota Yaris) finally broke Toyota’s long national rally championship drought dating back to 2004 to clinch the 2014 title with victory in the penultimate round, the Polokwane Motor Rally, in Limpopo this afternoon.
In a rally of attrition that saw five of the nine runners in the premier S2000 class for four-wheel drive cars and three of the 11 contenders in the S1600 class for two-wheel drive cars forced to retire on the opening day, Poulter and Coetzee stamped their authority on the event from the second special stage on Friday, winning six of the 11 special stages, four on Friday and two on Saturday.
The early demise of defending champions Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Dealer Team Fiesta), who damaged their suspension after hitting a gate post on the second special stage on Friday after recording the fastest time in the opening stage, did Poulter and Coetzee’s cause no harm. Only the visiting Dutch driver Hans Weijs Jnr (Sasolracing VW Polo), fourth in the point standings before this weekend’s penultimate round, Cronje/Houghton, third in the standings, and Poulter/Coetzee’s team-mates Hergen Fekken and Carolyn Swan, second on the log, had a realistic chance of overhauling them in the two remaining rounds.
As it turned out, only Weijs, without regular co-driver Bjorn Degandt of Belgium, whose father is unwell and who was replaced by countryman Hans van Goor, was able to complete all 11 special stages, finishing second overall, his best result of the season, 2 minutes in arrears.
Fekken and Swan’s challenge was nullified when they lost 10 minutes in special stage seven after completing day one in second place, 30 seconds behind their team-mates. They retired on stage 10 with alternator problems, but were classified as finishing 11th under Super Rally rules and scored half points, to put them third in the championship behind Weijs and out of championship contention.
Henk Lategan and Barry White (Sasolracing VW Polo) had started the event with the slimmest of mathematical chances of catching Poulter and Coetzee. However, they retired after stage nine and were not classified as finishers after starting day two under Super Rally rules following their withdrawal on Friday with engine problems on stage two.
Third overall today and first and only finisher in the S2000 Challenge for older specification four-wheel drive cars were Namibia’s Wilro Dippenaar and South African co-driver Kes Naidoo (PZN Panelbeaters Toyota Auris). They improved from fifth at the overnight stop in Polokwane on Friday to record their best result of the season and finished 2 min 20 sec behind the winners.
Fourth was former S2000 Challenge winners Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin (Sasolracing VW Polo), 2 min 30 sec in arrears. Giniel de Villiers, winner of round six in the Western Cape with Greg Godrich in an Imperial Toyota Yaris, was out of luck with co-driver Pierre Arries, standing in for an ill Godrich. Electrical problems forced them out on Friday and they returned on Saturday under Super Rally rules. They finished fifth and were awarded half points.
With just one round remaining in November, at a venue still to be decided, and a maximum of 25 points on offer, Poulter and Coetzee have 149 points to the 105,5 of Weijs and the 100,5 of Fekken/Swan.
Sixth overall in the combined S2000/S1600 field and winners of the S1600 two-wheel drive class were Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle (Yato Tools Toyota Etios R2), who won four of the 11 stages on their way to a 1 min 32 sec win over Paulus Franken and Henry Kohne (Manitou Group VW Polo). They have now wrapped up the championship and cannot be caught in the final round.
Third at the overnight stop and third at the finish were Ernie van der Walt and James Aldridge (Ferodo Ford Fiesta R2). Fourth were Matthew Vacy-Lyle and Schalk van Heerden (Fragram Tools Toyota Etios R2), who finished ahead of Andrew Heine and Robbie Coetzee (VW Polo).
Casualties included Chad van Beurden and Nico Swartz (Beurden Construction VW Polo), who, with 81 championship points to Botterill/Vacy-Lyle’s 130 – a gap of 49 points – had the slimmest of mathematical chances of denying Botterill and Vacy-Lyle the title. They went out as early as stage one with gearbox problems and virtually handed the S1600 title to Botterill and Vacy-Lyle.
Ashley Haigh-Smith and Damian van Ass (Castrol Ford Fiesta R2) dropped out of the Super Rally with a broken side shaft on stage seven. They hit a tree and damaged their suspension on Friday, Chris Coertse and Mari van der Walt (Electrothread Toyota Etios) rolled out of the event on stage seven while also competing in the Super Rally after their alternator pulley fell off on Friday, and AC Potgieter and Tommy du Toit (VW Polo) were eliminated on Friday after alternator failure on stage three. They completed the event today under Super Rally rules and were classified seventh in S1600.