THE CAPE OVERBERG GRAND PRIX
The rally that has teeth behind its head as well, but can also place a soft hand on a rally driver’s shoulder when least expected.
This is arguably the fastest rally in South Africa – especially after the Mountain Trial Rally in the North Cape disappeared from the scene.
Johnny Gemmell won the last Cape Overberg when it was held in 2017.
That year AC Potgieter and Nico Swartz in their Lake Umuzi R2N class VW Polo gave Gemmel a run for his money until the very end, but the Thin Man in that magnificent Lime Green Porsche did just enough to beat all-comers.
Something few people really understand about Gemmell and other learned this the hard way – he works just like a temperature switch – sets it on 220 degrees and then drives there for as long as he wishes, if need be – he will up it to 450 – and drive there – also for as long as he wishes.
The 2019 rally will start at 14h00 at Rola Ford Caledon and then head for the 12km first stage.
While writing the next sentence I had to smile, thinking back of the late Billy Bright – who phoned me during the last Caldon rally to tell me that “they are using your formula for the Super 77 – now all of a sudden they run the stages twice before moving on” – exactly the way I planned to run the Super77 series – a concept designed to draw the crowd and sponsors and give the competitors a chance to shine without going bankrupt, but sadly that will probably never happen if I do not go it all on my own.
Anyway – the spectators will be treated to two runs through the stage before having to move on. What a brilliant plan! Even if I have to say so myself.
On Friday evening spectators will be treated to a night run around the showgrounds – from 19h00 and that should be fun! I don’t think there will be as many spectators as there used to be when we taxied all the way back over the mountain to do a Mickey Mouse near Cape Town – but at least staying in Caledon makes a hell of a lot more sense.
On day two – the fun will begin in earnest. The crews will head to Klipdale near Riviersonderend to do the 8 stages that makes up the 100km they will need. The rally distances for the trouble and money involved are truly becoming ridiculously short.
The first spectating point will be at the “Geskenk” stage that starts at 08h40 on Saturday morning.
As far as the National teams go – the clever money must surely go the way of Botterill and Vacy-Lyle in their works Toyota Gazoo Racing R2N Etios. It is such a pity that there are not more manufacturers involved, but that is how it is.
Without having an idea of how the 1000cc three cylinder turbo engine will perform – one can not predict that AC Potgieter will be all over Botterill.
Botterill’s skill can make up for a hell of a lot that may lack under the bonnet – but let’s wait and see what happens – he may just wipe the floor with the Polo – turbo and all, although I doubt that very much. Volkswagen would sure as hell, have tried to prevent this engine change if they doubted its ability to stay with the Etios.
I have to say that the NRC’s decision to allow the 3-cylinder 1000cc turbo engine to be included in the 2019 rules – was,
This drastic change will draw most of the attention to Potgieter and Swartz and they will together with the attention also draw a lot of pressure on them as well. Speaking of pressure – AC has always handled that better than what I expected. All he needs to get under control is how fast and hard he needs to go, to win.
This may turn into a very, very interesting competition between two top drivers.
A previous winner – Chris Coertse with navigator Greg Godrich will attack in the Mazda2 and may again be successful in reaching the podium.
JJ Potgieter and Tommy du Toit will tackle the speed-sprint event in the Laeveld Agrochem Ford Fiesta R2N with a lack of experience in this event – but JJ should be a force to reckon with.
George Smalberger has two advantages – he firstly, did some testing on the super fast Rallystar stages and secondly, he has the experienced Carolyn Swan next to him to read the notes. It will be interesting to see what George achieves and how he will develop through this year.
It remains a great pity what this championship is basically watered-down due to the low number of entries – the competitors cannot be blamed for that, but I wonder when someone will come along and turn this around.
It is pure hell to write anything interesting if you know that there are one or two names only who can and will win – the top two will put some serious pressure on each other – but then again – we will have to wait and see what the 1000cc Polo is made off.
Such a pity that no one shares this type of info with the media.
THE TWO OPEN CLASSES
There are two classes – one for two wheel drive and one for four wheel drive vehicles. Neither of the two classes will score for the SA Rally championship.
The NRC will base “new classes”, I presume for next year, on what comes to the fore from this Open class and also allow previous championship cars, to compete against each other.
The intention they say is aimed at encouraging cars parked in garages to be dusted off and used what they are intended for, Rallying. I have also heard about these “parked” cars – lots of them – but goodness knows I have not seen many when it came to the push in the past.
OPEN CLASS 4
In the case of the four wheel drive Open Class 4, it is not all that easy to predict a winner either – although there are only four cars.
Rory Eland and Robbie Coetzee must start as the favourites in the Subaru STi. They won the Open Class in 2018 and will want to repeat that again this year. This car is a monster and when it gets going very few cars will stay with it.
They will face stiff competition from Western Cape locals Llewellyn Jones and Chris Pichon in their Subaru, who seems to be the top contenders in the Cape and when they finish they usually end up winning the class.
Both Ismael Davids in a first generation RunX S2000 and Ismail Shermohammed in the latest generation Yaris S2000 will offer stiff competition and with a bit of luck one of them may even pull off a surprise in the Open 4 Class.
Then we get to the Open Class 2 for two wheel driven cars.
Ten cars are entered in this class – but I am afraid that this will be a bit of a one-horse race if nothing goes wrong.
I expect Paul Franken to run high up overall – let alone win this class. I hear the three-cylinder turbo engines are deceptively quick.
Franken’s car is aimed at regional participation and is apparently slightly cheaper to build than the one campaigned by AC Potgieter. That could mean anything – between no difference and a quantum leap, but we will be able to see the performance difference quite clearly during this rally – or will we?
Fact is – this is Franken’s home-ground and if he keeps all together – he is very quick and will make his mark –
Classic himself – Andy Haigh-Smith at 71 the oldest active rally competitor in SOUTH AFRICA and current S3 WP champion, will pilot the “Yellow Submarine” AHS Mitsubishi Lancer with the 23-year-old, Tania Vermaak next to him in.
This is, Andy says, his last year of rallying and he will, as usual, be out to enjoy himself – or pretend to and then beat a lot of youngsters on the way. Given half a chance – Andy has slipped past many times in his career, often unnoticed and voílà – there he stands trophy in hand.
Tiaan Rabie is apparently very quick in his VW Golf MK1 and usually manages to keep the car on the road, while giving his all.
Keenan Sassman has sorted out the Corolla’s reliability which has hampered him in the past and being a quick driver, he may offer more resistance than the competition would like to have.
THE CLASSIC CLASS
In the Classic Class, 2018 champion Etienne Malherbe in his Datsun will be entertaining the crowd with his sideway antics, but unfortunately for my friend Etienne he will hear the theme song of Jaws playing while he approaches the start line.*
The green fin sticking out above the dust will be that of the Porsche 911 driven by one of the best drivers I know – Johnny Gemmell and with local man – Carl Peskin next to him – Malherbe will have to stay straight and drive all the stages as short as possible if he wants to attend the same prize-giving!
Lola and Eddie Verlaques’ presence in a classic Golf Mark 1 (nogal) makes this the rally fun class to be in. Lola will see this event more as preparation for some classic events in Africa, but if she finds her rhythm she has always been quick.
The unofficial overall winner – of this rally will come from this class – if all goes well, as they say in the game of rallying. Botterill and also AC Potgieter will however do their damndest to see that one of them wins, as it should be.
* A sad moment was, that just after I wrote the above four paragraphs, I received the sad news that Johnny Gemmell’s father passed away and that Johnny withdrew from the rally. I felt that I should leave what I have written as he truly deserves the tribute and his father who have always been so proud of him, would have enjoyed reading it.
Our sincere condolences to Johnny and his mom.
Under these circumstances Etienne can revert back to his sideways style, stay on the route and win the class.
A local Datsun from Herman Mathee will also be in action after a short break. This car they say, is something for the eye as well.
THE REGIONAL RALLY
The regional class has 8 entries which brings the total to 32 cars, with only six competing for the National Rally Championship. Huh?
Cobus Edas and daughter could pull a surprise in their Ex Chris de Wit Corolla.
Erin Joshua is a newcomer in the sport, who will be driving a Conquest.
Derek and John Clift – father and son team and the defending S4 regional champions – have changed roles for this season, with son driving and father telling him what to do and where to go, as quick as he can!
Husband and wife team, Marius and Angie Swart deserves a mention. They will be driving the very quick Golf Mk1. The car is more suitable for gymkhanas than for rallying, which makes it a little bit unreliable.
I have always had a soft spot for the CAPE OVERBERG GRAND PRIX and will always think about it fondly.
The true rally supporters and also the team are in for the usual sensational treat.
Good luck to all and keep it together.