The South African national Rally Championship has been turned on its head, with the ATS Motorsport Young Guns catapulted back to the top of the championship standings thanks to finishing runner-up in the premier S1600 class on the Caledon Rally, which ended on Saturday September 23. They were also third overall, with Johnny Gemmel/Carl Peskin first car home and AC Potgieter/Nico Swartz second overall and first of the S1600 cars.
The Young Guns – driver Richard Leeke and co-driver Henry Köhne – now find themselves firmly in pole position for the National title, with just one round to go. They have a four point lead over Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy-lyle who were knocked out of the weekend’s Western Cape event with a blown motor on the opening stage.
“We knew we were in for a fight this weekend and we expected the event to be a no-holds-barred tussle with Guy and Simon from start to finish,” commented an ecstatic Leeke. “When we got to the end of the first stage and heard they were out, we were shocked – it was so unexpected. In fact, the news threw us off our rhythm for the remaining stages of the day, as we tried to re-think our strategy on the hoof – and we also had a scare with a high-rpm misfire.”
It was soon clear from Saturday’s stage times that the Young Guns were pacing themselves and were quickest of the S1600 cars on only one of the day’s eight stages, having won two of the four on the previous day.
Added Kohne: “We sat down with our crew on Friday night and we were all in agreement: we weren’t going to go for glory on Saturday. Obviously winning the class would’ve increased our overall lead in the championship, and as it is we finished only 16 seconds behind AC and Nico, but fighting them would’ve been reckless.”
In addition, they picked up another misfire after a water splash. Nevertheless, they kept Tjaart Conradie and Kes Naidoo at bay, who eventually finished fourth overall and completed the S1600 podium.
The young guns have been a model of consistency this year, finishing every event and their lowest placing being 6th. Their four-point advantage takes into account dropping their worst result.
The final round of the championship takes place on October 20 and 21 and will be centred around Carnival City on the West Rand and it is going to be a showdown: if Botterill wins and Leeke is second they will end the year with identical points – but Botterill will be declared champion by virtue of his superior win count. If Botterill is second or lower, the Young Guns merely need to finish one position behind to be champions.
“However you slice or dice it, the pressure is definitely on Guy – he basically has to win,” Leeke points out. “We are also going to have to go all out though, so rally fans could not have hoped for a more exciting end to the 2017 season. We can’t wait!”