Pretoria - Toyota Motorsport will be looking to build on its strong start to the season when Round 3 of the SA Rally championship is run on 23 and 24 May in Gauteng.
The Pretoria Motor Club (PMC) Gauteng Rally will be run over 10 gravel special stages in the Bapsfontein area and will provide the dusty battleground for several pre-season favourites to get their championship aspirations back on track.
Back-to-back wins by Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee (Toyota Yaris) see the factory pairing leading the championship with 50 points from team-mates Hergen Fekken and Carolyn Swan, whose 40 points come from second in the Tour Natal Rally in March and third in the Sasol Rally in April.
Third overall are Giniel de Villiers and Greg Godrich in a Toyota Motorsport-prepared semi-privateer Yaris with 31 points.
Hans Weijs Junior and Björn Degandt head a three-car Volkswagen Polo entry in the S2000 class and are fourth in the points standings with 24.5. The Dutch/Belgian combination, who travel from their homes in Europe for each round, showed their potential in the opening round with a fine third place and will be among the contenders for top honours in Gauteng.
Henk Lategan and Barry White (VW Polo) are fifth in the standings, 1.5 points behind their team-mates, and will be looking to improve on their best result to date of sixth on the Sasol Rally.
The third official VW factory crew of Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin will be celebrating their 50th rally and their third in the top S2000 class together. After failing to bring their Polo home in the opening round they bounced back with a creditable fourth place in the Sasol Rally and will be looking to score their first podium finish of the year this weekend. They are ninth in the championship with 17 points.
The Ford challenge is spearheaded by defending champions Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton in a Fiesta, backed up by fellow Fiesta privateers Japie van Niekerk and Gerhard Snyman. The champions, who are looking for a third consecutive title after dominating the past two seasons, have their backs to the wall after a disastrous start to the season.
A no-score in Round 1 one after they crashed into a tree and eighth under Super Rally rules in KwaZulu-Natal, after retiring with suspension problems on Day 2, have seriously dented their title aspirations. However, their rivals will not be discounting them after the manner in which they took charge in 2013 (seven out of eight wins and the lions' share of special stage victories), and the six stages they won on Day 1 of the Tour Natal. Expect a major offensive from them this weekend.
Van Niekerk and Snyman have also had their problems so far; while showing good pace in those stages they have completed both rounds so far under half-point Super Rally rules. They are 12th in the standings with 11 points.
Three crews will contest the class for older specification four-wheel drive cars as well as also qualifying for the overall S2000 championship.
Leading the challenge are Namibia's Thilo Himmel and Armand du Toit (VW Polo), who are sixth in the overall championship on 22 points with a best result to date of fifth overall in the Sasol Rally.
Piet Bakkes and Shaun Visser (Toyota RunX are second in the challenge and eighth overall, while Namibian Wilro Dippenaar and Kes Naidoo (Toyota Auris) are fourth in the challenge behind Joos Stassen and Gert Nienaber (Subaru Impreza), who have not entered the PMC Gauteng Rally, and 13th overall.
Back-to-back wins in the opening rounds of the two-wheel drive S1600 South African rally championship see Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle (Toyota Etios R2) as the team to beat. A full house of 25 points and a 12-point lead over second-placed Willie van Straaten and Scott Howden (Toyota RunX) seems like a good cushion, but Van Straaten and Howden are a surprise package in their first S1600 season together and have taken full advantage of their opportunities to finish second and fourth to date.
Hot on their heels and looking for the top step of the podium in Gauteng will be Simon's brother Matthew and co-driver Schalk van Heerden (Toyota Etios R2), who are six points behind Van Straaten and Howden with 32 points.
Pre-season prospects Chad van Beurden and Nico Swartz (VW Polo R2) are fourth on 26 points after a fine second place behind the championship leaders in the Sasol Rally, while promising teenage driver Richard Leeke Junior (Ford Fiesta R2) scored his first podium of the season in Mpumalanga and will be looking to go one or two better than his third place last time out. He is currently fifth in the championship with 22.5 points and will have the experienced Rikus Fourie reading the route notes alongside him on this occasion.
Looking to make a significant jump up the leaderboard are Ashley Haigh-Smith and Damian van Ass (Ford Fiesta R2), who are sixth after the first two rounds with 22 points. A further two points back in seventh are teenager AC Potgieter and Tommy du Toit (VW Polo).
The possibility of a second successive S1600 championship seems to be slipping away from title holders Clint Weston and Christoff Snyders (Citroen C2 R2), who could only manage a Super Rally rules finish and a modest 6,5 points in the opening round and then a DNF in Round 2. They have suffered engine management problems which have robbed their Citroen of the power that propelled it to many stage wins last year.
WHEN AND WHERE?
Friday's action will start at the RallyStar Motorsport Academy at 10am and the day's fourth and last special stage will be a Super Special at RallyStar. The first of Saturday's five stages will start from RallyStar at 9.18am and the finale will be a repeat of the Super Special, back at RallyStar.