Cullinan, Gauteng - Works Toyota crew Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee increased their lead in the South African Rally Championship to 27 points over team-mates Hergen Fekken and Carolyn Swan when they won the Round 5, the Cullinan Rally, at the weekend.
It was their third victory of the season and came after they won four of the 12 special stages that made up the 155km of racing on private gravel farm roads in the Cullinan and Bronkhorstspruit areas. Their winning margin was 20.5 seconds over second-placed Ford Fiesta privateers Japie van Niekerk and Gerhard Snyman.
The Ford crew produced their best performance of the past three seasons together, winning special stages eight and 10 on Saturday after reaching the overnight halfway point yesterday in fourth, 25 seconds behind Day 1 winners Poulter and Coetzee.
Van Niekerk has shown great pace in his Ford, which was upgraded this year, but his best result prior to this was fifth in the PMC Gauteng Rally in May. His previous best-ever performance in a National championship rally was third in the Tour Natal Rally in 2008.
Fekken and Swan came home third in Cullinan, 54 seconds behind their winning team-mates and 33 seconds adrift of the Ford pair. Fekken won stage three on Friday on his way to second place at the overnight stop, but dropped 11 seconds on stage eight on Saturday to fall back to fourth behind the Volkswagen Polo of Hollander Hans Weijs Junior and Belgian Bjorn Degandt. He moved up to third place on stage 11 after Weijs rolled the factory VW.
Fourth were Henk Lategan and Barry White in another factory VW Polo, who made up one place on their overnight position and finished 1m08s behind the winners.
NO FIESTA FOR FACTORY FORD
Defending champions Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta) had another eventful and frustrating rally in their quest for a third successive championship. Any hopes of closing the gap to the leading Toyota were dashed on Friday when they lost a lot of time after hitting a rock and breaking a gearbox and were classified sixth at the halfway mark. They won the opening and closing stages on Friday and also the first stage on Saturday, but were only able to make up one place to finish fifth, 1m28s in arrears.
Wilro Dippenaar from Namibia and Kes Naidoo (Toyota Auris) were sixth, 4m36s behind the winners and first in the S2000 Challenge for older specification all-wheel drive cars. Seventh was the third factory Polo of former S2000 Challenge winners Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin. (+5m08s) and eighth were Namibian Thilo Himmel and South African navigator Armand du Toit in a privateer Polo (+5m49s).
Making up the top 10 were Weijs and Degandt, who were provisionally classified under Super Rally rules as finishing ninth and awarded half points, and Piet Bakkes and Shaun Visser, in a Toyota RunX.
Giniel de Villiers and Greg Godrich (Toyota Yaris), who suffered a broken drive shaft on stage four on Friday within a kilometre of the flying finish and were forced to complete the remaining stages in rear-wheel drive, fell out on stage eight on Saturday morning with a broken rear differential and were provisionally classified 11th and awarded half points under Super Rally rules.
The winning streak of Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle (Toyota Etios R2) finally came to an end after four S1600 Class wins on the trot as Chad van Beurden and Nico Swartz (VW Polo R2) took class honours in Cullinan.
In the process they closed the gap to the championship leaders from 44 to 24 points with three rounds remaining after Botterill and Vacy-Lyle, second overnight and only 11 seconds behind day one winners Van Beurden and Swartz, suffered a broken drive shaft on stage eight on Saturday morning and finished 11th under Super Rally rules.
Van Beurden and Swartz followed up their fine performance in finishing second to Botterill and Vacy-Lyle in the previous round, the VW Rally in the Eastern Cape in July by leading throughout the Cullinan Rally, winning four of Friday's six special stages and another three on Saturday to take the overall honours for the first time in their career.
Their winning margin over second-placed Ashley Haigh-Smith and Damian van Ass (Ford Fiesta R2) was 29 seconds. Haigh-Smith won three stages on Saturday on his way to equalling his best result of the season in the PMC Gauteng Rally in May and improving his overnight position of fourth.
Third were Andrew Heine and former S1600 champion navigator Robbie Coetzee (Toyota Auris), who had a great day, improving their overnight position of sixth, 1min41s behind the Day 1 leaders, to finish 2m49s in arrears. Matthew Vacy-Lyle and Schalk van Heerden improved from ninth overnight to fifth at the finish, 3m35s off the pace after a strong run on Saturday.
A HARD DAY AT THE OFFICE
Ernie van der Walt and James Aldridge (Ford Fiesta R2) had a hard day at the office, enduring various problems that saw them drop from third overnight and 26 seconds off the pace to fifth, 7m30s behind the winners. Namibian Marko Himmel and South African navigator Francois Schoonbee (VW Polo) were sixth, ahead of Paulus Franken and Henry Kohne (VW Polo R2) and AC Potgieter and Tommy du Toit (VW Polo).
Richard Leeke Junior and Rikus Fourie (Ford Fiesta R2) were classified ninth under Super Rally rules and given half points after losing a lot of time on Friday with gearbox. Chris Coertse and 16-year-old Mari van der Walt (Toyota Etios R2) also finished under Super Rally rules and were classified 10th.
The next round of the championship will be Toyota Cape Dealer Rally in the Western Cape on 19 and 20 September.