Nelspruit - Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee (Toyota Yaris) consolidated their lead in the South African Rally Championship at the weekend in Mpumalanga with a comfortable win in the Sasol Rally, Round 2 of the series, in their second consecutive win of the new season.
After two days and 14 tough special stages, four on tarmac and the rest on gravel forest roads in the Sabie, Graskop, Hendriksdal, White River and Nelspruit areas, that saw several of their main rivals drop out of contention with punctures and mechanical problems, the Toyota pair, who won the Sasol Rally in 2011, had a relatively trouble-free run; leading from special stage four on Friday through to the finish.
Even a puncture towards the end of Saturday's stage 12 was not enough to slow them down too much as they completed the last eight kilometres on a flat wheel and lost about 10 seconds.
Second, 1m46 in arrears, were former national champion Enzo Kuun and Rikus Fourie who were making their first appearance in a Ford Fiesta, also enjoying a trouble-free run. Hergen Fekken and Carolyn Swan continued their good early season form (They were second in the Tour Natal Rally in KwaZulu-Natal in March) by bringing the second works Toyota Yaris home third, albeit a distant 7: 57 behind their team-mates after experiencing clutch and differential problems on stages 10 and 11.
Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin (Volkswagen Polo) did well to finish fourth (11:32 off the pace) in only their second outing in an S2000 car - despite two punctures and a damaged differential on Friday and a broken gear lever on Saturday's Stage 11.
Fifth overall (13:32 off the lead) and first in the S2000 Challenge for older specification four-wheel drive cars were Thilo Himmel of Namibia and Armand du Toit in a VW Polo.
Henk Lategan and Barry White (VW Polo) were sixth overall, 13:44 in arrears. They lost time on Friday with a loose steering rack on stages two and three while lying third and dropped further back with punctures on stages four and five.
Seventh (16:30 down) were Giniel de Villiers and Greg Godrich in a semi-works Yaris. Although they had a relatively clean run on Saturday, they lost more than 10 minutes on Friday's stage four after struggling through the first three stages with only two-wheel drive.
Defending champions Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta) were classified eighth under Super Rally rules after retiring with suspension problems on stage 12.
They had been third overnight behind Poulter and Kuun after losing two and a half minutes with a puncture on stage four while leading Poulter and Kuun - having won the first three stages on the trot - only to lose further time on stage 10 with another puncture.
Joos Stassen and Gert Nienaber were ninth overall and second in the S2000 Challenge in a Subaru Impreza.
The Dutch/Belgian combination of Hans Weijs Junior and Bjorn Degandt (VW Polo), who competed on Saturday under Super Rally rules after dropping out after Friday's opening stage with an engine misfire, rounded out the top 10. An impressive Day 2 drive today saw them win four of the last five of the day's seven stages.
Piet Bakkes and Shaun Visser (Toyota RunX) were 11th and last of the classified finishers and third in the S2000 Challenge. They were forced to retire with engine problems on stage 12.
AFRICA RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Round 2 of the African Rally series was run in conjunction with the Sasol Rally and was won by 2012 Drivers' champion Mohammed Essa of Zambia and Gareth Dawe of Zimbabwe in a Subaru Impreza.
Second, 2:09 in arrears, were Gary Chaynes and Comas Romain of the Ivory Coast (Mitsubishi Evo 10), winners of the opening round in Ivory Coast. Third (3:47 down) were 2013 African Rally champions Jassy Singh of Kenya and David Sihoka of Zambia (Subaru Impreza), ahead of Zambian Kenneth Mukosa and Nash Chisenga in a Subaru Impreza, who were a distant 1hr 15:07 behind.
Giancarlo Davite and Sylvia Vindevogel of Rwanda in a Mitsubishi Evo 10, who were second at Friday's overnight stop in Nelspruit, were non-finishers after experiencing mechanical problems on Saturday.
Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle's dream start to the 2014 S1600 National Rally Championship continued in Mpumalanga as they took their Toyota Etios to a second consecutive win.
They finished a comfortable 4:48 ahead of their nearest rivals, Chad van Beurden and Nico Swartz (VW Polo) with eight special stages wins to their credit after leading their class from start to finish.
They enjoyed a trouble-free run while most of their main rivals ran into problems on an event that was plagued by punctures. Van Beurden and Swartz had brake problems on Friday, but recovered well to run in second place from Friday's fourth stage until the finish.
Richard Leeke Junior and Pierre Jordaan (Fiesta R2), contesting their first full season of national championship rallying together after tackling only four rounds in 2013, were third. The 17-year-old Leeke proved to be one of the quickest drivers in the two-wheel drive class all weekend, winning special stage four on Friday.
A puncture on the final gravel stage on Saturday cost him some time, but he came back strongly in the final tarmac stage to finish 9:02 behind the winners and 4:10 behind Van Beurden and Swartz.
The next round of the SA Rally Championship will be the PMC Rally in Gauteng on 23 and 24 May.