JJ Potgieter and Tommy du Toit put down yet another marker in their quest to become the 2023 South African National Rally Champions when they convincingly won both rounds of the NTT Tzaneen Rally double-header at the weekend in an event that saw several top contenders fall by the wayside.
Of the 13 Special Stages over the two days, Potgieter (Hyundai R4) won 11 of them – a task made easier when the forests fought back and saw his prime competitors for the title, Jono van Wyk/Nico Swartz (Toyota Gazoo Racing Starlet) irreparably blow an engine in the opening stages, followed shortly thereafter by defending champions Chris Coertse/Greg Godrich (Rally Technik Mazda 2) who went off the road and hit a tree and then teammates Mandla Mdakane/Kes Naidoo who hit a rock and damaged the Starlet’s sub-frame.
The horrors of the opening stages and the attrition rate meant it was a relatively easy run for Potgieter who said before the start: “This is a very technical rally and going too quickly to try and make up seconds is likely to land you in trouble. My plan for the event is to take things cautiously and just see what happens. I have to finish to score the points I need.”
Cautious might have been in his head but in the opening stage, the Salom Shooting Range, he blasted away to finish 2,9 seconds up on Van Wyk and 8.6 clear of Coertse.
For the next stage in the Agatha forests, the decimation began with Van Wyk going out so he could extend his lead, coming home 40.6 seconds ahead of Coertse with Theuns Joubert/Schalk van Heerden (Toyota Yaris).
In the NRC 2 category for two-wheel drive vehicles, it was not a good start for Benjamin Habig/Barry White in the Just Tools Volkswagen Polo. Normally running in close contention with the all-wheel drive NRC 1 cars, Habig’s day started badly.
“We lost nearly six minutes in the first two stages when the boost pump failed,” he said at the Service Park. “Now that’s sorted maybe we can start to get back into it. The stages are slippery and rough in places but I’m happy with that.”
With Coertse out after the altercation with the tree, Stage 3 at NTT Isuzu Dam again had Potgieter well out in front, this time chased by Nico and Juandre Nienaber in their Toyota Etios R2 with Habig getting on the pace he was looking for and finishing a strong third.
Habig went quicker on the next stage to displace the Nienaber pairing with Potgieter again well to the fore but the fight in NRC 2 gained another contender with a quick run by Gerald Klopper and Etienne Lourens (Toyota Etios R2) who were fourth quickest and ahead of the next NRC 1 runner, Johan Strauss/Elzaan Venter (Subaru Impreza).
Major retirements at this point included Mdakane/Naidoo and Magriet Potgieter/Rikus Fourie (Ford Fiesta R2) .
The second run for the field through the NTT Honda Agatha stage was won by Joubert/Van Heerden from Paul van Niekerk/Willejan Huma (Subaru Impreza) with Habig third ahead of Klopper and the Nienabers – Potgieter losing time on this stage to finish sixth.
That was minor hiccup and he went back to top the times on the NTT Town Twister – a night stage run on the streets of Tzaneen, cheered on by the large crowds who gathered all along the twisty route. The stage was run twice and he repeated the effort to win the event overall with fourth-placed Van Niekerk/Human the second of the NRC 1 runners followed by Joubert van Heerden who placed eight overall.
In NRC 2 the Nienabers held sway and topped the table from Klopper/Lourens with Habig/White in third place.
National Rally Championship Round 6
Some late-night work by the Toyota Gazoo Racing team was able to repair the damage to Mdakane’s car so he could start the completely new rally afresh – sadly not so for Van Wyk who saw more valuable championship points slip from his grasp.
Potgieter wasted no time in setting the pace and won the technical Supaquick Test Centre stage by a little overa second from the fired up Mdakane. Naidoo pairing with Strauss/Venter showing good pace to be third quickest.
Getting back into the forest for the CIM Lubri Fuel Agatha stage, Potgieter again blitzed the opposition with Mdakane finishing second quickest and Klopper/Lourens turning up the heat to be third on the stage.
“I am pacing myself but I cannot ease up too much,” said Potgieter. “Doing that can mean a disastrous loss of concentration.”
This ‘easing up’ showed on the first visit to the NTT Isuzu Dam stage and he was second on that to Joubert/Van Heerden and just ahead of Habig/White, while Mdakane slipped a little and could finish only ninth fastest.
Order was restored on the PPS Pipeline stage and Potgieter went fastest ahead of the exceptionally tense battle developing between Klopper/Lourens and the Nienabers with Habig now out of the running, having blown a gearbox in the Dam stage.
Behind Potgieter in the second running of the Dam stage, Klopper and Nienaber fought it out with both their cars developing problems with third gear jumping out of place at very inopportune times. At this point, Klopper was running a shade over a minute ahead of Nienaber on total time.
The final stage of the day, the Star Spares Finale, and the knowledge he had won the event allowed Potgieter the luxury of ‘cruising’ through and he finished third behind the Regional Championship pairing of Erik de Jager and Johnty Brown (Subaru Impreza) and Klopper/Lourens.
Their overall wins in both rounds give Potgieter/Du Toit and almost unassailable points lead in the 2023 Championship with two double-header events left to run.