Castrol Team Toyota crowned a perfect weekend in Mpumalanga on Saturday with first and second overall in the Sasol Rally and in the process recorded an historic 100th South African championship rally victory.
Leeroy Poulter and co-driver Elvene Coetzee, in a four-wheel drive two-litre Toyota Auris, scored a maiden win in the premier Super 2000 class in only their second event together, beating team-mates Johnny Gemmell and Scottish co-driver Drew Sturrock in a sister Auris by 7,6 seconds after two days and 200 km of forest and tarmac racing.
Third, 1 min 44,9 sec behind the winning Toyota, was the Ford Fiesta of Zimbabwean Conrad Rautenbach and Frenchman Nicolas Klinger. Toyota privateers Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Carolyn Swan were fourth in a Team Total RunX, a further 1 min 16,9 sec in arrears after 17 special stages in the Graskop, Sabie, White River and Nelspruit areas.
Poulter’s win, achieved by the 30-year-old former circuit racing champion from Fourways in Gauteng in only his 10th national championship rally, perhaps signalled a changing of the guard in the rarified top echelon of this highly technical and demanding branch of motor sport. In his wake he left three former national champions in Volkswagen Polo Vivos, who between them have won the last six championships. Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries were seventh overall, reigning champions Enzo Kuun and Guy Hodgson were 12th and multiple former champions Jan Habig and Robert Paisley crashed out in spectacular fashion on the 12th stage on Saturday while leading Poulter by seven seconds and Gemmell by 20 seconds.
For Coetzee, it was also an historic achievement in only her 10th event in the premier class. The twenty-something former class A7 national champion was the fifth woman co-driver to win a national championship rally and the first since 1996. She is the daughter of legendary South African rally and off road driver Kassie Coetzee, who was on hand to witness her historic win.
Also present and supporting his son Jean-Pierre was another legend in rallying, Serge Damseaux, who contributed no less than 73 of the 100 Toyota victories in a distinguished career that saw him win more rallies than any other driver (74) and a total of 10 championships, all with Toyota.
After Friday’s eight stages, Gemmell led the strong field of 20 class S2000 cars by just four tenths of a second from Habig and 2,9 seconds ahead of team-mate Poulter. A missed turn on stage 11 cost Gemmell and Sturrock a crippling 23 seconds and dropped them to third behind Habig and Poulter. Gemmell came back strongly to win the next stage and take back 5,6 seconds from his team-mate and the Toyota pair found themselves in first and second place when Habig misjudged a series of jumps and flipped his VW end over end and out of the rally.
Poulter withstood the pressure of leading over the final three gravel stages to start the two short tarmac stages 16 and 17 a comfortable 7,7 seconds ahead of Gemmell and 1 min 46,2 sec clear of Rautenbach.
“This is a massive result for the entire team and is a credit to two very talented crews and all those who went before them to amass an historic 100 Toyota victories,” said a visible moved and proud team principal Glyn Hall, himself a former champion driver.
“Our two new-for 2011 Auris rally cars have proved themselves over the first two rounds this season and we now look ahead to building on this success and aiming for a Toyota championship at the end of the year.”
Toyota privateers Mohammed Moosa and Grant Martin were a creditable eighth overall in a Team Total RunX, while Total team-mates Craig Trott and Robbie Coetzee were second in the two-wheel drive S1600 class in a RunX ahead of the similar car of Clint Weston and Shaun Visser.