Leeroy Poulter and Elvene Coetzee, the defending national champions in their Castrol Team Toyota Yaris, overcame extreme weather conditions and treacherous road surfaces to slip-slide their way to victory in the 2015 Volkswagen Rally. The Toyota pair finished the waterlogged rally, shortened from twelve to ten stages as a result of the atrocious conditions, in a time of 2:10:06.5 – beating the Ford Performance team of Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Performance Fiesta) by a margin of 27.2 seconds after two days of tough rallying in the vicinity of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape Province. This victory, following on their win in the Bela-Bela Motor Rally last month, further strengthens their position in the championship, cutting their points deficit to log leaders Cronje and Houghton by another four points. The perilous conditions, with torrential rain turning the already muddy roads into mini quagmires, Poulter and Cronje were in a class of their own, between them winning all the special stages, bar one…
This stage victory (in the penultimate stage 9) belonged to a highly motivated Giniel De Villiers and Carolyn Swan (Castrol Team Toyota Yaris) who put in a superb performance over the two days, matching the two front-runners’ times stage by stage. With the final place on the podium secured the pair slacked their relentless pace in the final stage – crossing the finishing line at the PEOTR oval track 2 minutes 13.9 seconds behind Cronje and Houghton. Poulter says: ‘It was very difficult out there today. The conditions were really bad, and in some places the car aquaplaned and then suddenly found grip, throwing you completely off-line… I’m just happy we could keep it together and secure the win.’
Driving a well-paced, sensible rally the NAD Ford Fiesta pairing of Japie Van Niekerk and Gerhardt Snyman secured fourth position, well clear of the trio of Sasolracing Volkswagen Polo chasing them. Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries were the first of the VW Sasolracing entries to finish. They were more than a minute behind Van Niekerk/Snyman after a very frustrating event in which they just could not find their rhythm.
Behind them team mates Gugu Zulu/Hilton Auffray and Henk Lategan/Barry White, both suffering misfortunes on Friday costing them heaps of time, were having their own little dice. Lategan, relishing the wet conditions, went on a late charge, passing Zulu/Auffray in the final stage to finish sixth overall –28.4 seconds clear of their team mates. While the S2000 teams had difficulty coming to terms with the road conditions, it was outright terrifying and scary for the S1600 competitors.
With only two-wheel drive and less power they had a torrid time trying to negotiate the route while not drowning their cars’ engines in the process. Paulus Franken and Henry Kohne (Manitou Group VW Polo), leading the class at the overnight point after the demise of early leaders Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy-Lyle (Yato Tools Toyota Etios) and Richard Leeke Junior/Rikus Fourie (ATS Ford Fiesta), stayed out of trouble to secure victory in the class. They finished the rally over a minute clear of Matthew Vacy-Lyle and Schalk Van Heerden (Fragram Tools Toyota Etios) – the only other team in the class to see the chequered flag.
The conditions were not so kind to Tjaart Conradie and Tiaan Rabe (VW Polo). Lying third in class after the eventful first day, their VW Polo came to a halt in stage 8 with a drowned engine. While still classified as finishers, they lost position to Leeke/Fourie and Marko Himmel/Gert Nienaber ((North City Panelbeaters VW Polo), classified in third and fourth position under Superally rules. Botterill/Vacy-Lyle, also competing under Superally rules, had to withdraw again, this time with a blown engine in stage 8, while Chad Van Beurden/Nico Swartz (Jem Sport Ford Fiesta R2) were classified sixth in class, also under Superally rules.
Piet Bakkes/Shaun Visser (Accident Guru Panelbeaters Toyota Auris) was the only team to finish in the NRC4 class, while Tjaart Coetzee/Anza Muller won the newly introduced Cup category in their Volkswagen Polo. The three factory-backed VW Sasolracing crews finishing fifth, sixth and seventh in S2000, a VW Polo crew winning the S1600 class and a Polo first in the Cup category secured Volkswagen the Manufacturer’s title for the rally. The sixth round in the SA National Rally Championship, the Cullinan Rally, is scheduled for 14 and 15 August 2015 in Gauteng.
Photo credit: Videosport