While it may be a touch too early to speculate about the result of the 2014 South African National Rally Championship at this point, a perfect performance by Leeroy Poulter and navigator Elvéne Coetzee (Castrol Toyota Yaris) has certainly swung the momentum back towards Castrol Team Toyota. Poulter/Coetzee took the lead of the Imperial Toyota Cullinan Rally on stage two of the event, and never relinquished it again.
Run on the dusty red roads around the Gauteng towns of Cullinan and Bronkhorstspruit, the Imperial Toyota Cullinan Rally was a relatively short, sharp affair. Consisting of six stages, each run twice, the rally got underway in warm, sunny conditions on Friday, 17th August 2014.
Poulter/Coetzee took the lead on Stage 2 of the rally, after posting the second-fastest time on Stage 1. The pair then managed the pace of the event from the front, retaining their lead right to the end, and winning by a margin of 25 seconds.
“We are very pleased with the win,” said an overjoyed Poulter after the rally. “This is our third win of the season, and now we just need to keep the momentum.”
Second place went to the Ford pairing of Japie van Niekerk and Gerhard Snyman, but importantly for Castrol Team Toyota, it was Hergen Fekken and navigator Carolyn Swan who bagged third overall.
Fekken/Swan started the rally in fine form, ending Day 1 in second place. They fought a tough battle on Day 2, however, and had slipped as low as fourth at one stage. But the pair held on, and when one of the crews ahead of them made a mistake, Fekken and Swan was there to claim third.
“Any podium finish is a good finish, especially in a rally as fast as this one,” said Fekken. “The Toyota Yaris S2000 ran beautifully, and we’re really pleased with the result.”
For Giniel de Villiers and Greg Godrich, in the Imperial Toyota Yaris S2000, the Cullinan Rally was a challenging one. They suffered a broken driveshaft on Stage 4 of the event, and was later forced to retire with rear differential problems – most likely as a result of the broken driveshaft. They were awarded points for 11th overall under Super Rally Regulations, which allow teams to score heavily penalised points despite not completing an event.
“We had a good shakedown session before this rally,” said Team Principal Glyn Hall after the event, “and we set the cars up specifically for the conditions we expected here in Cullinan. That, together with some other small changes, seems to have paid off. It is unfortunate that Giniel didn’t get more trouble-free stages, as they had been showing considerable pace in recent events.”
With three wins from five starts so far this season, Leeroy Poulter now leads the overall championship by 27 points. To make things even better for them, the crew lying second is teammates Fekken and Swan – a fantastic position to be in, with three events to go.
In Class S2000, for older generation rally machines, it was Namibian Wilro Dippenaar and navigator Kes Naidoo who triumphed in the PZN Panelbeaters Toyota Auris. They were followed by Piet Bakkes and Shaun Visser in a Toyota RunX, thus sealing the Manufacturer’s Award for Toyota.
The Class S1600 championship, for front-wheel-drive rally cars with engines up to 1600 cc is still lead by the Durbanite pairing of Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle, though the pair were forced to retire in Cullinan. Their Yato-supported Toyota Etios R2 snapped a driveshaft at the start of Stage 7, and they were unable to limp through the loop of three stages to service.
Round 6 of the SA National Rally Championship is up next, and takes place in the Swartland on September 19th and 20th. Based around the town of Malmesbury, this event is traditionally a tough one, but thanks to their great performance in Cullinan, Castrol Team Toyota is well-placed for the championship and ready to tackle whatever the Toyota Cape Rally throws at them.