In a dream start to the penultimate rally of the season, the Toyota Cape Dealer Rally, Castrol Team Toyota’s Johnny Gemmell and Drew Sturrock (Toyota Auris) emerged victorious at the end of day one on Friday with a 6,1-second lead over team-mates Leeroy Poulter and Elvene Coetzee.
Third after the day’s two gravel stages in the Hopefield area of the Swartland and two tar stages at the Killarney motor racing circuit near Cape Town was the Ford Fiesta of Charl Wilken and Greg Godrich, 15,1 seconds behind the winning Toyota Auris and nine seconds adrift of Poulter and Coetzee.
Gemmell was on fire from the very start, taking the honours in both the opening gravel stages, with team-mate Poulter’s Auris not far behind. He won the 13-km Sandkloof stage by 4,2 sec from Poulter and the longer and trickier 38-km Nuwedam stage by 3,1 sec, with Poulter again second.
Third in the opening stage, 10,1 sec behind Gemmell, were championship leaders Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta), but they were slowed by an overheating engine after their radiator became blocked with grass seeds and dropped back to eighth at the end of stage two.
The tar stages were expected to favour the drivers with track experience and this was the case, with the Ford of Wilken climbing up from sixth after the two gravel stages to third after winning both tar stages. Gemmell kept his overall lead with two fifth place finishes, while Poulter stayed second overall after finishing fourth twice.
“This was just the start we were looking for today,” enthused Castrol Toyota team principal Glyn Hall. “We’re now in a strong position to fight for victory tomorrow and even our second one-two finish (after Poulter won the Sasol Rally in Mpumalanga in round two in April ahead of Gemmell).
The leading privateer Toyota, the Team Total Auris of former Western Province champion Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Carolyn Swan, finished a fine fifth, 23,8 seconds behind Gemmell and ahead of all four factory Volkswagen Polos.
Saturday’s programme consists of four gravel stages in the Hopefield and Malmesbury areas and a final tar stage at Killarney, with the first car due to cross the finish line at around 15h00.