The all-new Rally South Africa in KwaZulu-Natal on August 17 and 18 marks the start of the second half of the SA Rally Championship and sees Toyota Motorsport’s Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan (Castrol Team Toyota Auris) enjoying a three-point lead after their win in a wet and muddy Volkswagen Rally in the Eastern Cape in July.

Toyota Rally South-Africa

The 2012 season so far has been distinguished by a head-to-head battle between Gemmell and Swan and closest rivals Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta), who between them have won three of the four rallies and only once not finished on the podium.  Both crews are looking for their first championship title.

While both crews have dominated the 47 special stages to date – Cronje has 16 wins and Gemmell 11 – seven others have stage wins to their credit and the top four in the point standings are covered by just 12 points.

With Gemmell and Swan aiming to increase their three-point lead over Cronje and Houghton, Castrol Toyota team-mates Leeroy Poulter and Elvene Coetzee will be hoping for a bit of good luck and a better second half of the season than the first.

Three non-finishes including the destruction of their car in the opening round as a result of a fire have left them well down the championship standings. With two wins in their debut season together last year, they have shown they have both pace and consistency – qualities they will be looking to rediscover in KZN.

Toyota Motorsport’s third contender in the premier S2000 class for four-wheel drive cars, the Imperial Toyota Auris, will be making its second appearance in the hands of Giniel de Villiers and new co-driver Celeste Snyders.

De Villiers, the 2009 Dakar Rally winner who finished third in this year’s Dakar in a proudly South African Imperial Toyota Hilux, is using the national rally championship to keep his driving skills sharp as he prepares to compete in the 2013 Dakar Rally in the Imperial Toyota Hilux.

He and Snyders, who won the S1600 championship for two-wheel drive cars last year with her brother Christoff, have already made a good start to their new partnership with a confidence-building win in the regional Highveld Motor Club Rally in Mpumalanga.

“We’re putting as much effort into this car as we are with the Castrol Toyota entries and are happy to have an accomplished co-driver like Celeste,” said Toyota Motorsport boss Glyn Hall.

“It’s good to be leading the championship at the halfway stage,” he admitted.  “But we’re under a lot of pressure. It’s been a close fight so far and the competition is tough. Johnny and Carolyn have done very well and we need to give them every chance of winning this championship. We’re continually looking for improvements on the cars and we’ve found a bit more pace for this rally.

“We understand that the organisers have selected a particularly testing route, as you would expect from a World Rally Championship candidate event, so we’ve prepared ourselves accordingly. It’s vital that we maintain our momentum.”

Day one of Rally South Africa starts from the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban at 11.30 and consists of four stages, three on gravel in the Valley of 1 000 Hills and a tarmac super special in Durban to end the day.

Day two starts in Durban at 06.30 with four gravel stages in the Richmond forests and ends with the tarmac super special in Durban. The total rally distance including liaison sections is 572 kilometres with 185 kilometres of special stages.

Toyota Acknowledges Its Sponsors and Specialist Official Supplier and Technical Partners

Toyota enjoys a mutually beneficial relationship with Castrol, Imperial Toyota Group, Innovation Group, Duxbury Netgear, NGK, SKF, Ferodo, Spanjaard, Edgecam and Donaldson.