Toyota privateers Trott and Coetzee win Two Wheel Drive Championship
- Toyota a close second in the Manufacturers’ Championship
Toyota’s challenge for overall and manufacturers’ honours went down to the wire in the 2012 South African Rally Championship, but in the end the brand that has dominated SA rallying in the 52 years the championship has been in existence had to settle for the runner-up spot in both competitions.
Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan (Castrol Team Toyota Auris), who won two of the eight rounds and started this weekend’s final round, the Garden Route Rally in the Western Cape, just 10 points behind championship leaders Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta), maintained their strong challenge to the end, failing by 11 points to take the title from Cronje and Houghton.
In a season finale that was remarkable for an extraordinary number of punctures on fast forest roads made rockier than usual by recent rains, Gemmell/Swan (who suffered three punctures over the two days and 11 special stages)finished fifth overall and nine seconds behind Cronje/Houghton (who had a single puncture on the final day).
Gemmell and Swan led after special stage two on Friday from Castrol Toyota team-mates Leeroy Poulter and Elvene Coetzee and Cronje/Houghton before both Toyota crews had to stop to replace flat wheels, Poulter on stage three (where he had two punctures and completed the stage on a flat wheel) and Gemmell on stage four.
This dropped Gemmell and Swan to ninth place at the overnight stop at Wilderness, over three minutes behind the leaders, Cronje and Houghton, while Poulter and Coetzee were 14th and nearly 10 minutes in arrears.
Gemmell and Swan recovered to fourth place, nine seconds ahead of Cronje and Houghton by the end of the penultimate stage on Saturday, but another puncture on the final stage saw the nine-second advantage turn into a nine-second deficit and they dropped back a place behind the new champions.
Poulter and Coetzee put in a particularly impressive Saturday performance, finishing second in the first four stages behind eventual rally winners Hans Weijs Jnr and Bjorn Degandt (VW Polo) before winning the last two stages of the season.
Toyota Motorsport’s Giniel de Villiers and Celeste Snyders (Imperial Toyota Auris) were among crews hardest hit by punctures, suffering three in two stages on Friday that saw them lose over four minutes and also pickup up a four-minute penalty for lateness. They were 22nd at the overnight stop and did well to improve their finishing position on Saturday to 18th.
Veteran privateer Craig Trott and Robbie Coetzee (Toyota RunX) won their second Two Wheel Drive Championship in three years when they finished the final event in third place behind Ashley Haigh Smith and Craig Parry (Ford Fiesta) and Clint Weston and Pierre Jordaan (Citroen C2).
Toyota finished a close second to Ford in the manufacturers’ championship, the gap at the end being 34 points.
“The odds of our winning the championship this weekend were stacked against us, but Johnny and Carolyn did a great job under the circumstances and thoroughly deserved their runner-up position,” said team principal Glyn Hall. “This season has not gone the way we had hoped, but we can take comfort from the pace of all three of our cars and the fact that we pushed the eventual championship winners right down to the last event of what has been a very closely contested title race.
“Congratulations to the privateers who helped us come very close to winning the manufacturers’ championship, especially Craig and Robbie for their second Two Wheel Drive title in the last three years.
“The developments we’ve made on our cars this year, the knowledge we’ve gained throughout the season and the competitive pace we’ve shown, bodes well for the 2013 season, especially since we will be able to wrap all of this up in a new, lighter four-wheel drive car.”
Toyota Acknowledges Its Sponsors, Specialist Official Suppliers 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.