Toyota Motorsport’s Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan took control of the Toyota Cape Dealer Rally in the Western Cape this afternoon when they brought their four-wheel-drive class S2000 Castrol Team Toyota Auris home in provisional first place at the end of the second day of the three-day SA championship event.
After today’s six special stages, which included a forest stage in the Grabouw area and five gravel stages near Caledon, the Castrol Toyota pair enjoyed a 16-second advantage over second-placed Enzo Kuun and Guy Hodgson (VW Polo) and were nearly a minute ahead of Team Total’s Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Grant Martin (Toyota Auris).
Gemmell and Swan might well have enjoyed an even bigger lead going into Saturday’s six stages had it not been for the loss of the Toyota’s power steering for most of the day’s fifth stage after the fanbelt slipped off. This cost them around half a minute.
As has been the case throughout the season, they fought a close battle for the lead with title rivals Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta), who led them by a single point at the start of this sixth round of the championship. Cronje won the day’s first two stages with Gemmell taking the honours in the third before Cronje went off the road on the fifth stage, puncturing a tyre and dropping back to sixth place at the finish, 1 min 29 sec behind the Toyota pair.
Toyota Motorsport team-mates Giniel de Villiers and Celeste Snyders (Imperial Toyota Auris) finished seventh overall, 1 min 31 sec in arrears. Competing in only their third rally together, they were having their best outing to date, challenging for a podium position, when they lost time as a result of confusion caused by bunting that they encountered across the route. They had earlier also lost time when they came across another competitor stranded in the middle of the road.
Leeroy Poulter and Elvene Coetzee in the second Castrol Toyota Auris were again out of luck, as they have been on several occasions so far this season, when they were forced to retire on the fifth stage of the day with no drive while running in a strong fifth place.
“It was fast and slippery out there today,” said Gemmell. “We all had our problems today, but Carolyn and I are very happy to have come through it all with the lead. We’ll be repeating some of today’s stages tomorrow, so we’re in for a tough challenge. But we now know what to expect and we’ll be giving it a full go and see if we can regain the championship lead at the end of the rally.”
Team principal Glyn Hall commented, “Johnny and Carolyn did a great job today, didn’t make any mistakes and were always in the hunt and able to capitalise on their rivals’ misfortunes.
“Leeroy and Elvene were unlucky to have a gearbox input shaft shear. We were looking at a 1-2 at the end of the day and, with Giniel and Celeste putting in their best performance so far, we were hoping for all three to be in contention on Saturday. However, Johnny and Carolyn are well-placed to push for another victory.”
Saturday’s first stage starts at 09.25 at Jongensklip, 27 kilometres from the start at Tsogo Sun’s The Caledon Hotel, Casino and Spa. Three of the fast gravel special stages in the canola and wheat fields near Caledon are repeats of Friday’s stages, with two new 15-kilometre stages leading up to the same 1,2-kilometre finale at the Caledon Rugby Club at around 14.15.
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