The final round of the South African Rally Championship ended in an anti-climax for Conrad Rautenbach and his (non-points scoring) French co-driver Nicolas Klinger, who were effectively ruled out of the championship fight in the second stage of the MTN Polokwane Rally.
The Green Fuel Ford Fiesta pair – needing a win to ensure they were in the title hunt – ended 4th overall after dropping to 13th in the event’s second stage, the result of a punctured tyre.
Running first on the road as the championship leader on roads created by the enthusiastic landowners, Conrad found the going challenging. “The stages were incredibly slippery. We’ve been first on the road most of the year but this was the worst as the surfaces were very loose. I tried hard not to clip any of the earth banks on the roads carved out of the bush,” Conrad related.
Run in sweltering hot conditions, the challenge for the whole Green Fuel team was to get back into title contention. “I was trying really hard but I wasn’t driving at 110% because of the road surface. The repeated stages were better though”.
Progress up the leaderboard was rapid; in successive stages Conrad and Nico jumped to 11th, 8th 6th and 5th, putting in a stunning drive over the day’s final gravel stage to set their first scratch time and snatch 4th place overall, albeit 44 seconds off the much-needed top spot.
Sunday’s stages were faster and less technical in nature with ambient temperatures nudging the 35°C mark. “”I knew we couldn’t make up all that time on stages like we had. The cars all run largely similar top speeds and there weren’t enough slower, technical bits to make a big difference”, said Conrad.
That didn’t stop him from trying, taking the fastest time on four of the day’s seven stages to close the gap to 26 seconds at the finish. “We lost a lot of time through the kinks. I saw on the repeated stages how drivers basically straight-lined them. It was a good rally and very challenging in places”, was Conrad’s impression of the new event on the calendar.
Shrugging off the disappointment, Conrad reflected on a year with three wins in the SA series and three in the FIA African Rally Championship, which he leads by 17 points with one round remaining. “We’ve had a good year overall. In hindsight, doing two championships was a tough task and probably hindered our performance in South Africa a bit. We had a slump mid-year but bounced back strongly.
One unresolved matter for the Green Fuel Team is Conrad’s exclusion from the Gauteng Rally for a rule infringement. A Court of Enquiry and subsequent Court of Appeal have upheld the exclusion, which the team is set to challenge.
“In our minds we were treated unfairly. I like to think we are honest and fair people, which may be our downfall. Other people breached rules on the same event and received no penalty and that is the basis of our challenge”, Conrad explained.