With the two leading protagonists in the battle for top honours in the 2015 National Rally Championship for all intent and purposes level-pegged at the top of the leader board, the scene is set for a thrilling final two tests in the series.
While the scoreboard shows the Castrol Team Toyota crew of Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee (Toyota Yaris S2000) leading with 79 points after their victory in the exciting Imperial Toyota Tshwane Motor Rally – 7 points clear of arch-rivals Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Performance Fiesta) – the two teams are in reality even in terms of their chances in the championship.
The reason for this is the rule that allows them to drop their worst result – in Poulter’s case the Secunda Motor Rally result, and in Cronje’s case the Imperial Toyota Tshwane Motor Rally, leaving both with three wins and two second places up to this point in the championship.
Such is their dominance of proceedings this year that with two events remaining third-placed Giniel de Villiers/Carolyn Swan (Castrol Team Toyota Yaris) – on 48.5 points after their second place in the Imperial Toyota Tshwane Motor Rally – is the only other team still with a mathematical chance (after dropping their worst result) of winning the championship.
However, this will mean that De Villiers will have to win both remaining events (he was the winner of the upcoming Toyota Cape Dealer Rally last year) with Poulter/Coetzee (and Cronje/Houghton, for that matter) finishing seventh overall or lower in each… a very unlikely scenario.
The Dakar star is now 7.5 points clear of the consistent Gugu Zulu in his Volkswagen Sasolracing Polo– the only contender besides Poulter/Coetzee to finish every rally up to this point in the season.
With only two events remaining, realistically Zulu’s best hope is to challenge De Villiers for third place in the driver’s championship.
From Zulu there is a big points gap to team mates Henk Lategan/Barry White (24 points) who after the Tshwane event is only a single point clear of Japie van Niekerk (NAD Ford Fiesta S2000), with Thilo Himmel/Armand du Toit (Volkswagen Sasolracing Polo) in seventh, two points ahead of team mate Hergen Fekken who did not participate in the first two events of the year.
In the navigator’s championship the situation is much the same, except for Pierre Arries (who navigated for Zulu in the first two events this year) being in fourth position with 31 points, ahead of Hilton Auffray (who took over from Arries alongside Zulu) on 27.
They are followed by Lategan’s co-driver Barry White (24 points) and Armand du Toit (19 points), with Gerhard Snyman, returning to navigate for Van Niekerk, in eighth position on the log with 16 points.
Wilro Dippenaar and Kes Naidoo (North City Panelbeaters Toyota Auris) are still leading the NRC4 class on 10.5 points, four points clear of Theuns Joubert/Mari van der Walt (Salom Agri Toyota Auris) after the latter pair’s class win in the Imperial Toyota Tshwane rally.
Class S1600 is also shaping to an electrifying end of season battle. While Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle (Yato Tools Toyota Etios R2) are back on top after their class victory in Tshwane (59 points) they are only 2.5 points clear of runners-up Paulus Franken/Henry Kohne (Manitou VW Polo R2).
Even with points dropped the gap remains the same, as both teams have recorded a non-finish this season.
Also in striking distance are Matthew Vacy-Lyle and Schalk van Heerden (Fragram Tools Toyota Etios R2) on 52 points – even after rolling out of the Tshwane rally in spectacular fashion. The big question is whether their car will be repaired in time for the Toyota Cape Dealer Rally next month.
Chad van Beurden/Nico Swartz (Jem Sport Ford Fiesta R2) is lying fourth on the log with 45 points, with Richard Leeke/Rikus Fourie (ATS Ford Fiesta R2) fifth on 34 points.
The seventh and penultimate round of the 2015 South African Rally championship, the Toyota Cape Rally, is scheduled for 18 and 19 September in the Western Cape Province.