Gemmell and Swan a close second in Castrol Team Toyota Auris
De Villiers and Snyders fifth in Imperial Toyota Auris in first national outing together
Poulter and Coetzee out of luck while running second overall
Despite putting up a spirited fight throughout the two days and eight special stages of Rally South Africa in KwaZulu-Natal, Toyota Motorsport’s Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan (Team Castrol Toyota Auris) had to settle for second place overall and in the premier S2000 four-wheel-drive class behind new championship leaders Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta).
In the process, they surrendered their three-point lead in the championship and now trail by a single point with three rounds remaining. Their closest rivals are multiple former champions Jan Habig and Robert Paisley (Ford Fiesta), who are 12 points in arrears after finishing third this weekend. With 25 points for a win, a maximum of 75 points remains up for grabs.
The gap between the Toyota and the winning Ford at the end of day one on Friday, after two gravel stages in the Valley of 1000 Hills and a tarmac Super Special in Durban, was 13 seconds. Cronje and Houghton stretched this out to 32 seconds after winning the first three gravel stages on Saturday in the Mondi forests and private sugar cane fields of Richmond, but Gemmell and Swan hit back by taking 10 seconds out of the leader’s advantage on the penultimate stage seven.
“We gave it everything we had throughout what was a tough event over a slippery and testing course, but in the end we just didn’t have the pace of the winners on the day,” said Gemmell. “The route conditions suited the Ford on this occasion and we remain confident that we can challenge for our first national championship in the rounds that remain.”
Giniel de Villiers and new partner Celeste Snyders, the reigning co-driver champion in the S1600 two-wheel drive class, made an auspicious start to their partnership with fifth place overall after starting the second day in 12th place. Coming off a maiden win together in the recent regional HMC Rally in Mpumalanga, they lost time on the opening stage when they were held up by cattle in the road. They completed stage three in two-wheel drive after a front drive shaft broke and also experienced an engine misfire, which was later traced to a broken air box.
They enjoyed a clean run on Saturday apart from getting stuck in the dust of the car running in front of them for 15 kilometres of the opening stage, which cost them some 50 seconds. A strong showing in the final tarmac Super Special saw them take third spot.
“We enjoyed our first national event together,” said De Villiers. “Celeste and I are quickly developing a good rapport and will get stronger as we spend more time together in the car. This was only the Imperial Toyota’s third outing and, while we are impressed with the pace of the car, there is room for improvement on our part.”
For Leeroy Poulter and Elvene Coetzee in the second Castrol Toyota Auris it was a case of continued frustration and disappointment that has dogged them this season after they won two rounds in their first year in the top S2000 class together in 2011. They made a good start to the rally on Friday and were running in second place when they went off the road on stage two and rolled several times down a hillside.
They had to wait until the entire field had passed before they were able to summon help and were eventually winched back on to the road with the assistance of members of the Toyota Land Cruiser Club. The Auris was too badly damaged to repair overnight and they were forced to retire.
“We had high hopes for all three cars this weekend,” said team principal Glyn Hall. “Johnny and Carolyn put up a good fight but were beaten by a better combination of car and crew on the day. We tried a few new things on the Toyota Auris, but they didn’t work as well as we had hoped. However, we’re confident we can bounce back in the next event and give Mark and Robin a better run for their money.”
The next round of the championship is the Toyota Cape Dealer Rally on September 13 to 15.
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.
Follow the fortunes of the Castrol Team Toyota and Imperial Toyota rally teams on Twitter, twitter.com/toyotalive.