[fusion_text]It was third time unlucky for Toyota’s number 1 rally driver Leeroy Poulter, but third time luck for the Castrol team’s Dakar hero Giniel de Villiers in the Secunda Motor Rally held in Mpumalanga this weekend.
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The event, the third round of the 2015 South African National Rally Championship, turned out to be every bit the spectacle everyone expected – but not necessarily for the right reasons.
For Castrol Team Toyota the event ended with De Villiers and navigator Carolyn Swan achieving second overall in their Toyota Yaris S2000, with Poulter and navigator Elvéne Coetzee coming home in fourth after an incident-packed opening day.
“Giniel and Carolyn drove a great race,” enthused Team Principal Glyn Hall after the rally ended on the banks of Lake Umuzi in the Mpumalanga town of Secunda. “They pushed when they needed to, but drove steadily throughout the event, bagging some precious points in the process.”
The pair was in fifth place in the season standings after two rounds, but a second place on the Secunda Motor Rally is sure to push them up the leaderboard. Initially it was teammates Poulter/Coetzee who kept the eventual race winners, Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford), honest by posting very competitive stage times. They pushed extremely hard and had a puncture that dropped them down somewhat, though they were still very much in the hunt for victory. But a momentary lapse in concentration cost the pair dearly in Stage Three.
“We were having a problem with the start button on the dashboard,” explained Poulter at the end of Day One. “I was trying to figure out what was wrong before the start of the stage, and undid the bonnet clips to have a look in the engine bay. But then Elvéne said it was time to clock in for the stage, so I jumped back in the Toyota Yaris and tried the button again – and the car started. So we managed to start Stage 3 on time.”
But in the rush to check for problems, and then to get back in the car in time for the start of the stage, Poulter neglected to re-fasten the bonnet clips.
“They were going along just fine, when suddenly the bonnet flew up and blocked their view completely,” continued Hall. “They tried their best but ended up losing 50 seconds on the stage. This dropped them down to seventh overall, but they managed to fight back.”
Poulter/Coetzee won every one of Day 2’s six stages, clawing their way back towards a podium finish. But in the end they just couldn’t catch Volkswagen’s Gugu Zulu and Hilton Auffrey for third, and had to settle for fourth overall.
“It wasn’t the result we came here for,” said Poulter, “but it is much better to leave here with the seven points we earned today, than leaving here with nothing. We have a lot to do if we want to defend our championship, but all isn’t lost yet – we’ll keep fighting.”
In Class S1600, for front wheel drive rally machines with engines of 1,600 cc, defending champions Guy Botteril and Simon Vacy-Lyle (Yato Tools Toyota Etios S1600) managed to shake off the demons from the first two rounds, by bringing their locally developed and built car home in first place. They managed a skin-of-the-teeth third place on Round One in KwazuluNatal, but failed to score meaningful points on Round Two, the SASOL Rally. A win in Secunda has put them back in the championship fight, though they still have a massive task ahead of them, if they want to defend their title successfully.
The pair drove a steady rally despite a number of electronics problems, and held off a hard-charging Richard Leeke and Rikus Fourie (Ford) who finished second. Third place went to Matthew Vacy-Lyle and Schalk van Heerden, in a Fragram-supported version of the Toyota Etios S1600. Vacy-Lyle/Van Heerden was in second position on the season standings going into the Secunda Motor Rally, and have taken over the lead in the championship thanks to their great result on Round Three. Their efforts also contributed to Toyota winning the Team Award for the 2015 Secunda Motor Rally.
The next round in the eight-round championship is the Bela-Bela Motor Rally – an event that proved popular in 2014. The rally will again be hosted by the Limpopo town of Bela-Bela, and is scheduled to take place on 19 and 20 June this year.[/fusion_text]