Toyota’s Poulter and Coetzee narrow point gap after Bela-Bela win

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At the halfway point of the 2015 SA National Rally season the Castrol Team Toyota pair and defending national rally champions Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee (Toyota Yaris) has narrowed the gap to current log leaders Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta) with their first victory of the year in the Bela-Bela Motor Rally.

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However, by securing the runner-up spot in the Waterberg the Ford Performance team still has a comfortable lead in the series with a total of 60 points – 13 more than Poulter and Coetzee.

Up to this point in the season Cronje/Houghton has dominated the championship in terms of outright rally victories (3), but not really when it comes to stage wins.

With 24 stage victories – seven in the Tour Natal, 12 in the Sasol Rally, five in Secunda and none in Bela-Bela – they have so far only scored six more wins than Poulter/Coetzee, with 18 to their credit – four in Natal, one in the Sasol Rally, five in Secunda and eight in Bela-Bela.

However, further analysis reveals that the Ford Performance pair only pushed as hard as was necessary, for instance with a handy lead at the start of the second day of the Secunda Motor Rally they did not win one stage, while Poulter, having lost heaps of time on day one, won all the stages bar one.

Between them Cronje and Poulter have up until now won virtually 90% of the stages; the rest belonging to young Henk Lategan (Volkswagen Sasolracing Polo) with three, Giniel de Villiers (Castrol Team Toyota Yaris) with one, shared with Lategan, and Gugu Zulu (Volkswagen Sasolracing Polo) with one.

Still, consistent performances in this year’s championship, including two well-earned podium finishes and a fourth place in the Bela-Bela event, sees Zulu third in the driver’s championship on 30 points – 17 shy of Poulter.

Fourth on the log after the Bela-Bela Motor Rally are Giniel de Villiers and Carolyn Swan (Castrol Toyota Yaris) with 27.5 points, only 2.5 points behind Zulu.

They are now ten points clear of Henk Lategan/Barry White (Volkswagen Sasolracing Polo), while a good outing in Bela-Bela secured Japie van Niekerk the final position on the podium, it has also moved the NAD Ford Fiesta driver up to sixth position on the leader board with 16 points.

After an indifferent season so far Thilo Himmel/Armand du Toit (VW Sasolracing Polo) are lying seventh with 13 points, followed by the Namibians Wilro Dippenaar and Kes Naidoo, in the NRC4 Toyota Auris on 10 points.  The pair lead the NRC Challenge.

In the Co-Drivers championship the log looks quite different as a result of some early-season team reshufflings.

While Houghton and Coetzee are first and second on the log with 60 and 47 points respectively, Swan is now third as Pierre Arries, who was initially paired with Zulu, has been moved to partner late entrant Hergen Fekken in the Sasolracing VW Polo.

This means Barry White, partnering Lategan, is now fourth with a total of 17.5 points, while Arries and Hilton Auffray, brought in to fill the hot seat next to Zulu, now share fifth spot with 16 points each.

With 13 points after four rallies Du Toit is now seventh, followed by Naidoo (10 points) and Van Niekerk’s long-time navigator Gerhard Snyman (9 points) who replaced Irishman Gordon Noble in the NAD Fiesta after the Sasol Rally.

After four rounds in the 2015 championship the S1600 class is still a hotly contested affair, and those doing the chasing will recognise the importance the latter half of the season represent where their own title aspirations are concerned.

Back-to-back wins for reigning champions Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle (Yato Tools Toyota Etios) in the Secunda and Bela-Bela Motor Rallies has moved them to the top of the leader board with 43 points – four clear of Toyota team mates Matthew Vacy-Lyle and Schalk Van Heerden (Fragram Etios).  Chad van Beurden/Nico Swartz, in a Ford Fiesta R2 at the Bela-Bela event, after starting the season in a Beurden Transport sponsored VW Polo are third on 33.5 points.

Early championship leaders Paulus Franken and Henry Kohne (Manitou Group VW Polo R2) has been sliding down the order since the Sasol Rally and is now fourth overall on 28.5 points – only 1.5 points clear of Richard Leeke and Rikus Fourie (ATS Ford Fiesta R2).

With four events remaining Toyota is still leading the manufacturer’s championship with 170 points, followed by Volkswagen on 123 and Ford only three points adrift in third on 120 points.

The next round of the 2015 South African National Rally championship, the Volkswagen Rally, is scheduled for 17 and 18 July in the Port Elizabeth region of the Eastern Cape Province.

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