Castrol Team Toyota’s Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee (Super 2000 Toyota Auris) were the winners of the inaugural MTN Polokwane Rally, the final round of the 2011 South African National Rally Championship, which ended at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Limpopo this morning.
It was their second win of the season after their debut victory in the Sasol Rally in Mpumalanga in April.
Second overall, just 2,7 seconds behind after 16 special stages and 206 kilometres of high-speed gravel and tarmac racing over two days were Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Super 2000 Sasol Ford Fiesta). In the process they unofficially secured the drivers’ and co-drivers’ championships.
Former national champions Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries (Super 2000 BP Volkswagen Polo) were third overall in this weekend’s rally, which was held in hot and dusty conditions over a fast route that proved to be a worthy test to determine the championship. They had led Cronje and Houghton at the start of the final, three-kilometre tarmac stage by nine tenths of a second, but were overtaken by the Ford and finished 2,8 seconds behind it.
Poulter and Coetzee, who took Toyota’s all-time national championship rally win tally to 101, led throughout the day after finishing first at the end of Friday’s nine stages. Their victory did not come easily as Poulter, competing in the top class of national championship rallying for the first time, lost time yesterday when he sportingly used a part from his car to fix a power steering problem on team-mate Johnny Gemmell’s car. This saw him drop 30 seconds to his pursuers on the next stage as he struggled to manhandle the Toyota over the tightest stage of the day. Later on he was slowed further when a front drive shaft broke.
The reigning Super 1600 champion held off a strong challenge from Fekken, Cronje and championship leader Conrad Rautenbach (Super 2000 Green Fuel Ford Fiesta) this morning, winning the second stage of the day in the process and doing enough to stay ahead to the finish.
Zimbabwean Rautenbach had started the event as provisional championship leader and needed to beat Cronje to win his first South African title. In the end he and French co-driver Nicolas Klinger finished fourth overall, 26 seconds behind the winners.
There is still an unresolved protest regarding the results of the Toyota Gauteng Dealer Rally which could affect the outcome of the championship.
The Two Wheel Drive Championship for Super 1600 and Super 1400 classes saw a battle royal between the Super 1400 Q8 Oils Volkswagen Polo of Henk Lategan and Barry White and the three Super 1600 cars of Christoff Snyders and sister Celeste (Sabertek VW Polo), Guy Botterill and Schalk van Heerden (Yato Tools Toyota RunX) and Craig Trott and Robbie Coetzee (Team Total Toyota RunX).
Seventeen-year-old Lategan prevailed in something of a ‘giant killing’ act to take the two-wheel drive category by 17,5 seconds from the Snyders siblings and finished a creditable 12th overall. The top three were separated by less than half a minute, with Botterill finishing third, 1 min 33 sec ahead of former champion Trott.
The Snyders eventually took the unofficial championship honours ahead of Trott/Coetzee.
Second in the Super 1400 class this weekend were Megan Verlaque and Hilton Auffray (BP Volkswagen Polo), in 17th place overall and 6 min 35 sec behind Lategan.