South African fans set for scorching season finale

The inaugural MTN Polokwane Rally takes place in Limpopo Province this weekend and brings down the curtain on one of the closest-fought South African rally championships in many years.

After seven rounds four drivers and three co-drivers, all competing in the top Super 2000 class for four-wheel drive two-litre cars, have a mathematical chance of winning their respective championships. With a maximum of 25 points at stake for a win and competitors having to drop their worst score of the season, there are several permutations for the final outcome.

Zimbabwe’s Conrad Rautenbach (Green Fuel Ford Fiesta) leads the drivers’ championship with a total of 125 points from the seven events run so far, without deducting his worst score and enjoys a nine point lead over Mark Cronje (Sasol Ford Fiesta) and defending champion Enzo Kuun (BP Volkswagen Polo). Johnny Gemmell (Castrol Toyota Auris) is fourth, 23 points behind Rautenbach.

Both Rautenbach and Cronje have won three events, while Kuun with one second and three third places and Gemmell with three seconds and a third, have yet to win this year.

In the co-drivers’ championship, the situation is slightly different as Rautenbach’s French co-driver Nicolas Klinger is not eligible to score points because he doesn’t compete with a South African licence. Defending champion Guy Hodgson, who reads the route notes for Kuun, leads with 124 points from Cronje’s co-driver Robin Houghton (119 points) and Gemmell’s Scottish team-mate Drew Sturrock (96 points).

All the championship contenders will be aiming for nothing less than maximum points this weekend and leaving nothing to chance. They will have to be on top of their game, because there are at least four other rivals capable of winning the final rally.

Leeroy Poulter and Elvene Coetzee (Castrol Toyota Auris) already have a win under their belts, in the Sasol Rally in April. Former champions and BP Volkswagen team-mates Hergen Fekken/Pierre Arries and Jan Habig/Robert Paisley have not had the best of seasons and would like nothing better than to finish with a victory.

Charl Wilken and Greg Godrich (Basil Read/bizhub Ford Fiesta) have come close, finishing second twice, but two non-finishes have dashed their championship chances.

Others to watch in the strong 19-car S2000 entry are Nicholas Ryan/Armand du Toit (GrandMark International VW Polo), Jon Williams/Cobus Vrey (Sasol Ford Fiesta), Jean-Pierre Damseaux/Carolyn Swan (Total Toyota Auris), Mohammed Moosa/Grant Martin (Team Total Toyota Auris), Giniel de Villiers and Ralph Pitchford (BP VW Polo) and Hein Lategan/Johan van der Merwe (Pirtek Peugeot 207).

The Two Wheel Drive Championship for the Super 1600 and Super 1400 classes is a two-horse race between brother and sister Christoff and Celeste Snyders (S1600 Sabertek VW Polo), who have 128 points, and former champion Craig Trott and Robbie Coetzee (Team Total Toyota RunX), who are 10 points in arrears. Both have been consistent podium finishers with the Snyders winners on three occasions.

They can expect stiff competition from Guy Botterill/Schalk van Heerden (S1600 Yato Tools Toyota RunX), and Tjaart Conradie/Kes Naidoo (S1600 Silverton Engineering Toyota Auris). Haigh-Smith and Aldridge, recuperating from an accident while competing in the Junior WRC event in France will not be competing this weekend.

Megan Verlaque/Hilton Auffray (BP VW Polo) and Henk Lategan/Barry White (Q8 Oils VW Polo) are the main contenders for victory in the Super 1400 class. Verlaque leads with 11 points, two ahead of Lategan. Ian Young and Henry Dearlove will be hoping for their first finish of the season in their Associated Alterations Toyota Yaris.

The rally will start and finish on each of the two days at the Polokwane Police Club opposite the Peter Mokaba Stadium, which will also serve as rally headquarters and the media centre. The first car will be flagged away at 07:00 on Saturday and the day’s action will be over nine stages covering a total distance of 127 km. The first car is due to finish at around 16:00.

Sunday’s restart will be at 06:00 and the shorter final day will finish at around 11:00 after seven stages covering 77,30 km.