The Toyota Motorsport team of Johnny Gemmell/Carolyn Swan and Leeroy Poulter/Elvene Coetzee will make history when they line up in their Castrol-backed Toyota Auris rally cars to contest the opening round of the 2012 South African Rally Championship this weekend (March 23 and 24).
It will be the first time in Toyota’s long and distinguished history in South African motor sport that both official factory entries will feature female co-drivers. The experienced Swan, who makes her debut with the team this year after 13 years with the privateer Total-backed Toyota team, is a multiple national co-driver champion, while Coetzee already has a class A7 championship title with Evan Hutchison in a Toyota RunX under her belt after five years in the high-speed world of gravel special stage rallying.
“We’re delighted to have an all-female co-driver team,” said Toyota Motorsport team principal Glyn Hall. “Carolyn has a lot of experience and has won championships in every class in which she’s competed, bar S2000. I’m confident she and Johnny will make a winning team and we already know that Leeroy and Elvene are capable of taking the top step on the podium. .
“We’re starting the new season with the same spec car that gave us two victories last year, including Leeroy and Elvene’s win in the final round in Polokwane,” added Hall. “We’re approaching the limit of development with the Auris – in Polokwane it was the fastest it’s ever been – so it’s difficult to find more speed, but there’s always room for improvement and soon we’ll be benefiting from developments in the engine and suspension departments.”
Despite being one of the consistently fastest drivers in the premier Super 2000 class, with seven rally wins in the last five years and two close runner-up positions in the 2009 and 2010 championships (he was third last year), the experienced Gemmell is still seeking his first overall title. He will be hoping to get his campaign off to a fast start with a second victory in the season-opening Total Rally after his triumph in 2009 in his second year with the factory Toyota team.
Poulter enjoyed a remarkable debut season in the top class and as a Toyota works driver in 2011 when he won two of the seven rounds and topped the official seeding list for drivers (which ranks drivers according to the results of the timed special stages in each of the rounds of the championship). The 2010 class A6 champion in a Toyota RunX in his first season of rallying has firmly established himself as a serious contender for both rally wins and the championship and, together with Gemmell, gives Toyota Motorsport a very strong hand in the high-stakes car game that is the national championship.
Toyota, chasing a record 102nd national championship rally victory in KwaZulu-Natal this weekend, will be aiming to extend their record number of manufacturers’ championship wins to a successive 15 and will enjoy strong support in their quest from a number of privateers. The most prominent of these are the two class S2000 Team Total Toyota Auris rally cars of Jean-Pierre Damseaux/Grant Martin and Mohammed Moosa and Andre Vermeulen and the two class S1600 Toyota RunX cars of Craig Trott/Robbie Coetzee and the all-woman crew of Stefanie Botha/Angela Shields.
The Total Rally will consist of 16 special stages (14 gravel in the South Coast area and two tar in Durban) covering 196 kilometres over Friday and Saturday. It will be centred on the Sun Coast Casino complex in Durban, which will host the start and finish on both days. The first car will be flagged off at 12.00 on Friday and 06.00 on Saturday.
– Credit: Toyota Motorsport.