Reaching the halfway point of the 2012 South African Rally Championship, the Volkswagen Rally has traditionally been a test of man and machine pitted against the demanding Eastern Cape gravel forest roads. The 30th running of this fan-favourite event has seen the battle between the elements and competitors taken to new heights.
Starting on a cold and wet morning in Uitenhage outside the Auto Pavilion centre at Volkswagen of South Africa’s manufacturing plant, the 42 crews on the start list tackled five slippery and muddy stages in Gamtoos, the Longmore Forest and the town of Uitenhage. With the fast and flowing gravel roads of the ever-spectacular stages in Longmore Forest relegated to tracks with muddy streams, giant puddles and sticky mud offering little traction for the Dunlop rally tyres to cling to. The rains flooded the Port Elizabeth Oval Track Raceway (PEOTR), forcing Stage Four of the rally to be cancelled.
The cold conditions did not affect the hot pace of the rally action, with the event’s leader board enjoying three different leaders in the first three stages. At the end of Day One, it is Johnny Gemmell/Carolyn Swan (Toyota Auris S2000) that leads the field of 38 survivors with a slender lead of 5.1 seconds over Jan Habig/Robert Paisley (Ford Fiesta S2000) and 18.4 seconds over Leeroy Poulter/Elvene Coetzee (Toyota Auris S2000) in third place overall.
Crews will wrestle with the elements on Day Two over seven gruelling stages and 117km of intense rally action. The event will conclude with a Super Special Stage at the Kings Beach complex at 14h27 with a prize-giving ceremony shortly after that.
Team Total is South Africa’s largest privateer squad, boasting four Toyota rally cars in two categories. Jean-Pierre Damseaux/Grant Martin (car #10) and Mohammed Moosa/Andre Vermeulen (car #13) compete in the premier Class S2000 in Toyota’s Auris S2000 rally weapons and battle it out against their factory-backed rivals for the prestigious Drivers’ Championship. Craig Trott/Robbie Coetzee (car #62) and daughter-and-father pairing Stefanie Botha/Willem Hugo (car #74) proudly fly the Team Total livery in Class S1600 with Toyota RunX machines.
Damseaux attacked Stage One to set the third fastest stage time, and settled into a cautious yet competitive rhythm on the afternoon’s remaining speed tests. At the overnight halt the Somerset West-based rally ace lies in eighth position overall and two minutes behind the overall leaders. With seven stages to contest on Day Two, Damseaux will be aiming to move up the standings.
Team-mates Moosa/Vermeulen were struck with yet more ill luck, losing precious time in Stage Two when a small rock wedged itself between their brake calliper and wheel to cause this left rear wheel of their rally machine to fail. The crew was forced to stop between stages to affect repairs and change wheels in order for their Team Total Toyota Auris S2000 to continue. As the stages were ticked off, Moosa settled into his competitive rhythm to set progressively quicker stage times. Day Two will see the Tzaneen businessman move up the leader board from his overnight 16th position overall.
Daughter and father pairing of Stefanie Botha and Willem Hugo relished the chance to shine in the gloomy weather conditions, and their Team Total Toyota RunX S1600 proved a worthy adversary against its much newer and more powerful rivals. However, an engine misfire on the day’s closing stages saw their overall speed hamstrung. Good news, and also a warning to their closest rivals, is that the engine misfire was diagnosed and solved at the overnight Service and this crew will tackle the event’s seven remaining stages with vigour.
Third in Class S1600 and in the Two Wheel Drive Championship categories at the end of Day One, Craig Trott and Robbie Coetzee are embroiled in a high-speed game of chess against their rivals. Former Class champion Trott is less than a minute from the Class lead and only 5.2 seconds off second place. A battle royal is expected for Day Two’s podium places in this hotly contested Class as the top three will employ al their best strategies to keep ahead in these ever-changing surface and weather conditions.
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