De Villiers wins HMC Rally in Mpumalanga with new co-driver

Red Bull athlete Giniel de Villiers enjoyed some valuable seat time on Saturday in the new Imperial Toyota Auris in which he is contesting the South African Rally Championship. Following his debut in the Toyota Motorsport-built car in the Volkswagen Rally in the Eastern Cape in July, the 2009 Dakar Rally winner teamed up with new co-driver Celeste Snyders to win the Highveld Motor Club (HMC) Rally in Mpumalanga in the four-wheel drive Class S2000 Toyota Auris.

The pair, who will compete together in the remainder of the national championship starting with Rally South Africa on 17 and 18 August, won each of the nine special stages of the fourth round of the Northern Regions Rally Championship held in the Middelburg and Hendrina areas.

Snyders, who won the 2011 Class S1600 Championship for two-wheel drive cars with her brother Christoff, joins Carolyn Swan and Elvene Coetzee in the all-female co-driver line-up at Toyota Motorsport. Swan and driver Johnny Gemmell currently lead the national Championship while Coetzee is paired with 2010 Class A6 Champion Leeroy Poulter, both in Castrol Team Toyota Auris cars.

“We entered the rally so I could get some extra seat time in the new Imperial Toyota Auris ahead of Rally South Africa in KwaZulu-Natal in two weeks’ time,” said de Villiers. It was also an opportunity to get to know Celeste and see how we gelled as a combination in the car.

“It was a good rally and very enjoyable. We had no problems with the car and Celeste and I worked very well together. My first outing in the VW Rally was difficult given the very wet and muddy conditions. This is not usual in the championship series, so it was good to get some kilometres under my belt on the kind of dry and dusty roads we usually experience.”

Snyders is excited about her new role in the team: “I am grateful for this opportunity and felt relaxed and at home with Giniel and all the other team members right from the start. He creates a very nice atmosphere in the car and I found it very natural working with him. I’m already looking forward to our first national event together.”

Mario de Sousa, groupmarketing manager of Imperial Toyota, commented: “We’re delighted to welcome Celeste to the Imperial Toyota team. Toyota Motorsport has the unique distinction of having an all-lady co-driver team and we think this is great. They are all talented individuals and they certainly brighten up the male-dominated rally environment.

“Giniel and Celeste’s success on the HMC Rally this past weekend is an important step in their motor sport relationship and their understanding of the rally Auris,” said Glyn Hall, team principal. “Giniel is contesting the rally championship to keep his driving skills sharp as he prepares to compete in the 2013 Dakar Rally in the Imperial Toyota Hilux. We’re putting as much effort into this car as we are with the Castrol Toyota entries and are happy to have an accomplished co-driver like Celeste.”

Imperial Toyota is part of the Automotive Retail Division of JSE-listed group, Imperial Holdings, and will back De Villiers in the S2000 Toyota Auris for the remainder of the 2012 South African Rally Championship.