Waterlogged gravel roads, cold and misty mountains and cheering spectators: this was the Volkswagen Rally. After four rounds of the 2012 South African Rally Championship, the traditional forest gravel stages in and around Port Elizabeth produced a close finish despite the inclement weather conditions.
The third different rally winner this year was crowned and the consistently quick pairing of Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan (Toyota Auris S2000) recorded a popular victory at this rally and now move into the lead of the Drivers’ and Co-Drivers’ Championship title races.
The event’s 12 stages were reduced to nine due to heavy rainfall flooding the stages. This made the fight for stage wins all the more vital for the rally’s leaders, and Jan Habig/Robert Paisley (Ford Fiesta S2000) and Gemmell’s team-mates Leeroy Poulter/Elvene Coetzee never allowed Gemmell a moment’s rest in the cockpit of his rally machine. Poulter became stuck in Saturday morning’s loop of stages in Longmore Forest after going off the road and was ruled out of the event, and this promoted Mark Cronje/Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta S2000) to claim the final podium position. The fight for the overall honours was, however, not settled until the final stage was complete, where Gemmell finished the rally 12.5 seconds ahead of Habig to seal his first victory of the 2012 season. This event saw 34 of the original 42 starters reach the final Parc Ferme.
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 end of Day One, the Somerset West-based rally ace found himself in eighth position overall and two minutes behind the overnight leaders. Uncomfortable with the conditions, Damseaux persevered through the treacherous conditions to record a strong 11th position overall.
“It was not an easy event,” said Damseaux. “We found it difficult to get a rhythm going on Day One, and the heavy overnight rain persisted on Day Two’s stages. We were all in the same situation, so we all had to contend with these conditions and roads.”
Team-mates Moosa/Vermeulen were immediately on the defensive after suffering ill luck. The Tzaneen businessman lost precious time in Stage Two when a small rock wedged itself between left rear wheels’ brake and rim to jam the wheel and damage the driveshaft. 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 in the event. As the stages were ticked off, Moosa settled into a competitive rhythm to set progressively quicker stage times.
On Day Two’s stages, Moosa’s stage times moved closer and closer to the top ten runners’ pace as he attempted to recover the lost time from Day One.
“We pushed hard today and maintained a steady pace in these trying conditions,” commented Moosa. “We battled with a demisting problem on our windscreen, but we worked around it and managed to push on despite this in the slippery stages. This rally is one we will look back on as a test of character.”
Also contesting for handfuls of seconds for the Class S1600 and Two Wheel Drive Championship category honours at the Volkswagen Rally was Team Total’s pairing of Craig Trott and Robbie Coetzee.
Reeling in the two leaders early on Day Two after finishing Day One in third place, Trott pushed his two rivals in each stage on Day Two. His constant pressure on the leader saw Trott slot into second place when this leader went off the road in Stage Nine in the Longmore Forest, and he consolidated his second place in the afternoon’s speed tests.
“Second in Class here is a great result for Team Total, and we have scored well for our Championship ambitions,” explained Trott. “We now have a cushion over our rivals going into the second half of the season, and the Championship is the most important matter for us. We kept our rivals in sight throughout the stages and we kept the pressure on them.”
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 in Class S1600. However, a mysterious misfire developed on Stage Two of the event and the pair’s overall speed was compromised for the rest of Day One. Their service crew worked to resolve the issue, but it soon reappeared on Day Two’s opening special stage to haunt Botha in her efforts to prove her speed to her rivals. Botha’s “never-say-die” attitude rewarded her with a much-deserved finish in this demanding event.
Botha said: “It was not the best of starts, with our first day nearly a write-off. We thought we fixed the problems with the misfire at the end of Day One, but it was back and even worse on Day Two. We never managed to enjoy a trouble-free stage at this event, but our aim for the Volkswagen Rally was to reach the finish and this we did well. It is a relief for us after a tough rally.”
Team Total would like to thank the marshals, officials and volunteers that endured the rain, cold and muddy conditions to make their event run efficiently.
Team Total will next contest the Rally South Africa on 16 – 18 August, a new event added to the calendar for 2012 based in and around Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.
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