The 30th Volkswagen Rally, round four of the South African Rally Championship, was run in the wettest and most slippery conditions seen on a national championship event for many years. Despite rain that fell throughout the two-day event and resulted in three of the scheduled 12 stages being cancelled, Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan (Castrol Team Toyota Auris) were provisionally declared the overall winners at the finish in Port Elizabeth on Saturday afternoon.
It was Gemmell’s first national rally championship victory since he won the 2010 VW Rally in a Toyota and it leapfrogged him and Swan into the lead of the championship, three points clear of Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Sasol Racing Rally Ford Fiesta). Swan is the first woman co-driver to win the VW Rally.
Second, 12 seconds behind the winners, were former national champions Jan Habig and Robert Paisley (Basil Read Ford Fiesta), who won four of today’s five stages as they chased the winning Toyota to the end of the final special stage, a tarmac sprint in King’s Beach car park alongside the Indian Ocean. Gemmell led Habig at the overnight stop in Uitenhage by 5 sec after each had won a stage in their four-wheel drive S2000 class rally cars. The lead opened up to 27 sec after Habig had to stop on today’s opening stage to demist the Ford’s windscreen. The battle between the two leaders was a highlight of the event and was watched by hundreds of hardy Eastern Cape motor sport enthusiasts who braved the wintry conditions.
Cronje and Houghton, fourth overnight behind Gemmell, Habig and the second Castrol Toyota of Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee after Friday’s four stages, finished third and 1 min 32 seconds behind the winners. Poulter surrendered what had looked to be a certain podium position when he went off the road on special stage nine and beached the Toyota on the side of the road as he tried to regain the route. He had been leading Cronje by 44 seconds at the time.
Jon Williams and Cobus Vrey (Sasol Ford Fiesta) followed up their maiden win in the recent Toyota Gauteng Dealer Rally with fourth place, 4 min 22 seconds behind Gemmell and Swan. Provisionally classified fifth were former national champions Enzo Kuun and Guy Hodgson (BP VW Polo), who started the day in 13th position after completing most of Friday’s stages in two-wheel drive and were 4 min 50 sec in arrears at the end.
Sixth were Hein Lategan and Johan van der Merwe (SAC Peugeot 207) with a deficit of 5 min 12 sec. Lategan’s 18-year-old son Henk enjoyed his best result to date when he and co-driver Barry White brought their Q8 Oils VW Polo home in seventh place, 5 min 38 seconds behind the winners. In the process they also won the S2000 Challenge category for older-specification four-wheel drive cars.
Former champions Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries (BP VW Polo) finished eighth, 15 seconds behind the younger Lategan and 5 min 53 sec behind Gemmell and Swan. They were slowed by power steering problems on Friday and lost more time today when they had to complete stages eight and nine in two-wheel drive.
Making up the top 10 were S2000 Challenge leaders Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin in a BP VW Polo in ninth place (+8 min 27 sec) and Charl Wilken/Greg Godrich (Basil Read Ford Fiesta) in 10th place (+6 min 45 sec).
Outside the top 10 for the first time in their first year competing in South Africa was the Dutch/Belgian combination of Hans Weijs Jnr and Bjorn Degandt (BP VW Polo). They finished 12th after losing a lot of time on Friday with power steering problems. Eleventh, 44 seconds ahead of the VW, was the Team Total Toyota Auris of Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Grant Martin, who started well with third place on stage one, but were not comfortable in the wet and slippery conditions and dropped back throughout the rest of the event.
The only retirement in the premier S2000 class was the New Africa Developments VW Polo of Japie van Niekerk and Gerhard Snyman, who failed to make it to Friday’s start after a front wheel assembly collapsed.
Provisional winners of the S1600 class for two-wheel drive cars were 19-year-old Ashley Haigh-Smith and motoring journalist Patrick Vermaak (Castrol Ford Fiesta R2), who were 17th overall and 50 seconds ahead of second-placed Craig Trott and Robbie Coetzee (Team Total Toyota RunX). Third were Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle (Yato Tools Toyota RunX), who were a further 8 sec in arrears and 22 sec ahead of fourth-placed Tjaart Conradie and Kes Naidoo (Galvadip Toyota RunX). Fifth were Paul Franken and Henry Kohne (Toyota Corolla), sixth was the SA Earthworks Ford Fiesta R2 of Nic van der Westhuizen and Henry Dearlove (SA Earthworks Ford Fiesta R2) and seventh were Matthew Vacy-Lyle and Schalk van Heerden (Fragram Tools Toyota RunX).
Morne Janse van Rensburg and Rikus Fourie (GC Diesel VW Polo), who led at the overnight stop by 43 sec from Haigh-Smith and Vermaak and had extended this lead to 1 min 20 sec after Saturday’s stage eight, lost eight minutes when they went off the road on stage nine and dropped to eighth in class at the finish.
Defending S1600 champions Christoff and sister Celeste Snyders (Dynamic Plastic Packaging VW Polo) were early retirements, going out on stage one with a broken gearbox.