Brian Joss –
The 2015 South African National Rally Championship will reach its halfway point on the weekend of June 19 and 20, with the Bela Bela Motor Rally, which takes place in and around the Limpopo town. For Castrol Team Toyota’s Leeroy Poulter and navigator Elvéne Coetzee, defending champions, this event will offer a tough challenge in their campaign to retain their title.
“Leeroy and Elvéne have had a tough start to the year, with a combination of bad luck and small mistakes conspiring to rob them of better results,” says Team Principal Glyn Hall. “With that said, they opened their defence with two second place finishes on rounds one and two. But a fourth place on round three in Secunda dealt their campaign a crushing blow.”
Poulter/Coetzee are still second overall in the championship standings, 17 points behind the Ford pairing of former multiple champions, Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton. But the Ford crew has taken three victories from three starts, and it will take a supreme effort to reel them in – and a good result in Bela Bela is imperative.
In 2014 Poulter/Coetzee were initially highly competitive on the inaugural Bela Bela Motor Rally. But their normally reliable Toyota Yaris S2000 rally car experienced a severe misfire on the second day of the event, forcing them to retire.
“We can’t let last year’s result influence our thinking this year,” says Poulter. “We have to take it one event at a time, and this time we know we have to go for the win.”
Giniel de Villiers, partnered with navigator Carolyn Swan, started the season with a fourth place on the Tour Natal Rally, but a retirement on the Sasol Rally, round two of the season, saw them drop down in the overall standings. The pair bounced back with a second-place finish on round three, and currently occupy fourth place in the championship, just 1.5 points behind Volkswagen’s Gugu Zulu.
In Class S1600, South Africa’s premiere rally class for front-wheel-drive cars with engines of 1,600 cc, defending champions Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle have had an up-and-down start to the season. The pair finished third on round one, retired on round two, and won round three. As a result the Yato Toyota Etios crew find themselves in third place in the Class S1600 championship, just one point behind second place (Paul Franken, VW) and three points adrift of the current championship leaders.
Those leaders are another Toyota Etios crew, in the form of Matthew Vacy-Lyle and Schalk van Heerden, who are supported by Fragram Tools. Vacy-Lyle and Van Heerden have challenged for championship glory before, and a steady start to the season (one second place and two third places) see them topping the standings going into round four.
The Bela Bela Motor Rally gets under way at noon on Friday June 19. Day One features four special stages, with a total distance of 56 km. Day Two starts at 8am, and comprises six special stages, bringing the total rally distance for the event to 179 km.