Brian Joss –
The Toyota Cape Dealer Rally, penultimate round of the 2015 South African National Rally Championship, proved to be an extremely tough event for Castrol Team Toyota. At the same time, the two Toyota Etios cars competing in Class S1600 totally dominated in the front-wheel-drive class. Guy Botterill and navigator Simon Vacy-Lyle recorded another victory in their Yato Toyota Etios, with teammates Matthew Vacy-Lyle and Schalk van Heerden, in a Fragram-supported version of the same vehicle, finishing second.
For defending national champions, Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee (Castrol Team Toyota Yaris S2000), the Toyota Cape Dealer Rally offered an opportunity to extend their hard-won lead in the championship. The pair started the event seven points ahead of former champion Mark Cronje, and with only two rounds to go, the championship was balanced on a knife-edge.
“We came to the Cape knowing we needed a good result in order to defend our title,” said Poulter after the rally finished in the Swartland town of Malmesbury. “We pushed hard right from the start, but things didn’t go our way.”
The Toyota Cape Dealer Rally started with two tarmac stages at the Killarney Race Track in Milnerton, before relocating to Brackenfell, for two more short tarmac stages run in front of the local Toyota dealership. These tarmac stages are often referred to as ‘Mickey Mouse stages’ among the rally fraternity, but this year’s rally proved just how hard these short tarmac stages can bite.
“Leeroy clipped a low wall during the second run through the stage at Killarney,” explains Castrol Team Toyota’s Team Principal, Glyn Hall. “The impact spun the Yaris around and ripped the left rear wheel from the car. Despite the damage, Leeroy and Elvéne managed to complete the stage and make it to the service area, where the crew set about repairing the car.”
After a gargantuan effort by the Castrol Team Toyota technical crew, Poulter and Coetzee lined up for the final two tarmac stages of the day. The pair completed the two short stages without mishap, and handed their Toyota Yaris S2000 over to the technical crew for more comprehensive repairs over night.
As a result of their earlier crash, the defending champions started Day 2 of the Toyota Cape Dealer Rally with a deficit of two minutes over the leaders. They won the opening stage of the day – one of nine gravel stages in the Malmesbury area, which made up the final day of the rally – and continued to chip away at the crews ahead of them.
“We were making up a lot of time, and were pushing as hard as we could,” explains Poulter. “But on Stage Nine of the rally we reached a series of tricky downhill jumps. We were simply going too fast when we hit the first one, and after that it all went wrong.”
The nose of the Toyota Yaris S2000 dug in and catapulted the vehicle and its crew into a violent crash, from which both managed to walk away without serious injury. The car was all but destroyed in the impact, which dealt a serious blow to Poulter and Coetzee’s championship defense.
“It was an unfortunate consequence of having to push too hard after losing time on the opening day,” continued Hall. “But we are grateful that the crew is okay. As it turned out, Leeroy and Elvéne may have been on for a second place finish if they hadn’t crashed out.”
While Poulter’s pace on day two was electric, a number of the crews ahead of them experienced difficulties. This included teammates Giniel de Villiers and navigator Carolyn Swan, in the second Castrol Team Toyota Yaris S2000. The pair were up into second place after stage nine of the rally, but with just four stages to go disaster struck.
“We went slightly wide on a turn leading up to a tight water splash on stage ten,” explains De Villiers. “I didn’t realise it at the time, but we had picked up a puncture when we went wide, and this caused the car to turn in slower than expected at the water splash.”
De Villiers and Swan drifted wide on the entry to the water splash and made contact with a gate post. This swung the car sideways, after which it caught a low bank next to the water splash, sending the car and its occupants into a roll. Despite a big impact, the pair managed to restart their stricken vehicle, but retired after reaching the service park after the stage.
“It was a double blow for us,” said Hall. “But this is the nature of motorsport, and at this level the difference between a clean stage and a massive crash can often be measured in millimeters. With that said, we are fortunate to have two drivers who seldom cause damage to our rally cars, despite the great results they often post.”
The rally was won by Ford’s Mark Cronje and navigator Gerhard Snyman, with Volkswagen’s Gugu Zulu and Hergen Fekken taking second and third respectively.
In Class S1600, for front-wheel-drive cars with engines of 1,600 cc, Toyota dominated the event. Defending champions Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle won their class by nearly six minutes over teammates Matthew Vacy-Lyle and navigator Schalk van Heerden. They were also the only two finishers in the class – testimony both to the toughness of the rally, as well as the reliability of the locally built and developed Toyota Etios S1600.
With just one round to come in the 2015 South African National Rally Championship, the S1600 title is still open, though Botterill/Vacy-Lyle’s latest victory has given them a slight lead over teammates Vacy-Lyle/Van Heerden going into the final round.
As has become tradition over the last number of years, the Limpopo city of Polokwane will host the last rally of the 2015 season, which takes place on 16 and 17 October, 2015.
“The Polokwane Motor Rally will be the last roll of the dice,” said Hall in Malmesbury. “But there’s still a chance for Leeroy and Elvéne to win the championship again. And as long as there’s a chance, we’ll keep on fighting.”