Brian Joss –
The 2015 South African National Rally Championship is over, and once the dust had settled over the final stage of the Polokwane Motor Rally, round eight of the championship, Castrol Team Toyota’s Leeroy Poulter (Toyota Yaris S2000) emerged as the runner-up in the title race. His navigator, Elvéne Coetzee, however, made it two championship titles in a row, when she took overall honours in Polokwane.
“It has been a hard-fought season,” said Castrol Team Toyota Team Principal, Glyn Hall, after the final rally of the year. “Leeroy and Elvéne came excruciatingly close to successfully defending the championship they won in 2014. But in the end it just wasn’t to be.”
The Polokwane Motor Rally, scene of the final battle of the year, got under way on Friday, October 16, with four stages to the south of the Limpopo city of Polokwane. However, the first stage was waterlogged after heavy rains, and had to be cancelled. Even so, Castrol Team Toyota’s Giniel de Villiers and navigator Carolyn Swan came out swinging, and ended the day as early leaders. This meant that they were first on the road on day two, which made it almost impossible for them to retain their early lead.
Poulter/Coetzee, meanwhile, suffered a puncture on the penultimate stage of the day, losing time not only to the leaders, but crucially also to championship leader, Mark Cronje (Ford). Despite the puncture, Poulter/Coetzee ended the day just 16 seconds behind Cronje, and 30 seconds behind De Villiers/Swan.
Then came day two of the rally, and Poulter/Coetzee had their work cut out for them. But then Cronje and navigator Gerhard Snyman posted a number of fast stage times early in the day, and with De Villiers/Swan sweeping the road up front, struggling for grip, Cronje managed to take the lead of the rally. He held on until the end, despite a gallant charge by Poulter/Coetzee, who were somewhat hampered by recurring problems with the power steering of their car.
“Despite the technical challenges we faced, the championship went down to the wire,” explained Hall. “Even on the very last stage, a single puncture could’ve changed the outcome of the season.”
In the end Cronje/Snyman won the Polokwane Motor Rally, and with it Cronje also won his third championship title (2012, 2013 and 2015). Cronje’s long-standing navigator, Robin Houghton, was replaced by Gerhard Snyman for the final two rounds of the season, which meant that Castrol Team Toyota’s Elvéne Coetzee was crowned as the champion navigator of the year.
For De Villiers/Swan, there was also a lot to play for on the Polokwane Motor Rally. They were in fourth place in the championship standings, heading into the final event. Ahead of them, Volkswagen’s Gugu Zulu was within spitting distance. All they needed was a strong finish, in order to move up to third place for the season.
As it turned out, the battle with Zulu became a non-event, after the Volkswagen driver was forced to retire due to suspension problems. De Villiers/Swan ended the season in third place, and with Poulter/Coetzee taking second, there can be no doubt that 2015 was another great year for Castrol Team Toyota.
In Class S1600, for front-wheel-drive cars with engines of 1,600 cc, defending champions Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy-Lyle (Yato Toyota Etios S1600) managed to retain their title, despite struggling on the final event of the year. The pair had suspension problems with their normally reliable steed, and finish down the order in fourth place. Even so, they only needed to finish the event in order to be crowned champions, and so they celebrated yet another season victory.
Their championship title, together with the second and third places held by Castrol Team Toyota, handed Toyota the overall manufacturer’s championship title for 2015, underscoring the power of the marque in modern rallying.
“It was disappointing not to win the championship again,” concluded Hall. “But even so we had a very good year, with great results.”
All eyes now turn to the final round of the Donaldson Cross-Country Championship, the Atlas Copco 450, which takes place on the last weekend of October 2015. However, Poulter and navigator Rob Howie have already clinched that title, though there are still battles aplenty lower down the order.