The ATS Motorsport Young Guns made the perfect start to the HMC Electrothread Rally, which ended in Bronkhorstspruit on Saturday, August 19, by winning Friday’s 15-kilometre opening stage.
Brian Joss – While one stage does not a rally make, it was what Richard Leeke and Henry Köhne expected and confirmed that they were on the pace, albeit with the prospect of a first-class duel ahead: arch-rivals Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy-Lyle were just 1.1 seconds adrift. Making matters more interesting was the presence of double national rally champion Hergen Fekken (partnered by the equally experienced and skilled Elvene Coetzee), who split the two youngsters with a time 0.7 seconds off Leeke.
By Saturday afternoon’s finish, however, the Young Guns had slipped to third overall, a result that – thanks to Botterill winning and Fekken finishing second – has also seen them lose their overall lead in the championship.
They are now three points behind.
“We actually had a fantastic rally on Saturday and we chased as hard as we could,” enthused Leeke, who recently wrote himself into the record books by becoming the youngest ever driver (aged 21) to win a South African national championship rally overall. “On Friday’s second stage the sequencing of the gearshifts suddenly went awry and looking at the times it cost us nine or 10 seconds. There was a service point after the stage and our technical crew took a quick look but couldn’t find anything wrong so we continued.
Unfortunately, the problem persisted.”
With Friday done and dusted (literally) the pair were 18 seconds adrift and knew they would have to push their ATS Motorsport Fiesta hard and hope that Botterill and Vacy-Lyle were slowed in some way. But it wasn’t to be.
Nevertheless, spectators were treated to a no-holds-barred three-way battle as Botterill/Vacy-Lyle, Fekken/Coetzee and Leeke/Kohne proved that S1600 cars can be hugely entertaining when driven on the limit. No one else got a look in and at the end of the event Leeke had won three stages, with the Toyota crews winning the remainder.
Midway through Saturday the Fiesta’s troublesome component was swopped with one from a retired, similar, car which solved the problem once and for all.
The time deficit at the finish was 19.2 seconds – more or less what the Young Guns lost on the second and third stages of the event.
“There are two rounds to go and we’re chasing again, which obviously isn’t what we wanted,” confirmed Leeke. “We’re keeping our eye on the prize though and with the problem with the gears sorted we’re confident that we’ll have a
100 percent reliable car for the Caledon Rally a month from now.”