Brian Joss – 2017 rally championship runners-up, Richard Leeke and Henry Köhne, have started their 2018 campaign with an emphatic victory.
The Young Guns (average age 26) drew first blood in the National Rally Championship with a win on the Trade Brands Tour Natal, which ended in Ballito on March 10. Their R2 (the international class to which SA’s premier rally cars are built) Speedglas Fiesta had almost a minute’s buffer to the second-placed car.
“A great start!” enthused Leeke, not yet 22. “It is the perfect way to get things underway and I feel a sense of relief after a long off-season. It is also a perfect ‘thank-you’ to our new partner, Speedglas Welding Helmets, which is our primary sponsor.
“On Friday we were into the groove straightaway, winning the first three stages on the trot. I overdrove the car a bit and in retrospect, I should’ve calmed down a bit – though I’ll take stage wins anytime, especially when they’re as fast and as exciting as these have been!”
They were fastest in the night stage which brought the first day’s proceedings to a close and went to bed with a 15.9 second lead over reigning champions and arch-rivals Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle in the semi-Works Toyota Etios.
On Saturday morning Botterill was the new-pacesetter though, the Young Guns now first in the running order with the inevitable disadvantage of clearing the road of surface gravel.
“There were some extremely slippery corners, the loose topping making it unpredictable,” commented Leeke. “Nevertheless, it was clear that Guy was driving very well, but we felt we had to stick to our gameplan and soak up the pressure rather than be forced into a mistake.”
With stages six (Doringkop), seven (Blythedale) and eight (Doringkop 2) out of the way the Young Guns were suddenly doing the chasing and the remaining three stages held the prospect of a great contest between the two quickest drivers in the championship. But it wasn’t to be: the Etios ground to a halt in special stage 9 (Blythedale 2), leaving Leeke/Köhne to win the stage.
From there on it was a case of playing it safe and the Speedglas Fiesta was coaxed gently back to the finish at Ballito, where they arrived with 42 seconds in hand from AC Potgieter and Nico Swartz in a VW Polo. Making it three brands on the podium was the Toyota Etios of Matthew Vacy-Lyle and Schalk van Heerden.
“We’ve blown the cobwebs out, identified a few areas where we can improve, and scored maximum points – I couldn’t really have hoped for more,” said Leeke. “The next event is the York Rally, which is also the longest in the championship, so it’ll be nice to head there with the championship lead and to arrive in Mpumalanga having made improvements to the car, rather than having to fix it!”