CONFIDENT START TO 2015 RALLY SEASONMar 1, 2015
Round one of the South African National Rally Championship, the Tour Natal Rally, saw Castrol Team Toyota make a confident start to the 2015 season. The event, which was run on the fast sugarcane farms of the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, took place on 27 and 28 February, and again offered the exceptional road conditions for which the area is known.
Unfortunately defending champions Leeroy Poulter and navigator Elvéne Coetzee drew the first position on the road during the traditional numbers draw, which definitely counted against them on the slippery dirt roads, as they had to sweep the surface of the small marble-like stones. Despite this handicap, the pair drove their Toyota Yaris S2000 rally car to competitive stage times from the start.
"The car felt good, but we really struggled with the lack of grip," explained Poulter after completing the first day of the rally. "Thankfully we had to run the same three stages in the afternoon, so our times came down a lot."
The defending champions ended day one in second place overall, trailing Ford's Mark Cronjé/Robin Houghton by 44.6 seconds. Volkswagen's Henk Lategan was in third, with Castrol Team Toyota's Giniel de Villiers and navigator Carolyn Swan in fourth.
By the time the dust finally settled over the area around Scottburgh, where the rally took place, the positions hadn't altered at all, though the times had changed slightly. Cronjé took the first win of the season, leading Poulter/Coetzee home by 43 seconds. Lategan clinched the last podium position, while De Villiers/Swan recorded a fourth-place finish.
"It was a learning experience for Carolyn and me," said Dakar veteran De Villiers after the rally. "We had to get used to each other in the car very quickly, but we settled in easily and made the most of it. I'm very happy with the Toyota Yaris the team prepared for us, and can't wait for the second round of the championship."
Toyota was also awarded the team prize for the event, despite the win in Class S1600 going to VW's Paulus Franken and navigator Henry Kohne. Defending class champions Guy Botterill and navigator Simon Vacy-Lyle, who campaign a Yato-supported Toyota Etios R2, finished third after a tough battle with fellow Toyota Etios crew, Matthew Vacy-Lyle and Schalk van Heerden (Fragram Toyota Etios R2).
The next round of the championship is the SASOL Rally, which takes place in the Lowveld of Mpumalanga on 17 and 18 April. This event is one of South Africa's premiere rally events, and offers a spectacular blend of stages.