FIRST BLOOD FOR TOYOTA AS 2016 RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP GETS UNDER WAY
- It was a clean sweep for Toyota on the opening round of the South African National Rally Championship in the Freestate town of Welkom this weekend. The inaugural Goldfields Rally saw 2014 champions, Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee take overall victory in their Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Yaris S2000. Teammates Giniel de Villiers and Carolyn Swan finished in second place, driving an identical machine.
“What an exciting event this was,” said a smiling Glyn Hall, Team Principal of Toyota Gazoo Racing SA, from the service park at the end of the rally. “It was a whole new team organising things, and they certainly put on a good show. And for us, coming first and second on the opening round of the championship was a fantastic result.”
The event got under way with two tarmac stages, run in the late afternoon of Friday, March 3rd. Stage 1 saw the crews tackle an 11.4 km-long route around the Phakisa Freeway racetrack, before ending the day with a 1.2 km charge through the town centre. Defending champion Mark Cronje and new navigator Barry White (Volkswagen) set the early pace, and as a result had to open the road for Day 2 of the event.
A total of nine stages followed on Day 2, eight of them run on gravel surfaces. Cronje again came out swinging, but the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA crews fought back fiercely, and on Stage 5 both crews leapfrogged the Volkswagen.
“We continued at our own pace, which was clearly fast enough,” said rally winner Poulter after spraying sparkling wine from the top step of the podium. “Both Toyota Yaris rally cars ran faultlessly, and even though the event was pretty tricky in places, we managed to bring both cars home safely.”
Poulter/Coetzee won six of the rally’s eleven stages, with De Villiers/Swan chalking up two wins. Cronje/White finished in third place in the overall standings, but clearly showed that he would fight hard this year, making for an entertaining rally season.
In Class S1600, for front-wheel-drive cars with engines up to 1,600 cc, it was defending champions Guy Botterill and navigator Simon Vacy-Lyle who had the bit between their teeth. The pair led from start to finish, giving their little Yato-supported Toyota Etios another class victory, and assisting Toyota in winning the manufacturer’s award.
Round two of this year’s national rally championship is the legendary SASOL Rally, which takes places on the weekend of April 22 and 23, 2016. The SASOL Rally is a firm crowd favourite, and a highlight on the calendar. It is based around the town of Sabie, with stages traditionally run in the areas around Graskop and White River.