Poulter / Coetzee clinch 2014 National Rally Championship
It has been a long time coming, but Castrol Team Toyota finally broke a ten-year drought in the South African National Rally Championship. Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee won the penultimate round of the championship in Polokwane - and with it bagged the ultimate crown in the sport: The 2014 South African National Rally Championship.
Poulter/Coetzee started the event needing to score maximum points, as Ford driver Mark Cronje still had a slim mathematical chance of clinching the title. But an altercation with a gate post put an end to Cronje's championship aspirations, leaving his Ford Fiesta without a functioning front suspension. With the defending champion out of the rally, Poulter/Coetzee's victory in the Limpopo Province was enough to seal the 2014 championship for them.
"It is an amazing feeling," said Poulter after spraying sparkling wine from the top step of the podium. "We had to fight so hard to get here, it is difficult to accept it has actually happened."
Poulter also paid homage to the team that developed, built and prepared his Castrol Team Toyota Yaris: "The guys did a simply stunning job throughout the year, and even though we had our challenges, I have to give them credit for a job well done."
He also dedicated his championship to his late father: "I'm sure he would have loved to have been here for this."
Poulter has become the first Toyota driver since the legendary Serge Damseaux to bag the overall title for the Japanese marque. Damseaux last claimed the championship in 2004, so it has been ten years since the championship belonged to Toyota.
"For us this is a simply stunning achievement," said Toyota SA Motors Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Glenn Crompton. "It not only shows the undeniable reliability of the Toyota Yaris, but also illustrates that we can compete with the best this country has to offer - and walk off with the spoils."
While Poulter became the first Toyota driver to claim the title in ten years, his co-driver has arguably even more to be proud of: Elvéne Coetzee, daughter of Toyota stalwart racer Kassie Coetzee, is the first female navigator to win the championship in more than four decades (Minota van Bergen won the navigator’s title in 1970).
"I'm just so glad everything came together for us," she said after the race. "One can dream and one can hope, but to actually stand on the podium and know the championship is ours, is simply unbelievable."
The man behind the team, Team Principal Glyn Hall, summed it up as such: "We always race to win. And we always try to win the championship. But 2014 has been our year, and every single member of the team has contributed to it. In the end it was Leeroy behind the wheel, and Elvéne beside him, but they represented all of us. We are exceptionally proud of them, but just as proud of the team that made it all possible."
While Poulter/Coetzee's victory was certainly emotional, it wasn't the only heart-warming show in Polokwane. Imperial Toyota Yaris S2000 driver Giniel de Villiers (who finished fifth overall) was faced with a massive problem shortly before the start of the event. His regular co-driver, Greg Godrich, fell seriously ill - leaving De Villiers without a navigator. In a highly sporting gesture, the Volkswagen team made one of their most experienced navigators available to stand in for the stricken Godrich.
As a result the Imperial Toyota Yaris lined up for the start of Stage 1 with Pierre Arries (former national champion with current Castrol Team Toyota driver Hergen Fekken) in the navigator's seat. For Arries it was a stern test - not only had he not completed the recce of the event, but he also had to interpret the notes made by Godrich, and he had to do so at the insane speeds inherent to rallies! But De Villiers is and experienced campaigner, having recorded his maiden South African National rally victory on the previous round; and Arries is no newcomer to the sport. The pair took a couple of stages to gel, and then poured on the pressure. After three stages Toyota held first place with Poulter, second with Fekken, and third with De Villiers.
Disappointingly their fairy-tale charge came to a sudden end when their race vehicle developed electrical problems, and De Villiers/Godrich were forced to bow out of the competition on Day 1. But thanks to the Super Rally regulations, they were allowed to restart on Day 2 - and managed to claw their way back to fifth overall before running out of stages.
Fekken and navigator Carolyn Swan fought a tough battle throughout the Polokwane Motor Rally. Initially the pair matched the pace set by Poulter/Coetzee, and ended Day 1 just 30 seconds behind the leaders. But disaster struck on Stage 7 (Day 2), when they overcooked a corner and damaged the suspension on their Castrol Team Toyota Yaris. The pair lost ten minutes as a result, and never managed to recover from the incident.
The S2000 Challenge class, for older specification S2000 rally machines was won by PZN Panelbeaters' Wilro Dippenaar and Kesavan Naidoo, in their Toyota Auris. The pair drove an inspired rally, moving into third place overall, before they incurred a small time penalty due to clocking in late at the start of stage 2. They dropped back to fifth overall as a result, and were locked in a spectacular battle with two Volkswagen Polo crews, before finally winning through and clinching the final step on the overall podium.
In Class S1600, for front wheel drive race vehicles with engines up to 1,600 cc, it was Toyota Etios R2 driver, Guy Botterill, who sealed a maiden championship victory. The young Durbanite, with navigator Simon Vacy-Lyle reading the notes, won all but one of the rounds so far in 2014, and with another victory on the Polokwane Motor Rally, the pair is well clear of their nearest competitors.
Botterill/Vacy-Lyle drove a text-book rally from the get-go, setting the early pace in their Yato Tools supported Toyota Etios. Despite not needing to push - they only needed a handful of points to seal the championship - Botterill won the first stage in emphatic style. Shortly after that, word of the demise of Botterill's only mathematical challenger, Chad van Beurden (Volkswagen Polo) reached the team, and thus the championship was won considerably earlier than expected.
Botterill’s victory contributed to Toyota also bagging the Manufacturer’s award for the Polokwane Motor Rally. For the Toyota Etios driver 2014 was a vintage year, with the championship sealed thanks to six rally victories from seven events - with one more round to come. That round will take place on 21 and 22 November, in the area surrounding Bela-Bela in the Limpopo province.