Gemmell/Swan clean up in mud
GOOD IN THE MUD: Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan sweep through the mud and rain to an overall win in the 2012 VW Rally in their Toyota Auris. Image: Motorpics
The 30th Volkswagen Rally, round four of the 2012 South African Rally championship, was run in the wettest and most slippery conditions seen on a National championship event for many years.
Despite rain that fell throughout the two-day event and resulted in three of the scheduled 12 stages being cancelled Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan (Toyota Auris) were provisionally declared overall winners in Port Elizabeth on July 14.
FIRST FOR SWAN
It was Gemmell’s first National rally championship victory since he won the 2010 VW Rally in a Toyota and it leap-frogged him and Swan into the championship lead, three points clear of Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta).
Swan became the first woman co-driver to win the VW Rally.
Second, 12 seconds behind the winners, were former National champions Jan Habig and Robert Paisley (another Fiesta), who won four of Saturday’s (day two) five stages as they chased the winning Toyota to the end of the final special stage, a tarmac sprint in Port Elizabeth’s King’s Beach car park alongside the Indian Ocean.
Gemmell led Habig at the overnight stop in Uitenhage by five seconds after each had won a stage in their all-wheel drive S2000 rally cars. The lead opened up to 27 seconds after Habig had to stop on Saturday’s opening stage to demist the Ford’s windscreen and the battle between the two leaders was a highlight of an event watched by hundreds of hardy Eastern Cape motorsport enthusiasts despite the winter conditions.
Cronje and Houghton, fourth overnight behind Gemmell, Habig and the Toyota of Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee after Friday’s four stages, finished third and 1min32 behind the winners. Poulter surrendered what had promised to be a podium position when he went off the road on special stage nine and beached his car on the side of the road as he tried to regain the route.
He had been leading Cronje by 44 seconds.
Jon Williams and Cobus Vrey (yet another Fiesta) followed up their maiden win in the recent Toyota Gauteng Dealer Rally with fourth place, 4min22 behind Gemmell and Swan. Provisionally classified fifth were former National champions Enzo Kuun and Guy Hodgson (VW Polo), who started the day 13th after completing most of Friday’s stages in two-wheel drive and were 4min50 down.
Sixth were Hein Lategan and Johan van der Merwe (Peugeot 207) with a deficit of 5min12. Lategan’s 18-year-old son Henk enjoyed his best result yet when he and co-driver Barry White brought their Polo home seventh, 5min38 behind the winners. That also gave them the S2000 Challenge category for older-specification all-wheel drive cars.
BAD DAY FOR EUROS
Former champions Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries (Polo) were eighth, 15sec behind the younger Lategan and 5min53behind Gemmell and Swan. They were slowed by problems with power assistance on their steering on the Friday and lost more time on Saturday when they had to complete stages eight and nine in two-wheel drive.
Making up the top 10 were S2000 Challenge leaders Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin (Polo) in ninth (+8min27) and Charl Wilken/Greg Godrich (Fiesta) 10th (+6min45).
Outside the top 10 for the first time in their first year of competition in South Africa were the Dutch/Belgian combination of Hans Weijs jnr and Bjorn Degandt (Polo). They were 12th after losing a lot of time on the Friday, also with power-steering problems. Eleventh, 44sec ahead of the VW, was the Toyota Auris of Jean-Pierre Damseaux/Grant Martin, who started well with third on stage one but were not comfortable in the wet and slippery conditions and dropped back throughout the rest of the event.
The only retirement in the premier S2000 class was the Polo of Japie van Niekerk and Gerhard Snyman, who failed to make it to Friday’s start after a front wheel assembly collapsed.
Provisional winners of the S1600 class for two-wheel drive cars were 19-year-old Ashley Haigh-Smith and motoring journalist Patrick Vermaak (Fiesta R2), 17th overall and 50sec ahead of second-placed Craig Trott and Robbie Coetzee (Toyota RunX).
Third were Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle (RunX), a further eight seconds in arrears but 22 ahead of fourth-placed Tjaart Conradie and Kes Naidoo (RunX). Fifth were Paul Franken and Henry Kohne (Toyota Corolla), sixth the Fiesta R2 of Nic van der Westhuizen and Henry Dearlove (Fiesta R2) and seventh Matthew Vacy-Lyle and Schalk van Heerden (RunX).
Morne Janse van Rensburg and Rikus Fourie (Polo), who led at the overnight stop by 43sec from Haigh-Smith and Vermaak and had extended this lead to 1min20 after Saturday’s stage eight, lost eight minutes when they went off the road on stage nine and dropped to eighth in class at the finish.
Defending S1600 champions Christoff and sister Celeste Snyders (Polo) were early retirements, going out on stage one with a broken gearbox.