SITTING TIGHT: Current log leaders Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton are still on top of the leader boards in the 2015 SA National Rally championship. Image: Dave Ledbitter
At the halfway point of the 2015 SA National Rally season the Toyota pair and defending National Rally champions Leeroy Poulter/Elvéne Coetzee (Toyota Yaris) has narrowed the gap to current log leaders Mark Cronje/Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta) with their first win of the year in the Bela-Bela rally.
However, by securing the runner-up spot in the Waterberg, the Ford team still has a comfortable lead in the series with 60 points – 13 more than Poulter/Coetzee.
So far in the season Cronje/Houghton have dominated the championship in outright rally wins (3) but not really when it comes to stage wins.
WINS SO FAR
With 24 stage victories – seven in the Tour Natal, 12 in
the Sasol Rally, five in Secunda and none in Bela-Bela – they have so far
scored six more wins than Poulter/Coetzee, with 24 to their credit – four in
Natal, one in the Sasol Rally, six in Secunda and seven in Bela-Bela.
However, further analysis reveals that the Ford pair only pushed as hard as was necessary, for instance with a handy lead at the start of the second day of the Secunda rally they did not win one stage, while Poulter, having lost heaps of time on day one, won all the stages bar one.
Between them Cronje/Poulter have up until now won virtually 90% of the stages; the rest belonging to young Henk Lategan (VW Polo) with three, Giniel de Villiers (Yaris) with one, shared with Lategan, and Gugu Zulu (Polo) with one.
Still, consistent performances in this year’s championship, including two well-earned podium finishes and a fourth place in the Bela-Bela event, sees Zulu third in the Driver’s championship on 30 points – 17 shy of Poulter.
Fourth on the log after Bela-Bela are De Villiers/Carolyn Swan (Yaris) with 27.5 points, only 2.5 behind Zulu.
They are now 10 points clear of Henk Lategan/Barry White (Polo), while a good outing in Bela-Bela secured Japie van Niekerk the final position on podium and moved the Ford Fiesta driver up to sixth on the leader board with 16 points.
After an indifferent season so far Thilo Himmel/Armand du Toit (Polo) are lying seventh with 13 points, followed by the Namibians Wilro Dippenaar/Kes Naidoo, in the Toyota Auris on 10 points. The pair lead the NRC Challenge.
In the Co-Drivers championship the log looks quite different as a result of some early-season team re-shuffling.
While Houghton/Coetzee are first and second on the log with 60 and 47 points respectively, Swan is now third as Pierre Arries, who was initially paired with Zulu, has been moved to partner late entrant Hergen Fekken in a Polo.
This means Barry White, partnering Lategan, is now fourth with 17.5 points while Arries/Hilton Auffray, brought in to fill the hot seat next to Zulu, now share fifth on 16 points.
With 13 points after four rallies Du Toit is now seventh, followed by Naidoo (10) and Van Niekerk’s long-time navigator Gerhard Snyman (nines) who replaced Irishman Gordon Noble in his Fiesta after the Sasol Rally.
After four rounds in the 2015 championship the S1600 class is still a hotly contested affair. Those doing the chasing will recognise the importance the latter half of the season represents for title aspirations.
Back-to-back wins for 2014 champions Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy-Lyle (Toyota Etios) in the Secunda and Bela-Bela rallies has moved them to the top of the leader board on 43 points – four clear of Toyota team mates Matthew Vacy-Lyle/Schalk Van Heerden (Etios). Chad van Beurden/Nico Swartz (Fiesta R2 at the Bela-Bela event), after starting the season in a VW Polo are third on 33.5 points.
Early championship leaders Paulus Franken/Henry Kohne (VW Polo R2) has been sliding down the order since the Sasol Rally and is now fourth overall on 28.5 points – only 1.5 clear of Richard Leeke and Rikus Fourie (Ford Fiesta R2).
With four events remaining Toyota is still leading the Manufacturer’s championship with 170 points, followed by VW on 123 and Ford only three points back in third on 120.
The next round of the 2015 South African National Rally championship, the VW Rally, is scheduled for July 17/18 in the Port Elizabeth region of the Eastern Cape.
MAKING DUST: Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle lead the S1600 class in a Toyota Etios. Image: Dave Ledbitter