JUMPING THE LEAD: Leeroy Poulter and Evelene Coetzee won the Cullinan Rally, extending their lead with a third win this season. Image: Marc Bow
CULLINAN, Pretoria - Toyota’s Leeroy Poulter/Elvene Coetzee (Yaris) extended their lead in the 2014 South African National Rally Championship for S2000 four-wheel drive cars when they won the fifth round, the Cullinan Rally in Gauteng on August 16. It was their third victory of the season and they now lead team mates Hergen Fekken/Carolyn Swan by 27 points with three rounds remaining.
Fekken, in his first season with Toyota after many years and two championships with Volkswagen, and Swan regained their second place in the championship after finishing third in the Cullinan event behind Poulter/Coetzee and Japie van Niekerk and Gerhard Snyman (Ford Fiesta). Fekken has 76 points to the 103 of Poulter with defending champions Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta) third overall on 72.5 points.
After taking back-to-back titles in 2012/2013 in dominant fashion, winning 47 of the 89 special stages and seven of the eight rounds, Cronje/Houghton have not had it all their own way this season. Two poor results in the opening rounds where they scored just 6.5 points after a non-finish and a low-scoring Super Rally classification gave Poulter and the other leading drivers an unexpected opportunity to take advantage. While Poulter/Coetzee enjoy a healthy advantage that is just more than the 25 for a rally win, only 7.5 points cover second to fifth place. Any one of these top five crews can win the title.
The Dutch/Belgian duo of Hans Weijs Jnr/Bjorn Degandt (VW Polo) dropped from second to fourth in the championship after a problematic outing in Gauteng and have 68.5 points, four behind Cronje. Fifth and on the same number of points as their team mates are teenager Henk Lategan/Barry White in the second factory Polo.
Former S2000 Challenge winners Gugu Zulu/Carl Peskin, competing in the premier S2000 class for the first time in a third factory Polo, are sixth with 53.5 points.
Van Niekerk and Snyman have shown great pace in their privateer Ford Fiesta and are knocking on the door of a debut win after their excellent second place in the previous round, when they finished only 20 seconds behind the winning Toyota and claimed two of the 12 special stage wins. They are seventh in the championship with 48 points after a non-finish and two low scoring rounds when they were classified under Super Rally rules.
Cronje heads the special stage victory count so far this season with 24 from 64, with Poulter taking the honours in 19, Lategan in eight, Van Niekerk in six, Weijs in five and Fekken in two.
Making up the top 10 are Namibian Wilro Dippenaar/Kes Naidoo (Toyota Auris) with 44.5 points, Giniel de Villiers/Greg Godrich (Yaris) with 44 points and Namibian Thilo Himmel/Armand du Toit (VW Polo) with 41 points. De Villiers, better known for his recent successes in the Dakar Rally in a Toyota Hilux, started the season well enough with a fourth and a seventh, but he and Godrich have struggled since then with a non-finish and two low-scoring Super Rally finishes.
Himmel/Du Toit are competing in their first season in the top class and are also leading the S2000 Challenge for older specification four-wheel drive cars. Piet Bakkes/Shaun Visser (Toyota RunX) are 11th overall and second in the S2000 Challenge, while Dippenaar/Naidoo are third in S2000 Challenge.
Toyota leads the manufacturers’ championship with 448 points from Volkswagen (385.5) and Ford (289.5).
The next round of the championship is the Toyota Cape Dealer Rally in the Western Cape on September 19/20.