HEADED FOR KWAZULU-NATAL: Leeroy Poulter and Elvene Coetzee, 2014 S2000 Tour Natal Winners, will defend their title in 2015. Image: Brian Smith
The Tour Natal Rally, the first round of the 2015 SA National Rally championship, will start in Scottburgh on Friday (Feb 27) with the route similar to that of 2014.
Deputy clerk-of-the-course Jimmy Dewar confirmed that the first three three stages, after the start at the Scottburgh Country Club, would be repeated for a total of six stages on the first day.
Day 2 will see another five specials on gravel along the KZN South Coast for a total of 11 stages over a distance of 463km before a spectator-friendly “power stage” at Isontevideo in which the running order will be reversed.
Besides the inverted grid there will also be a knock-out competition: at the end of the stage a hot-seat area will be demarcated with a couch where competitors setting the fastest time for the stage will sit in waiting. As faster cars negotiate the stage and times tumble crews will move down the couch until literally being knocked off the bench.
In the end only the stage winners will remain seated.
The stage is next to the Scottburgh airport runway "so ample parking space will be available", organisers say. It will be run three times on the last day of the rally, the “power stage” being the final run. A spot in the stage where cars will “get airborne” will create even more excitement.
Prizes and trophies will be awarded to the teams entertaining the crowds with the longest and most spectacular jumps.
Another change for 2015: teams will have two chances to reconnoitre the route ahead of the rally, giving the crews enough opportunity to refine their pace notes.
Dewar said a total of 25 entries have been received.
Seven teams will contest the premier S2000 class for modified, non-turbo, all-wheel drive cars with engines not exceeding two litres. Ten will vie for honours in the two-wheel drive championship – the S1600 class for non-turbo cars with engines not exceeding 1.6 litres.
Two teams have entered the new NRC4 Challenge for existing S2000 Challenge and N4 cars (4WD with turbo engines not exceeding two litres and limited modifications), six have been received in the NRC2 class for pre-2000 four-cylinder, two-wheel drive cars.
Toyota has yet to confirm its line-up but fans can expect reigning champions Leeroy Poulter and Elvene Coetzee in their Yaris S2000 to be there to defend their title. Their most serious challenge will come from the 2012/13 champions Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta S2000 recently upgraded and rebuilt by M-Sport in Britain).
Volkswagen’s Hans Weijs (Netherlands) and co-driver Björn Degandt (Belgium) will want to prove a point in Natal. Weijs was runner-up in the 2014 Drivers’ championship and the pair won the final rally of the season in a VW Polo S2000.
VW’s Henk Lategan, with Barry White navigating, was consistently fast in 2014. In 2015 the pair, who took part in the 2015 Monte Carlo rally , will be eager to take a win or two.
Gugu Zulu could prove to be the revelation of the 2015 season. In 2014 the VW driver showed winning pace and with Pierre Arries alongside he will be looking for stage wins and podium positions in his Polo S2000.
Ford’s onslaught will be strengthened by top privateer Japie van Niekerk in his S2000 Fiesta. Van Niekerk was a consistent front-runner in 2014 and in 2015 will be partnered by navigator Gordon Noble. With the team’s Fiesta S2000 having received a full mechanical make-over, Van Niekerk could be a serious challenger.
In the S1600 Class, the battle between defending champions Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy-Lyle and 2014 runner-up Matthew Vacy-Lyle/Schalk Van Heerden (each in a Toyota Etios R2) will continue. They will be hard pushed by Ashley Haigh-Smith/Damian van As Fiesta R2), Paulus Franken/Henry Kohne Polo R2) and Richard Leeke/Rikus Fourie Fiesta R2).
Also in the thick of the S1600 action will be the Polo R2’s of AC Potgieter/Tommy du Toit, Andrew Heine/Robbie Coetzee and Nico Higgs/Etienne Lourens, while Ernie van der Walt/ Rowan Robbertze will round out the entries in theirFiesta R2.
In the NRC4 Challenge Namibian Wilro Dippenaar/Kes Naidoo will compete in a Toyota Auris S2000 Challenge car. They will be up against Toyota team mates Piet Bakkes/Shaun Visser.
Six teams will contest the NRC2 class for pre-2000 four-cylinder cars, among them Hanno Ehlers/Kevin Cunningham (Toyota Corolla), Vaughan Robinson/Edward Standen (Ford Escort), Tony Ball/Wade Harris (Lancia Fulvia), Bertus Labuschagne/Peter Chadwick (Polo), Trevor Graham/Brian Clifton (Nissan Skyline) and Bryan and Keith Heine (Datsun SSS Coupe).
Dewar said: “The cream of South African special-stage rally teams will gather for the traditional opening round of the National championship and we look forward to an exciting and successful event.”