SA Rally Championship Rd 1/7
10-11 March 2017
Scottburgh, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa
Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy Lyle picked up where they left off last season – dominating class R2. The difference, of course, is that this year, R2 is the main class so Botterill was driving his heart out for first place. Which he achieved, barely breaking a sweat as he rubbed everyone’s noses in it.
The Toyota Etios R2 is now bedecked in Gazoo SA colours, a just reward for three R2 championships already served on a platter to Toyota. Make no mistake though. This is not a factory-built car from Glyn Hall’s magic cave. It is the same car Botterill and his small team built and ran to such good effect these past three seasons. The same car he helps strip and re-build after every event. It delivered another flawless result.
The rally fraternity made a welcome return to the KwaZulu Natal south coast sugar plantations for the opening round of the 2017 SA Rally Championship. It was like being on holiday with the Indian Ocean just a stone’s throw away from the service park. The entry list featured seven R2 cars (where, oh where are the other eight?), eight classic cars, two open class cars and six KZN regional cars, some of whom only competed on Saturday.
The Classic Car class was a welcome surprise, for it brought spectacular rear-wheel drive cars back into national rally stages, previously confined to just the provincial championships.
Under cloudy, threatening skies, the crews set off inland for three stages and one remote service. When results trickled in for the first stage, all the questions were answered. Botterill, who had said before the start he would be taking things easy, emerged from the 13.1km stage with a 15 second lead. Just over a second per kilometre! Richard Leeke/Henry Kohne (ATS Ford Fiesta) and AC Potgieter/Mari van der Walt Lake Umuzi Volkswagen Polo) emerged as the closest contenders, as expected.
The surprise was Jono Van Wyk/Scott Howden. The Ford Fiesta pair, in their first KZN rally together and running first on the road, were in fourth place. Chris Coertse/Greg Godrich was fifth, Lee Rose/Elvéne Coetzee, in a beautiful Ford Escort Mk.2, were sixth, followed by returnee (after four years away) Tjaart Conradie/Carolyn Swan (Silverton Engineering Toyota Etios R2) holding down seventh, scaring himself on occasion as he remembered how to drive. He last drove a class A6 Toyota Auris against Leeroy Poulter. The R2 spec cars are a different ball-game, though.
The rest of Friday’s stages delivered the same results, more or less, leaving Botterill/Vacy Lyle 28.6 seconds in the clear after 34.8km of stages. Do the math…
Saturday dawned a perfect day to be on the beach. Cloudless blue skies and very hot. Botterill knows that the hotter the weather, the more slippery the stages become. The drivers who live inland don’t necessarily know this. The sugar cane stages are notorious for their coating of fine gravel, making them super-slippery. The roads are often cambered as well, making for a tricky event requiring a fine balance between speed and grip.
Saturday’s first stage, at 23.8km the longest of the event, was brutal. 300 metres in, Leeke and Kohne had a near roll as a result of spongy brakes. Rattled, the youngster cruised through the stage, setting the 13th fastest time. Nine seconds adrift overnight, AC Potgieter entered the stage. With the new, lighter and more powerful VW motor under the bonnet, and only nine seconds away from second place, Potgieter dipped the clutch and 280 metres in, had a big moment. He corrected the slide, the car snapped away; he over-corrected the counter slide and went off at high speed, down an embankment and into retirement. The in-car video is can be seen at https://www.facebook.com/3PotgietervdWaltRallying/
Mari had mild concussion. Bruised and battered, the strength of modern rally cars is unbelievable.
Suddenly, Van Wyk/Howden were into second, followed by Coertse/Godrich while Leeke had slipped to fourth. In stage five, Van Wyk had an overshoot, in a moment he described as “panic stations”. They lost 40 seconds and dropped to third, behind Coertse. When Coertse didn’t pass the mid-point in stage six, observers thought “oh no, not again”. He hadn’t rolled though, just beached his car. He was stuck for 24 minutes until his brother, competing in a Ford Escort Mk.2, stopped to tow him out. The other Coertse, Roelof, lost two minutes helping his brother, but isn’t that what family is for?
Second place had changed hands three times in three stages. After stage six, with three to go, Leeke was the owner of the second step of the podium once more and that is where he stayed until the end. Botterill, by now, was 3:11 to the good and backed off.
Not only was there no need to push, he had run out of fresh dry tyres and resorted to used wets for the remaining stages. He also had to make sure he didn’t bend it, for the car is due at the Toyota Motorsport launch at 3pm today!
By now, positions at the front of the field were stable. Botterill was in a class of his own; Leeke had come to terms with his soft brake pedal, which may explain the rear of the Fiesta hitting a concrete wall in a subway, which didn’t help the handling one iota. Van Wyk was in a great final podium place, leaving the lower positions to add some drama. Rose and Coetzee had a last minute scare when the Escort’s alternator packed in at the start of stage nine.
Sixth went to the Open Class winner, Trevor Graham/Brian Clifton in their BMW 1 series. Fitted with 250kW BMW 335 motor engine from the former production car racers, it was detuned to ‘only’ 208kW.
The final finisher was Ashley and dad Les McKenzie in their Ford Escort Mk.1. They suffered four punctures and a broken throttle cable. Not many people carry spare throttle cables in their car, but they do (it’s happened before), so 12 minutes later, off they went again. That is the spirit of rallying right there…and why it will survive.
Etienne Malherbe/Matt Kohler (Datsun 160U SSS) survived contaminated fuel on the first day, only to retire in stage seven with bearing failure.
The most bizarre event befell the luckless George Smalberger/Chris Brand in their Shield Volkswagen Polo R2. In stage two on Friday, great plumes of blue smoke drifted out of the canfields, the car unseen. They free-wheeled to a stop, engine dead and that was that. 12 minutes later, Brand, bored with just hanging around, tried to start the car. The Polo fired up, so they drove out of the stage, across the road and into the remote service area. Topped up with water, the crew entered stage three; it lapsed onto two cylinders but made it back to the overnight area. They ran Saturday’s stages until stopping for good after stage six, when the car again lapsed onto two cylinders.
Megan Verlaque, the younger of the Rally Chicks sibling rally team from the early to mid 2000s, entered the regional rally with her brother Oliver navigating. Six corners into the now notorious stage four (the first stage for the regional competitors), she found one of the few trees in Natal and planted her Golf squarely into it.
Rallying always throws up some good quotes when chatting to drivers:
Guy Botterill, when asked about his stage one time after saying he wouldn’t push hard on day one: “We found a good rhythm – by the first corner”.
Lee Rose, when asked how he experienced working with the Elvéne, the defending navigator’s champion: “She kicked my butt when I fell asleep, and if she saw or sensed I was hesitating and lifting off, she would say “uh uh””.
The Tour Natal Rally was a re-birth. Everyone knew it and had a great time. There are interesting rumours around, and we know Chris Coertse will be out on the next event in his new Mazda2. A second Mazda is rumoured to be driven by a “come-back kid”: no names of course, but think back several years and wonder whose car burnt out in an open section on the Tour Natal Rally…
The next round of the SA Rally Championship is the York Rally on 21 and 22 April
Appreciative thanks to Tjaart Conradie and the Silverton Engineering Rally Team for their hospitality on the Tour Natal Rally
1 Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy Lyle Toyota Etios R2 1hr40min48.7sec
2 Richard Leeke/Henry Kohne Ford Fiesta R2 1hr44min11.5sec3
3 Jono van Wyk/Scott Howden Ford Fiesta R2 1hr45min50.7sec
4 Lee Rose/Elvéne Coetzee Ford Escort Mk 2 (Classic) 1hr47min51.1sec
5 Tjaart Conradie/Carolyn Swan Toyota Etios R2 1hr49min50.5sec
6 Trevor Graham/Brian Clifton BMW 135 (Open) 1hr54min20.2sec
7 Roger De Chamoy/Clive Wilson Volkswagen CitiGolf (Open) 1hr59min46.1sec
8 Roelof Coertse/Nico Swartz Ford Escort Mk.2 (Classic) 2hr01min12.8sec
9 Chris Coertse/Greg Godrich Toyota Etios R2 2hr08min44.6sec
10 Ashley/Les McKenzie Ford Escort Mk.1 2hr31min28.2sec