document : Changing of the guard in national championship rallying


Changing of the guard in national championship rallying
information supplied by: SA Rally Internet 04 April 2011

Changing of the guard in national championship rallying

Judging by the results of the Total Tour Natal Rally on March 25 and 26, the South African rally championship could see a changing of the guard in 2011.

Although it might be a little early to write off the more experienced and older competitors after just one round of the eight-event series, youth prevailed in what was a sizzling season-opener on the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal.

Zimbabwean privateer Conrad Rautenbach (G-Fuel Ford Fiesta) heads the overall championship as well as the premier Super 2000 class with 25 points after upstaging the factory teams in the Total Tour Natal Rally to score his second victory in South Africa since joining the championship last year. The 26-year-old’s previous win was in round two of the 2010 series in the Toyota Dealer Rally in the Western Cape.

The next three places in the championship points standings are filled by three of the four factory Volkswagen drivers, who between them have won the last six championships. Veteran Jan Habig, six times a champion, is second with 21 points after coming so close in KwaZulu-Natal to winning the opening round in his BP VW Polo. Third is reining champion Enzo Kuun, who also won the title in 2006, with 19 points.

Hergen Fekken, champion in 2008 and 2009, is fourth with 17 points in another two-litre four-wheel drive BP VW Polo. Privateer Jean-Pierre Damseaux (Team Total Toyota RunX) is fifth with 16 points after a solid if unspectacular outing in KwaZulu-Natal.

Former circuit racing superstar and Dakar Rally winner Giniel de Villiers scored a useful 13 points in his rally debut in the fourth factory VW and currently lies 10th. A lot is expected of him and he is unlikely to let his supporters down.

Notably out of the top 10 at this early stage of the season are the two factory Toyota drivers, Johnny Gemmell and Leeroy Poulter, and Charl Wilken (Basil Read/Bizhub Ford Fiesta). Both Toyota drivers experienced problems in their Castrol Toyota Auris S2000s. Gemmell is 12th with 11 points while Poulter, in his first full season of S2000 after winning the S1600 class last year, is yet to score after accident damage put him out of the opening round.

Poulter is one of the coming men of rallying and his progress throughout the season will be watched with great interest. Wilken suffered electrical problems on the Ford on the Friday, but recovered from 24th overnight to 11th at the finish, winning a stage and signalling that he too will be a force to be reckoned with this season.

Other prominent drivers who failed to score in KZN, but who will undoubtedly make their mark on the championship this year, are Mark Cronje (Sasol Ford Fiesta) and Hein Lategan (Pirtek Peugeot 207). Cronje made a sensational debut in the new Ford with co-driver Robin Houghton, winning all five of the first day’s stages on the Total Tour Natal Rally and leading after the first four stages on Saturday before accident damage ruled him out. Lategan did not make it past the first stage after an engine problem caused by a faulty alternator on the brand new Peugeot.

Leading the new Super 1600 class with 12 points after the opening round is young Ashley Haigh Smith (React Ford Fiesta), one of the future stars of SA rallying, ahead of the experienced Tjaart Conradie (Silverton Engineering Toyota Auris) with 10 points and Christoff Snyders (VW Polo) with eight points.

Megan Verlaque leads the Super 1400 class in a BP VW Polo with three points (full class points were not awarded due to only three starters in the class) after an impressive debut in a factory car. No points were awarded in class A7, where the only two entries, Gugu Zulu/Carl Peskin (BP VW Polo) and Rocky Reyneke/Christo Ackerman (VW Polo) both failed to complete the rally.

With Rautenbach’s French co-driver not eligible for points, the overall co-drivers’ championship is led by Habig’s co-driver Robert Paisley (25 points) from Kuun’s co-driver Guy Hodgson (21 points) and Fekken’s co-driver Pierre Arries (19 points). Damseaux’s co-driver Carolyn Swan is fourth with 17 points.

Haigh Smith’s co-driver Hilton Auffray leads the S1600 class standings with 12 points from Conradie’s co-driver Kes Naidoo (10 points). Verlaque’s co-driver Lirene du Plessis leads the S1400 class with three points.

The next round of the championship is the Sasol Rally in Mpumalanga on April 15 and 16. It is also a round of the African Rally Championship.

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