Team Castrol Toyota triumphs in the rain-sodden 2012 Volkswagen Rally
Thanks to a cold front of Arctic proportion, last weekend’s 30th Volkswagen Rally proved to be the most slippery local motorsport event we have seen all season. Nuts to the ducks, this was actually weather for mud wrestlers.
Now while us spectators could combat its effects by reaching for a large bottle of old brown sherry, the competitors had to dig deep and draw on every shred of their experience. Of course some were quickly found wanting, wishing for more stage time. But for the Castrol Toyota Auris pairing of Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan, well, the combination proved deadly.
Jan Habig and Robert Paisley may have dominated the first stage in their Basil Read Ford Fiesta but by Stage Three the Toyota duo had managed to build an early lead of 10.8 seconds. Their teammates, Leeroy Poulter and buxom co-driver Elvéne Coetzee, showed a similar lick of pace and soon moved into third place overall at the end of Stage Five.
Behind them meanwhile lurked the two Sasol-sponsored Ford Fiestas of Mark Cronje/Robin Houghton and Jon Williams/Cobus Vrey. The former could have ended the first day higher up the rankings if they hadn’t been slowed down after an incident in the second stage. “There must have been a rock or tree stump in the grass because it threw the car around 180 degrees,” Houghton explained. “The door sill took the brunt of the impact and punctured a tyre but thankfully we could continue.”
While the Sasol Rally winners were able to brush their bad luck aside, the BP Volkswagen Team just couldn’t come to terms with a long string of mechanical misfortunes. The No.11 Polo of Hans Weijs Jnr and Bjorn Degandt was the first to be affected, with a faulty power steering system making the already treacherous conditions even more demanding.
After inheriting the very same gremlin, Enzo Kuun/Guy Hodgson and Hergen Fekken/Pierre Arries were then hit by identical drivetrain issues. Though certainly not rally-threatening, this setback forced them both to continue the event without the bite of their all-wheel-drive system. Less than ideal when the dirt roads winding through Longmore Forest had been churned to the consistency of snot by the start of second day. Yet despite this playing against them, Kuun and Hodgson dug deep to eventually finish the rally in fifth position overall.
Day Two would harbor even more drama. Particularly when Poulter and Coetzee decided to beach their poor Castrol Toyota Auris on a roadside bank in Stage Nine. Then trailing by some 44 seconds, this costly mistake handed third position over to Cronje and Houghton.
Ahead of them Habig and Paisley charged hard, winning four of the day’s five stages, but not hard enough to close the 12-second gap between themselves and the winning duo of Gemmell and Swan. Indeed, after an exciting tarmac sprint through the King’s Beach car park, the Castrol Toyota crew emerged victorious on the top step of the podium.
Sweetening this victory somewhat is the fact that they are now leading the 2012 SA Rally Championship three points clear of Cronje and Houghton. Proof once again that in motorsport, to finish first, first you must finish.
[All Pictures: David Ledbitter]