Toyota Motorsport’s Giniel de Villiers and Celeste Snyders (Imperial Toyota Auris) celebrated their first podium finish together in the two-day Polokwane Rally in Limpopo on Sunday.
They also proved to be the most successful of Toyota Motorsport’s three SA Rally Championship contenders in the premium S2000 four-wheel drive class after team-mates Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan and Leeroy Poulter and Elvene Coetzee ran into problems in their Castrol Team Toyota Auris rally cars.
De Villiers, in his first season with Toyota Motorsport and only his second in national championship rallying, and Snyders finished 1 min 45 sec behind winners Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta) and 26 seconds behind former national champions Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries (VW Polo).
Poulter and Coetzee were ninth and would have come close to winning the event for the second year in succession had they not run into mechanical problems on the first stage on Saturday. A front suspension bolt broke, losing them 45 seconds on the stage to winners Cronje and Houghton. They were forced to complete the next two stages with a temporary roadside repair before they were able to have their service crew attend to the problem.
They went on to dominate the remainder of the rally, winning four of Saturday’s eight stages and two more on Sunday. The 5 min 39 sec gap between them and the winners at the finish almost equalled the 5 min 20 sec penalty for lateness that resulted from their suspension problem.
Gemmell and Swan saw their chances of a first national championship take a blow when they were forced out of the event on Sunday morning three stages from the finish. They had led the championship from Cronje and Houghton by five points going into the weekend’s event after their victory in the Toyota Cape Dealer Rally last month.
While Cronje and Houghton led in Limpopo after Saturday’s eight special stages, Gemmell and Swan struggled to find their usual pace and could only manage fifth place at the overnight stop in Polokwane.
The Toyota Motorsport team changed the diff of the Auris and Gemmell showed improved pace in the first two stages on Sunday. When the Toyota’s engine temperature climbed dangerously, Gemmell called it a day to preserve the engine.
Their championship hopes are, however, still very much alive, although the task has become more difficult. With their scoring no points to their rivals’ full-house 25, Gemmell and Swan are now 20 points behind with one round remaining and a maximum of 25 points on offer. Complicating matters is the national championship rally requirement that competitors drop their worst score of the year. If this were to be done now, Gemmell would drop this weekend’s zero score and would reduce the gap to Cronje (whose worst score is 10) to just 10 points.
All this means that the outcome of the championship will definitely go down to the wire at the Garden Route Rally in the Western Cape on November 2 and 3.
Toyota privateers Mohammed Moosa/Andre Vermeulen and Jean-Pierre Damseaux/Grant Martin finished a respectable fifth and sixth respectively in their Team Total Auris four-wheel drive rally cars and contributed handsomely to Toyota’s manufacturers’ championship points tally. Toyota, in a tense battle with Ford for the title, won the manufacturers’ team award for the event and ensured that the duel would go to the final rally of the year.
STORY BY TOYOTA