VW the hot spring in Bela Bela
THE final round of the SA National Rally Championship delivered on all the excitement that we have come to expect from a season which consisted of top-class rallying and, for the most part, tightly-fought battles.
Newly-crowned champions Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee (Castrol Team Toyota Yaris) retired on stage seven of the 10-stage Bela Bela Rally with engine problems last weekend, while enjoying a comfortable 17-second lead over Hans Weijs Jnr and Bjorn Degandt (VW Sasolracing Polo).
The visiting Dutch/Belgian duo went on to give VW its first national championship win of the year (and its first since the same crew won the season-ending Garden Route Rally in November 2012). A faultless run saw the Europeans occupy second place throughout the two-day event, making the most of Poulter's misfortune.
Second, 22.5 seconds in arrears after 176km of gravel special stage racing were outgoing champions Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Dealer Team Fiesta), who overcame a puncture on Saturday's stage eight where they lost 20 seconds to finish behind the winning VW. Third was the second Castrol Team Toyota Yaris of Hergen Fekken and Carolyn Swan, who won three of Saturday's six stages and were 36.5 seconds behind the winner at the finish in Bela-Bela.
Among the notable casualties (in addition to Poulter) were Giniel de Villiers and Greg Godrich (Imperial Toyota Yaris), who suffered a broken gearlever between stages six and seven on Saturday. Namibian Thilo Himmel and South African co-driver Armand du Toit were also forced to retire their VW Polo with a broken propshaft on stage eight.
Paulus Franken and Henry Kohne (Manitou Group VW Polo) scored their first win of the season in the two-wheel drive S1600 class after two successive runner-up finishes in the last two rounds. Second in this class were Ernie van der Walt and new co-driver Rowan Robbertse (Ferodo Ford Fiesta), 27.6sec behind the winners and 2.4 sec ahead of third-placed Andrew Heine and Robbie Coetzee (VW Polo).
Newly-crowned champions Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle (Yato Tools Toyota Etios R2) were classified sixth under Super Rally rules after a leaking fuel tank on Friday forced them out of that day's proceedings. They won four of the six stages on Saturday.
Hans Weijs Jnr and Bjorn Degandt ruled the roost at the Bela Bela rally.