Zimbabwe’s motor rallying hotshots Conrad Rautenbach and his co-driver Nicolas Klinger now lead the FIA African (ARC) and South African Rally Championships after finishing third at the Sasol Rally in Nelspruit, South Africa on Saturday.
Following the impressive finish over the weekend, The G-Fuel team now heads the ARC points standings with 50 points and the South African Rally Championship points table with 33 points, a lead of 17 and 11 points in the respective championships.
Rautenbach powered their G-Fuel Ford Fiesta S2000 to a third overall in the South African Championship and first in the African Rally Championship (ARC).
The Sasol Rally was the second round of both series after last month’s Total Tour Natal Rally in Durban and the Toyota Zimbabwe Challenge Rally, which were both won by Rautenbach and Klinger.
The Sasol Rally’s quick and tough stages in the forest areas around Sabie and Nelspruit, make it South Africa’s only true forest type rally and was expected to give foreign drivers tough time.
This did not deter Rautenbach and Klinger, who went on to easily win the ARC with a margin of 11½ minutes over local favourites Schalk Burger (Jr)/Armand du Toit in their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X.
Following their first place finish in Kwazulu-Natal at the Total Tour Natal Rally, Rautenbach and Klinger were first off the road and had to take a cautious approach during the opening day’s eight stages. Rautenbach found the going tough as he swept the forest roads clear of debris and took a cautious approach to the roads made treacherous by pre-rally rains.
Competing against the SA factory teams, Rautenbach needed to balance the sprint speed required against the top South African factory outfits like Toyota, Ford, Peugeot and the endurance of his African title rivals which was a tough and contradictory requirement.
However, the 2006 British Junior Rally Champion and World Rally Championship competitor, handled it quite well.
“I thought it would rain which would have neutralised the effect of running first on the road, but it didn’t.
“The roads were quite rough in places and I was conscious of damaging my car, which I would have to pay for, whereas the factory guys don’t. That’s the difficulty of a private competing against works teams,” said Rautenbach.
His co-driver, Klinger said: “During the race, we marked stage five as one with a lot of bumps and dips so we lost 40 seconds in that stage alone, and another 20 seconds when we repeated the stage. If you take that time loss alone, we would have been much closer to the leaders and fighting for victory.”
Rautenbach took on the might of Volkswagen and Toyota in stage 11 and emerged from the 17km run with his only scratch time of the rally, 2 seconds ahead of VW’s Jan Habig, at the time the overall leader, leaving the young Zimbabwean/French pairing with some satisfaction of a job well done.
The G-Fuel team will now shift their attention to the third round of the SA Rally Championship, Ermelo Rally penciled for the weekend of May 13-14 before the third round of the ARC in Zambia from May 20-22.