JOHANNESBURG — The inaugural MTN Polokwane Rally takes place in Limpopo Province this weekend and brings down the curtain on one of the closest-fought South African rally championships in many years.
After seven rounds four drivers and three co-drivers, all competing in the top Super 2000 class for four-wheel drive two-litre cars, have a mathematical chance of winning their respective championships.
With a maximum of 25 points at stake for a win and competitors having to drop their worst score of the season, there are several permutations for the final outcome.
Zimbabwe’s Conrad Rautenbach (Green Fuel Ford Fiesta) leads the drivers’ championship with a total of 125 points from the seven events run so far, without deducting his worst score and enjoys a nine-point lead over Mark Cronje (Sasol Ford Fiesta) and defending champion Enzo Kuun (BP Volkswagen Polo). Johnny Gemmell (Castrol Toyota Auris) is fourth, 23 points behind Rautenbach.
Both Rautenbach and Cronje have won three events, while Kuun with one second and three third places and Gemmell with three seconds and a third, and yet to win this year.
In the co-drivers’ championship, the situation is slightly different as Rautenbach’s French co-driver Nicolas Klinger is not eligible to score points because he doesn’t compete with a South African licence. Defending champion Guy Hodgson, who reads the route notes for Kuun, leads with 124 points from Cronje’s co-driver Robin Houghton (119 points) and Gemmell’s Scottish teammate Drew Sturrock (96 points).
All the championship contenders will be aiming for nothing less than maximum points this weekend and leaving nothing to chance. They will have to be on top of their game, because there are at least four other rivals capable of winning the final rally.
Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee (Castrol Toyota Auris) already have a win under their belts, in the Sasol Rally in April. Former champions and BP Volkswagen teammates Hergen Fekken/Pierre Arries and Jan Habig/Robert Paisley have not had the best of seasons and would like nothing better than to finish with a victory.
Charl Wilken and Greg Godrich (Basil Read/bizhub Ford Fiesta) have come close, finishing second twice, but two non-finishes have dashed their championship chances.
Others to watch in the strong 19-car S2000 entry are Nicholas Ryan/Armand du Toit (GrandMark International VW Polo), Jon Williams/Cobus Vrey (Sasol Ford Fiesta), Jean-Pierre Damseaux/Carolyn Swan (Total Toyota Auris), Mohammed Moosa/Grant Martin (Total Toyota Auris), Giniel de Villiers and Ralph Pitchford (BP VW Polo) and Hein Lategan/Johan van der Merwe (Pirtek Peugeot 207).