The success of local drivers during the 50th Toyota Zimbabwe Challenge Rally further underlined Zimbabwe’s growing status as a rising force on the continent in motor rally.
Local drivers occupied the top two places on the podium with the husband and wife team of Jess and Sasha Watson (Mitsubishi Evo 10) winning the race ahead of compatriots Craig Green and Mike Exton (Mitsubishi Evo 8).
The win steered the Watsons to the top of the FIA African Rally Championship drivers and co-drivers’ championship standings on 25 points apiece after the opening leg of the eight-legged series.
Green and Exton, who finished second, occupy the same position on the championship standings on 18 points ahead of Zambian Mohammed Essa and his Zimbabwean navigator Greg Stead who are in third place on 15 points.
The last three editions of the African Rally Championship have been won by local drivers.
Veteran driver Jamie Whyte won the African title for two years in a row during the 2009 and 2010 seasons before Conrad Rautenbach won it last year.
Now with just one race into the season, Zimbabweans dominate the first two places and chances of one of them winning it remain very high.
Temba Mazvimbakupa, the Zimbabwe Motorsport Federation media and public relations officer, told NewsDay Sport that the recent performances had proved that Zimbabwe was now a force to reckon with on the continent.
“The fact that we had two drivers on the podium shows that we are now a powerhouse in motor rallying on the continent. Our drivers and co-drivers have consistently done well over the last three years and chances are very high we will produce another African champion again this year.
“While we have been doing well, the future also looks very bright as we have some promising youngsters who are coming through the ranks such as Tyrone Carr, who finished fifth, and Rowan Whyte and Craig Archenoul,” said Mazvimbakupa.
A total of 15 cars entered the 2012 Toyota Zimbabwe Challenge Rally which was flagged off on Friday, but only seven lasted the distance after three days of non-stop action at various stages at Donnybrook, Ruwa Country Club and Norton Country Club over the three days.
Local drivers will be hoping to continue their impressive start to the season when they take part in the second leg of the FIA African Rally Championship during the Sasol Rally in Nelspruit, South Africa, from April 19-21.