Richard Leeke has powered himself into the South African motorsport record books by becoming the youngest-ever driver to win a national championship rally overall.
Leeke, who turned 21 in April and his 29-year-old co-driver Henry Köhne (aka the ATS Motorsport Young Guns), drove their Ford Fiesta with distinction to claim victory in the VW Rally, which ended in Port Elizabeth on Saturday July 22. When silence had settled over the Longmore Forests and the points had been tallied, the pair were also the new overall leaders of the South African National Rally Championship.
The Eastern Cape event was the fourth round of the championship and the Young Guns fought a ding-dong battle with arch-rivals Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle. The tussle took them from the dust of Uitenhage to the tarmac of one of PE’s largest shopping malls and on to the famous forests on Longmore, considered some of the most challenging rally roads in the country.
The ATS Motorsport duo started relatively conservatively, keeping their S1600 class rivals within striking distance and ending the Friday just 14 seconds down on Botterill/Vacy-Lyle.
On Saturday the Young Guns turned up the heat and won three of the six stages, including a dominant performance on the 22.6 kilometer PPC Jelly. Botterill/Vacy-Lyle bounced back a stage later with a strong performance on Culturama but their championship defense came to an end on the very next stage (the second running of PPC Jelly) when their car started to overheat, forcing their retirement.
However, there was still a lot of play for and the VW Polo of AC Potgieter and Nico Swartz was still in the fray. But the Young Guns put the result beyond dispute by comfortably winning the penultimate timed section, to eventually end the event 34 seconds ahead of Potgieter/Swartz, with the Mazda2 of Chris Coertse and Greg Godrich completing the podium.
“We’re ecstatic – this is exactly the right result at the right time,” enthused Köhne. “It was a little intimidating being first on the road on Friday but we just kept our heads and took the view that Saturday was what mattered. It would’ve been easy to get over-excited and make a mistake…in rallying even small errors rapidly turn into big ones.”
Added Leeke: “Saturday’s stages were very fast in places and our Fiesta was handling brilliantly, with our recent suspension changes making it very stable at speed. We were able to keep the pressure on, and that’s what this is about: you have to not only push yourself to the limit but try force your rivals to go past theirs – both in terms of man and machine!
“For now Henry and I are really going to savor our first overall rally win together, but there is no time to be complacent and with three rounds to go there’s work to be done. Nevertheless, it is good to be leading the championship at this point, and we thank all the individuals and corporate partners who have made it possible to get into this position.”