In a titanic battle that stretched across all 14 special stages and thrilled thousands of rally fans who packed the spectator points along the 600-kilometre route, the final outcome of the 2012 Sasol Rally in Mpumalanga on Friday and Saturday went to the wire.
Just as they had done in the opening round in the Total Rally in KwaZulu-Natal in March, Castrol Team Toyota's Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan (class S2000 Toyota Auris) and Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (class S2000 Ford Fiesta) slugged it out over the 200 kilometres of high speed forest roads in the Sabie, Graskop and Hendriksdal areas of the Mpumalanga Lowveld.
The Castrol Toyota pair again had to concede victory to their arch rivals for the championship and brought their four-wheel drive rally Auris across the finish line at the Lowveld Showgrounds in Nelspruit on Saturday afternoon just 3,1 seconds behind Cronje and Houghton.
It was a contest of epic proportions, with the two current giants of SA rallying leading the way on almost every stage right from the start in Sabie on Friday morning. Each won two of Friday's six stages and featured in the top three on all the gravel forest stages. Despite a slow puncture towards the end of the 24-kilometre second stage, which lost them around eight seconds and a chance for a stage victory, Gemmell and Swan led at the end of the day by 14,3 seconds from Cronje and Houghton, with Dutch driver Hans Weijs Jnr and Belgian co-driver Bjorn Degandt (class S2000 Volkswagen Polo) third, 37,2 seconds in arrears.
Gemmell and Swan won the opening tarmac super special stage in Nelspruit early on Saturday morning with Cronje a close third to set the tone for the final day. The Castrol Toyota pair led by 14,5 seconds. A flat right wheel on stage nine, the first of Saturday's high-speed gravel stages in the York Timbers forests and the longest of the day, allowed Cronje and Houghton to claw back 9,4 seconds and reduce the gap to 4,1 seconds.
Cronje and Houghton piled on the pressure and wins in stages nine to 11 brought them to within eight tenths of a second of Gemmell and Swan's lead. The Castrol Toyota pair responded magnificently to win stage 12 and increase their advantage to a precious 3,4 seconds, and then it all came down to the penultimate stage, which preceded a 500-metre ceremonial finishing stage inside the Lowveld Showgrounds arena.
Despite their best efforts, Gemmell and Swan had to concede 6,2 seconds to Cronje and Houghton to face the final, 500-metre ceremonial finishing stage inside the Lowveld Showgrounds arena.
It was a stirring battle between two of the giants of South African rallying that will be remembered for a long time by the thousands of fans who always make the Sasol Rally one of the most popular in the championship.
Almost lost in the excitement surrounding the fight for overall honours was another fine performance from Leeroy Poulter and Elvene Coetzee in the second Castrol Team Toyota Auris. After the disappointment of their shocking experience in the Total Rally, when their car burnt to a shell after catching fire just four kilometres into the first stage, they were out in a newly built car and were looking for a repeat performance of their winning drive in the 2011 Sasol Rally.
A puncture on stage three in Mpumalanga on Friday dropped them from fifth to 25th and they began a long, hard slog back up the leader board. They were 11th and 4 min 29 sec behind their team-mates at the end of the first day. They won the second stage on Saturday's a 1,6-kilometre dash around Nelspruit's impressive Mbombela Stadium, but dropped further back on stage 11 when they suffered another puncture.
They came back strongly on stage 12 to finish third fastest behind Gemmell/Swan and Cronje/Houghton, but the deficit was too much and they had to settle for a disappointed 11th overall, 8 min 37 sec behind the winners.
Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Grant Martin were the leading Toyota privateers, finishing 10th overall and 5 min 10 sec behind Cronje and Houghton in their Team Total Toyota Auris.
Toyota Acknowledges Its Sponsors and Specialist Official Supplier and Technical Partners
Toyota enjoys a mutually beneficial relationship with Castrol, Innovation Group, NGK, Imperial Toyota Group, SKF, Ferodo, Spanjaard, Edgecam and Donaldson.
Follow the fortunes of the Castrol Team Toyota rally team on Twitter, www.twitter.com/toyotalive.
|< Prev||Next >|