The final round of the 2011 South African Rally Championship takes place in Limpopo Province on October 22 and 23 and Castrol Team Toyota’s Johnny Gemmell and Scottish co-driver Drew Sturrock are still in the running to win their first titles.
Leeroy Poulter and Elvene Coetzee, in the second of the Super 2000 class Toyota Auris four-wheel drive rally cars, will be backing up their Castrol Toyota team-mates and aiming to take as many points away from their rivals as they can.
After seven rounds in five provinces, one of the closest competitions in many years sees four drivers and three co-drivers mathematically in with a chance as the cream of the country’s gravel stage racers gather for the inaugural MTN Polokwane Rally.
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. All Gemmell knows, after finishing second in last year’s championship and being the runner-up in three of this year’s events, is that he has to win to stand any kind of a chance.
He is currently fourth in the drivers’ title chase, 23 points behind leader Mark Cronje (if their worst scores are deducted now). Sturrock is third in the co-drivers’ standings, 23 points behind leader Robin Houghton (taking deduction of the lowest scores into account).
“It’s a big ask,” admitted Gemmell, who won twice last year on his way to missing out on the title by just four points to Enzo Kuun. “Drew and I have had a good year together, but somehow our first win remains elusive. The Castrol Toyota team has been magnificent throughout the season and everyone has worked tirelessly to give us a great car. We owe it to them, if not ourselves, to win this last event of the year.”
Poulter and Coetzee are eighth and seventh respectively in their championships and no longer in contention, but have proved to be a potent combination in their first season together in the top class. They surprised their more experienced rivals by winning round two, the Sasol Rally in Mpumalanga, in April and have gone on to be regular stage and potential race winners.
Poulter, the reigning Super 1600 champion who stepped up to the premier class, is an experienced team player and knows that his job on the MTN Polokwane Rally is to help Gemmell and Sturrock win the championship.
Team principal Glyn Hall is under no illusions about the tough task that lies ahead. “We’ve done our best to prepare two cars capable of winning and we know both Johnny and Leeroy are capable of doing just that.
“I’d liked to have come into this final rally with a smaller gap to the leaders, but it’s not over until it’s over and we’ll all be pulling our weight until the end of the final stage on Sunday.”
The MTN Polokwane Rally starts and finishes on each of the two days at the Polokwane Police Club opposite the Peter Mokaba Stadium, which will also serve as rally headquarters. The first car will be flagged away at 07h00 on Saturday, October 22, and the day’s action will be over nine stages covering a total distance of 127 km. The first car is due to finish at around 18h00.
Sunday’s restart will be at 07h00 and the shorter final day will finish at around 11h00 after seven stages covering 77,30 km.