Solid start to rally season for Toyota
Japie van Niekerk, New Africa Developments Auris S2000, added to Toyota’s success by coming home fifth overall and fourth amongst the S2000 cars.
A feature of the event was the reliability of the Toyota Auris and RunX S2000 cars which filled four of the top nine places in a fiercely competitive field. Lower down the field Toyota continued its winning form amongst the privateer entries with class wins for Chris de Wit and Riaan Erasmus in their A7 Automark sponsored RunX, with Tjaart Conradie and Tiaan Rabe winning class A6 in their Auris.
Craig Trott and Robbie Coetzee brought their RunX home second in the A6 class while young Ashley Haigh-Smith and Hilton Auffray finished second in class A5 in their Yaris Hatch.
“Going into the new season with an all new team structure was a pretty daunting prospect,” says Toyota Motorsport Team Principal, Glyn Hall. “We not only had to not introduce a totally new structure for the Toyota works motorsport team but also build two brand new Auris S2000 rally cars and rebuild a further three Auris S2000 customer cars in a little over seven weeks.
“The fact that all five of these cars made it to the start in Durban and ran competitively with superb reliability is a tribute to the massive effort put in by everyone in the team.”
It’s never easy to run first on the road in a rally and sweep the surface for the following competitors but this is what Mark Cronje and Robert Paisley had to do for the first four stages on Saturday, a legacy of a series of very quick stage times in the Auris in the latter part of 2009 that elevated them to the top of the drivers’ seeding list for the start of this year.
Mark’s Auris drew away from the Subaru in the latter stages of the event to finish 35 seconds ahead of Rautenbach, an established competitor in the World Rally Championship.
A feature of the second day was the battle that developed between second placed Enzo Kuun in his VW Polo and Cronje with these two competitors trading seconds over the final six stages as Cronje steadily eroded Kuun’s advantage down to 46 seconds by the end of the event. In the process both Cronje and Kuun reduced the lead of rally winner Hergen Fekken by more than 30 seconds.
“The team built a really good car for us for the new season and it ran faultlessly through the event,” says Cronje. “We had a moment in the first stage on Sunday that cost us time but then Enzo did the same thing in the next stage and that allowed Hergen to build a bit of gap on us.
“The S2000 class is just so competitive you have to be absolutely on it all the time. When you have cars recording times that vary by just a single second over 10 or more kilometres you are absolutely on the limit – probably over it for a lot of the time – and you will at some time get caught out like we were today.”
“Anyone that got away in the first two or three stages on day two would be very difficult to catch so I pushed really hard from the start and just clipped the inside of a corner that didn’t really allow for any cutting and the car was thrown over onto its side and out of the event.
“It was unfortunate. It was one of those really close calls that could equally have given us an advantage. Our new Auris was really good from the start and I felt we had a really good chance of setting the pace in the second part of the event if we started the day right on the pace.”
Japie van Niekerk and Robin Houghton put in a notable performance in the New Africa Developments Auris. While this car is prepared in the Toyota Motorsport facility it is essentially a private entry.
Their fifth place overall, and first of the privateers, came after a number of stage times that were right up with the works cars with Van Niekerk revelling in the improvement in performance offered by the Auris over the RunX he ran last year.
“This was the first event for Toyota Motorsport in a totally new environment,” says Hall. “The team worked really well together on the event and gave us a solid start to the season that we can build on and mount a challenge for the championship.”