Johnny Gemmell wins rally of South Africa for Castrol Team Toyota
While the results will record this as the most exciting and closest finish in the history of rallying in South Africa – Gemmell’s winning margin was just seven tenths of a second at the end of the 180 kilometre long event – Castrol Team Toyota showed its form from just the second stage with Mark Cronje and Johnny Gemmell recording the two fastest times.
They carried this momentum through into the fearsome Jessievale stage, at 56 kilometres in length the longest stage in the Sasol South African Rally Championship. This third and final stage of the first day proved both the speed and durability of the Auris S2000 as leading competitors from other teams either crashed out or suffered terminal mechanical issues with Cronje recording the fastest time, Gemmell the second quickest time followed by Hein Lategan, also in an Auris.
Back in Ermelo for the overnight stop on Friday the results showed that it was advantage Auris going into the second day with the two Castrol Team Toyotas at the head of the field. Mark Cronje had a 30 second lead over Johnny Gemmell who in turn had a 35 second advantage over the Team Pirtek Auris of Hein Lategan. The Polo of Jan Habig, the only non-Toyota in the top six at this point, was a further 26 seconds back.
Day two was made up of eight medium length stages followed by two passes through a short Super Special stage in Ermelo. Mark Cronje’s day started badly with a heavy impact with an earth bank that led to his retirement. Gemmell then took up the challenge for Toyota winning three stages along the way. Lategan won a further two stages in his Pirtek Auris before being sidelined in a spectacular roll while running second overall. This left Gemmell with a seemingly “safe” lead of 18 seconds with just 7 kilometres of stages to run. In a dramatic finish Habig was able to claw back 17 of those seconds but still came up short of a win at the end of the event.
“The Auris was really up to the task this weekend” says Gemmell. “We had the speed and the durability to take on the field. It’s a pity that Mark fell out, he had the advantage going into the second day at the head of the field with no dust to worry about. On the mechanical side our run was flawless but we did have a few problems that cost us stage time.
“A wrong slot in the first stage cost us about 15 seconds and then we spent most of the 56 kilometre Jessievale stage in Hergen Fekken’s dust when he tried to complete the stage with damaged suspension ahead of us on the road. In the first stage on day 2 we came across cattle and had to virtually stop in the stage – that cost us more than 30 seconds – but after that we had a really good run. I can’t figure how Habig took so much time of us in the Super Special – I can only guess that he was very aggressive in cutting the turns on the stage, something that we just weren’t prepared to risk.”
“We went into the Rally of South Africa needing a good clean run for at least one of the cars and we got that for Johnny,” says Castrol Team Toyota team principal, Glyn Hall. “The Auris showed its form on what was a really tough event with both the works cars and the Pirtek car of Hein Lategan delivering reliable stage winning performance. Going into the second day an Auris 1,2,3 was a very real possibility but with competition this close and everyone trying so hard cars crashing out will always be a very real possibility.
“Johnny’s win is a superb boost for the team and our partners, Castrol, Imperial, and the Innovation Group. It opens up the championship completely with Johnny elevated from fifth to second place just four points off the lead halfway though the season. Mark is in a close battle for third and the Team Total RunXs of JP Damseaux and Fernando Rueda fifth and seventh respectively.”