With only three rounds remaining in the 2015 South African National Rally Championship, Castrol Team Toyota is under pressure to defend its 2014 Championship title. After five rounds of the eight-round championship, it may be Ford's Mark Cronje that top the standings, but with back-to-back victories on the two previous rounds, there can be no doubt that the momentum has swung in the direction of defending champion Leeroy Poulter, and this weekend's Imperial Toyota Tshwane Motor Rally will play a key role in the outcome of the season.
Poulter, together with navigator Elvéne Coetzee, have placed their Castrol Team Toyota Yaris S2000 on the podium in all but one of the year's events. The sole exception came on the Secunda Motor Rally, where the pair scored only seven points - allowing Cronje to steal a march in the championship race. However, after victories in Bela Bela and Port Elizabeth, they are now only nine points behind the leader.
"To make things even more interesting, the rules dictate that each crew has to drop the points from one event in the season," explains Team Principal Glyn Hall. "If you take that into account as things stand at present, the gap is really only four points."
For Poulter/Coetzee the pressure is now on to deliver yet another win - but in the unforgiving world of rallies, nothing is certain. Even so, Poulter is confident that their Castrol Team Toyota Yaris is performing better than ever: "The team has worked hard to hone the Toyota Yaris S2000 to a finely balanced machine."
Both Poulter and Cronje have won this event in the past, and the pace at the head of the field promises to be hot.
Behind the two championship contenders, Castrol Team Toyota's Giniel de Villiers, partnered with navigator Carolyn Swan, find themselves in a battle with Volkswagen's Gugu Zulu for third place in the championship. The Toyota pairing pipped Zulu to the post on the recent Volkswagen Rally, thus gaining a position and moving into third place in the season standings. However, the gap between them is only 2.5 points, so no quarter will be given by either crew, when the flag drops for the Imperial Toyota Tshwane Motor Rally this weekend.
In Class S1600, for front-wheel-drive vehicles with engines of 1,600 cc, Toyota Etios driver Matthew Vacy-Lyle finds himself in the lead of the championship. Together with navigator Schalk van Heerden, the Fragram supported crew have notched up a podium finish on each of the season's events so far, and while a victory still eludes them, they've done enough to top the standings.
Defending champions Guy Botteril and navigator Simon Vacy-Lyle (Yato Tools Toyota Etios) are currently in third place, just 1.5 points behind the second-placed crew of Paul Franken and Henry Kohne (Volkswagen). The S1600 championship is far from over, with the top five crews all within mathematical reach of the title.
The Tshwane Motor Rally gets under way with a ceremonial start at one of Pretoria's best-known landmarks, Fort Klapperkop, at noon on Friday. The event consists of ten stages, run in the area around the Gauteng towns of Cullinan and Bronkhorstspruit, with the action on Saturday starting at 09:00.
Toyota Motorsport South Africa Acknowledges Its Sponsors and Specialist Official Supplier and Technical Partners
Toyota enjoys a mutually beneficial relationship with Castrol, Toyota Financial Services, Innovation Group, Imperial Toyota Group, Bosch, Donaldson, Edgecam, Ferodo, Smith Manufacturing, NGK, SKF, Reiger and Spanjaard.
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