WHO WILL WIN AND WHO IS BEST?
This coming weekend Cape rally enthusiasts will enjoy the penultimate rally of the 2015 season and to make it more interesting this and the last rally of the year will decide the championship.
The two drivers competing for honours are Toyota’s Leeroy Poulter – pound for pound the hardest puncher on the rally scene and then Ford’s master blaster Mark Cronje.
I often have to answer or at least try to answer two questions at Clicnet.
The one is “who is the best driver in our country” and then “which car is the “fastest” Ford or Toyota. Typically when I dare answer they would ask – yes but what about Johnny Gemmell and Volkswagen?
It is no use to reply that it is unfair to ask me such a question as I have written about the drivers a few times on the website, which naturally made me unpopular with certain people depending in which camp they were in.
When we still enjoyed attending rallies my wife always said that everyone always greeted her friendly and came over to have a chat, but when they ignored her flat, she knew that whatever I said must have peed everyone off.
The one time that still stands out for me, however was when I wrote something about a certain driver and got a call from his sister!
She started off by calling me a few names, many other people called me before (except only one guy ever called me a “papbroek”), but when I told her (the other sister) that I have been called all these names she switched to my family right through the family tree up to my grand – grand –grandma’s chickens whom (I think) she wished would lay air-filled eggs.
Then she told me that “anyway you can’t even write in proper English as you have no clue when to use “who” and when “whom”. The last part was then and is still today, the truth – whom gives a damn who is whom.
Seeing that my customers (whom and who believe I am good enough to train drivers) are now eighty percent from overseas or up in Africa – see if I care a shot who greets whom!
Which car is fastest or strongest you want to know?
Well to be honest the popular story has it that MSA gave Toyota permission to “increase valve size” and those who know say that was when the trouble for Ford started. I don’t know if this is true or not and I am not going to make a call to find out what the situation is as I may have to speak to people I simply do not feel like speaking to.
What I can tell you is that one day – suddenly while Toyota still saw their way open to spend a few Rand at Clicnet to test their cars – the Toyota suddenly was notably quicker. I swear you could actually see it with the naked eye and the stopwatch confirmed the sight.
Then followed a few incidents of unreliable engines and I knew that when they got reliability back – these cars were going to be quicker than the Ford.
I have heard the “valve” story from a few people and have a feeling that something somewhere is not what the FIA rules say it has to be – rather a little more to the MSA side.
Don’t get me wrong – I have always been in favour of making things faster for less money or to develop our own SA formula. The question here is what happens when Ford “needs” help?
So far this year in SA the M-Sport Ford was not the car to be in when it comes to power and especially torque. The sandy stuff seemed to kill its chances against the Toyota.
The Ford’s suspension is without doubt still superior and as far as an engine goes I have an idea that Ford, Cronje and friends will not sit back and see the championship go away if there is anything they can do about it.
On paper looking only at the cars – my money for the Cape Rally will move over to the Ford side.
Let us for this time skip selecting the better driver – I have enough problems as it is.
This year the competition between the combinations of car and team became so fierce, obviously leaning in Poulter’s favour, that the well-known and established combination of Cronje and Houghton took one hell of a bold step after realising that this was not going to be a straightforward “try harder” effort to get on top of the Toyota. They needed about half second – even less per kilometre and they were not getting that consistently.
In Bela-Bela everyone thought that it was the thicker sand that gave Toyota the edge, then in Port Elizabeth that was proven wrong and on the Cullinan rally things simply did not work out for Ford as Cronje was expected to drive beyond the Pearly Gates and stay there to beat the conquering Toyota/Poulter combination. Unfortunately he came out of there when the gates we closed.
Applying talent and experience would not be good enough. Cronje needed more power and take some other measures as well.
The mutual decision was that the combined weight of Cronje and Houghton compared with the Poulter/Coetzee lightweights in the Toyota was a definite factor if not handicap to the Ford.
They needed to fit a lighter person into Hougton’s seat as Cronje was slightly more essential inside the car – and that was that!
Gerhard Snyman who is quite a few kilo’s lighter than Robin would take his place.
To me – it was a bit of a shock as I do believe that one should not fiddle with combinations that work or scratch where it is not itching. This was more because of the late stage of the year rather than not agreeing that Robin was a heavy person to use as navigator.
I never doubted Houghton’s ability as a navigator (I believe that he was one of the most professional I have seen in action) and to say that I saw Gerhard growing up will not be a lie. His father and I were long-time friends and I met Gerhard the day he and his mother came out of the maternity ward.
My concern was not if Gerhard would cope as navigator, I have never doubted that, but would he manage flawlessly under this severe pressure?
A championship hanging in the balance without one single rally in hand where a mistake or two could be afforded, while the team got used to each other.
Snyman will have to come up with the goodies and come up at exactly the right moment every time and if so, then we will see a serious fight for the last two rallies in this tight competition.
A weight difference of 5kg and more is a difference that affects the driving characteristics of cars – ask me I can tell you all about it. When I get into a rally car with a driver not used to handling a rally car with an overweight navigator next to him, I have to warn them to turn in a bit sooner into right or left hand corners, depending on which side I have to sit. The suspension needs two more clicks to handle the bumps and so on.
When I take a fatty for a spin – the two of us normally cause the shocks to be serviced immediately afterwards.
So, with Gerhard’s good reputation for not making mistakes, a better performing car and less weight on the suspension where it counts – without any doubt favours the Ford.
This however makes no difference to the fact that there will be a new leader after this rally as both Leeroy and Mark starts off with 72 points each counting the one rally they have to drop.
If Leeroy manages to beat the Ford and team-mate Giniel can keep the Ford at bay as well – then the race will well and truly be on for the last event which will happen in the “exciting” Polokwane area – perfect for all rally drivers relying only top speed only. The Cape however is a better rally to go away from as the leader.
I have a feeling that in a straight fight Cronje will take this event – maybe even because Toyota decides to stay right where they are – and wait for the mentioned last rally up there between here and nowhere where thousands of spectators give it a miss.
They may even on the Cape event decide to throw Giniel into the cage and ask him to drive the rally of his life and beat the Ford – but Giniel is my man in the desert and even with two recce runs I doubt what he drive anything he cannot see. That will always be the slight difference between him and constant overall winning stage rally times.
Problem for all the competition however is that de Villiers not unlike Johnny Gemmel can drive at any set tempo day in and day out and the Cape is after all Giniel’s home ground and if there is a rally that he could take, this would be it and it will not be his first ever win in this area. If Poulter however is in second – Giniel will be asked to step aside.
If Mark however leads, Enzo Kuun will do him one hell of a favour to beat Leeroy, but common sense rather than my favouritism for another young man I saw growing up through the ranks, says that if that happens it will come as a pleasant surprise. You simply do not get back into a car after a few months of inactivity and drive around Poulter or Cronje.
The current pace will surprise Enzo but he manages to dig up all his old talent and apply it productively, he will still not “be allowed” to finish ahead of Cronje and so spoil the latter’s chances of winning the championship. Cronje therefore has no choice but to beat Poulter anyway.
As far as Volkswagen’s attempt goes – and goodness knows what an “attempt” it turned out to be – I think it is a Humpty Dumpty story and all the rally gods together will not super glue Humpty together again – not this year anyway.
It is a great pity that during testing times for rallying in South Africa we do not have a proper three way contest and more characters who feature in the sport. That would have upped the interest tremendously – but then maybe some important people may wake up and see through the double dealing conflict of interest and many other factors currently making very sure that the only things growing is the wallets of certain people.
They are skimping on the wrong things but thank goodness I do not have to worry too much about that anymore – not that worrying over the past three or four years made any difference.
Money has won the battle against the sport in South Africa.
Gugu will probably again produce a steady run, Hergen will obviously do his level best to at least add a bit of shine to his unfairly waning reputation, while Lategan will probably win a stage, make a mistake in the next and then cock it up trying to beat all and sundry in the next. Fixed program – no changes. Please let me be wrong!
Vacy-Lyle however will be running a loan car after his magnificent or is it spectacular roll over a dangerous jump in Cullinan and that may just be what Paulus Franck needs to secure his second place on the championship log.
Franck’s progress has been steady rather than spectacular but it seems if he sticks to every level he progresses into. When he started off I was convinced that he would break many a car, but I will eat all the humble pie coming my way – he truly developed into a very reliable contestant.
One of the most talented drivers in the S1600 class Chad van Buurden will not be in the Cape after a horrible year in a very unreliable car.
I have to admit that the S1600 field looks more competitive on paper than the S2000 will ever again be and enthusiasts who know what is going on, may just have a great time watching some of the young talent in S1600 trying to make an impression – but problem is, who do you need to impress in South Africa to advance up the ladder, except if the father or bank manager are willing to pay a bit to arouse the interest?
My heart breaks every time I meet a youngster with plenty of talent and nothing to back it up with and I can only hope that my new company SponsorshipSeekers that should be running within the next month will be able to do something for them!
The sport in this country has to turn around to draw in some more talent and it will have to turn around dramatically.
After my visit to a National Rally in Zambia last week I saw the dream I had for South Africa in 2003 when I pleaded for a South African N4 class – a class that almost any enthusiastic rally driver could afford, come true.
No restrictors, no fancy computers, no launch control – nothing that would cost an arm and a leg and could buy a few seconds a kilometre.
Yes the Zambian cars have some fancy stuff on them, some are a bit dented – but so is every car on the road in that country – but they are all competitive and they truly draw bigger crowds into dusty areas than we draw into Nelspruit on our top rally.
Oh, but then instead of me being able to convince anyone – “we” invented the S2000 – the rally car of note – the answer to the problems of the sport! Now every multi-millionaire would be able to rally and phone home telling the waiting wife that he managed to finish 14th!
Oh I almost forgot – no worries as the cars would be handed down the line – more and more would become available – by 2015 we should have about 200 of them running – you all know the story.
You may just as well go and watch a proper Sandton Polo contest “I say old fart”, the only thing you may not find in excess is dust!
The N4 class – of which if I remember correctly there were about 15 or more when I competed in 2002 dropped to NIL.
Some of the most spectacular and testing rally cars – the A7 Toyotas and Volkswagens disappeared – and so did drivers like Jon Williams, JP Damseaux, Visser du Plessis, Enzo Kuun, Johnny Gemmel, on and off Hergen Fekken, Charl Wilken, Christoff Snyders – a driver with more potential than many put together, a youngster that I believe had a bright career ahead of him Leon Maree, Jacques Botha, the late Michael Houghton (although for different reasons), Stefan Wilken and so I can carry on – my apologies for not recalling all of you who bit the dust due to the incredible vision displayed by all involved.
The help from Toyota – a leader involved in the support for privateers in earlier years, disappeared when money became the major factor.
Volkswagen thank goodness are as far as I know still supporting some teams – and that is why after I beg for the daily bread, I put a word in for them to suddenly pop up literary from nowhere to make the bean counters enthusiastic again.
The rally gods seems to be too busy keeping the Subarus together up in Africa to worry too much about my genuine prayer.
Nissan – became totally worthless for the sport and even walked away officially from their incredibly successful Off-Road program. At least there they still have some excellent support.
Ford came in to support Mark Cronje – but respectfully also to an extent that could simply mean that they saw it as a necessary evil?
Subaru? Well what can I say – their sales grew from about 120 per month when I won the championship for them in 2002 to 101 during July this year.
No support no enthusiasm – great car? In this case the SA market – is simply too small to make an impression on the world market – especially now that the Subaru American market is growing well.
Still a field of 30 to 40 of them would have kept the brand growing better than what it is currently doing and their enthusiasm can still be summed up by their ex-CEO Terista van Gaalen saying after my championship win “Oh Leon we did not expect this to happen” Not congratulation – not the R5000 I should have got for the championship win!
The Subaru attitude can however not be placed at the door of rallying while the competitors in Subarus could simply not keep up in the same class as a purpose built S2000 car – not without spending some very serious grocery money or someone intelligent enough to allow us to simply remove the restrictor from the turbo.
Back to the future present…
There are 18 real National Championship entries left, with three NRC2 cars – driven by Theuns Joubert, Piet Bakkes and then Allan Martin – whom I know nothing about.
The rest of the rally field is made up of typical regional and classic rally cars with Etienne Malherbe having the best chance to get some reaction from the crowds.
The first two stages of the rally will be held at Killarney with the first run starting at 15h00 and the second at 16h20.
I think it is a great idea to start this popular event there although it is a pity that it will be at 15h00 on a Friday afternoon when many fans will still be at work.
Those who miss this incredible action will be able to watch a kilometre of Mickey Mouse driving at Cape Gate where the cars will have two chances to ruin their rims and suspensions against culverts – still the public loves it. I am sure spectator safety will be jacked up and all will be well.
On Saturday the real action starts when the first car will enter the Langgewens farm at 7h25.
This will be 26,29kms where the pattern will be set for the event. Cronje and Poulter will keep a very close eye on each other and there is no doubt that the winner here will have a slight psychological advantage – although tactics may just play a small part. Set a serious but no all-out pace and see what the opponent has to offer – then, as Ogier and Latvala did with poor Sebastien Loeb on the Monte Carlo Rally – give him a driving lesson in stage two. Problem is if both play that game!
Blomfontein follows at 8h07 – 21.96kms which makes the combined two stage distance a lengthy 48,25km before first service. No time or place for any loose nut or bolt – no place to damage the car in stage one and that age old rally problem remains – what happens if the opponent goes all out, caution to the South-Western winds and get away with a clean run?
Through two stages as fast as these two – the difference can be as high as 12 seconds – which in simple rally-English is a light-year!
At 9h48 the first car will kick up dust (maybe mud) leaving the start of Nuwedam to complete 13,03kms.
Kanonkop follows at 10h07 with 21,71kms to kill combined a slightly easier 34,74kms before the service.
At 11h49 the teams will start their second run over Langgewens (11h49) and Blomfontein (12h31)
After another service a repeat of the 13,03km Nuwedam takes place (14h12) while Kanonkop’s 21,71kms follow at 14h31.
Then my dear fellow rally fans – we will probably have the decider over the 26,29kms of Langgewens for the third time on this rally.
Three runs over the same stage has seldom if ever been a good idea as any sections that is rocky or starts to break up – becomes a serious handicap to one and all. This stage is, if I remember correctly, is quite firm right through and there should not really be a problem. On the other hand real experts are now organising the event so the fate of all lies in their over capable hands.
Wish I could be there – so for those of you who attend this rally I have always loved – enjoy and avoid the knits (muggies) and a certain fluorescent orange T-shirt.
Goodness knows this is going to be spectacular up top – if those who has to, stay in the running.
All the best to all of you!