The Trade Brands Tour Natal Rally was won by Richard Leeke in a Ford Fiesta R2N following a fast rally on all new terrain on the North Coast. The season opener was tough on competitors and a number of retirements saw a relatively depleted field make it to the finish.
The major retirement was that of defending 2017 SA Rally Champions Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle who lost drive in the Toyota Gazoo Toyota Etios whilst leading the rally by 16,7 seconds with two stages to go. Leeke had a number of off-road excursions whilst chasing a flying Botterill, but once the Etios retired, Leeke and Kohne could take it easier as they had a comfortable lead over AC Potgieter and Nico Swartz. Matthew Vacy-Lyle and Schalk van Heerden in the Yato Tools Toyota Etios finished 3rd.
Friday morning the Ballito Lifestyle Centre rooftop became a hive of activity as crews, sponsors and officials started the set up in the Dunlop Service Park. The first car was flagged off at 15h00 by the owner of Ballito Lifestyle Centre Mr Bruce Rencken, with the first special stage being run just 10 kms from Ballito where hundreds of spectators were waiting for the action.
Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle experienced gearbox problems halfway through the first special stage, and had to complete a second stage before returning to the Service Park for a gearbox replacement. Richard Leeke and A Potgieter were both very quick, and Leeke took an early lead. Crews headed back after service and refuel to stages 4 and 5 on the gravel before the big event of the evening in the Old Ballito village – the Whirlpool night stage.
There was an amazing carnival atmosphere with thousands of spectators lining the route. Although this was a short tar stage, it was tricky for the competitors and very entertaining for supporters. Overnight leader by 16 seconds was Richard Leeke and Henry Kohne.
The early morning restart took the rally further north to Doringkop and Blythedale, and Botterill was on the attack taking a massive 12 seconds off Leeke in stage 6 and then 7 seconds in stage 7 to take the lead of the event. The Etios crew lost a section of their exhaust pipe which was replaced at service. Stage 8 saw the SA Champions extend their lead to 15,6 seconds.
Lady Luck dealt a bitter blow as the Etios lost drive near the end of stage 9 forcing the duo to retire. Richard Leeke and Henry Kohne regained the lead, with a charging AC Potgieter and Nico Swartz close behind them. Further back for the third place overall, it was Matthew Vacy-Lyle in the Yato Tools Etios and Tjaart Conradie and female navigator Mari van der Walt swapping places every stage. Vacy-Lyle and Van Heerden won the 2nd last stage to take the final place on the podium.