The second outing of 2011 for the South African BP Volkswagen rally team went even less to plan than the first, but, despite the punishing stages, the lime green liveried fleet of Polo Vivo S2000s lived to fight another day. The 20th Sasol Rally in Mpumalanga from 15-16 April really did punish the Volkswagen team, and it was one of the rare occasions when there were no Polos on the podium. Instead, the spoils went to Toyota teams Leeroy Poulter/Elvene Coetzee in first and Johnny Gemmell/Drew Sturrock in second, while Ford drivers Conrad Rautenbach/Nicolas Klinger came in third.
Polo pilots Jan Habig/Robert Paisley were favourites from the start, setting the pace with three consecutive stage wins, although a damaged brake pipe soon curtailed them. Mechanical work completed, they went on to finish just 0.4 seconds off the rally leaders at the end of day one. The second day brought more drama, with Habig’s biggest crash for 14 years. One of his Polo Vivo S2000’s rims was damaged on a yump on stage 12, and on landing, the car headed straight for the bushes, rolling end over end for over 240 metres. Injuries were thankfully light; Habig suffered bruising, while Paisley got away with a broken collarbone.
With Habig/Paisley out, the pressure was on for Hergen Fekken/Pierre Arries, who claimed seventh position overall at the rally’s end, but even that was hard won. The first day saw the duo in the top six drivers – and that was bettered on day two when the team were in the top four – but one stage after the Habig/Paisley crash, their Polo Vivo S2000 suffered a broken propshaft, leaving them more than four minutes behind the rally leaders. Climbing up the leaderboard from ninth, Fekken/Arries’ seventh position had the dubious honour of being the highest-placed BP Volkswagen rally car.
Similarly, defending 2010 champions Enzo Kuun/Guy Hodgson were just pleased to have crossed the line after a very gruelling two days. They first suffered a broken gearbox which saw them incur a time penalty due to an overrunning service stop for repair, and then a broken shock absorber on the next stage added to their woes. Day two then saw the replacement gearbox fail. Despite this, Kuun/Hodgson crossed the finish line in 12th place.
Newcomers Giniel de Villiers/Ralph Pitchford were in learning mode at the Sasol event, concentrating on the slippery and muddy handling environment they faced, rather than a victory. De Villiers has taken a cautious approach to his rally driving and is concerned more getting communication inside the car with co-driver Pitchford up to speed and working out the limits of his BP Volkswagen Polo Vivo S2000 before he really gets going. It showed, too, with de Villiers/Pitchford crossing the line 16th overall.
Gugu Zulu/Carl Peskin found the Sasol Rally to be one of their shortest yet. Things were running smoothly when they headed to stage one, but suddenly went wrong when they checked in at the time control and their two-wheel drive Polo Vivo began running rough. Shortly after pulling off the start line they ground to a halt, their event over for the weekend. For the development team of Megan Verlaque/Lirene du Plessis, the Sasol event was also on the short side. A crank sensor on their BP Volkswagen Polo S1400 malfunctioned and left them stranded in stage two, leaving them with no chance of finishing. The Rally of South Africa on 13-14 May in Mpumalanga is round 3 of the 2011 South African National Rally Championship.