29 March 2011 ~ 0 Comments

BP Volkswagen Polo S2000 2-3-4 at
South African Total Tour Natal rally

It may not have gone quite to plan last weekend (25-26 March) for the BP Volkswagen rally team, just missing out on a first place at the opening round of the 2011 South African National Rally Championship, the Total Tour Natal Rally, but the team still claimed second, third and fourth places. Ultimate victory went to the Ford Fiesta team of Conrad Rautenbach and Nicolas Klinger. Jan Habig and Robert Paisley finished behind Rautenback and Klinger, while Enzo Kuun and Guy Hodgson crossed the line in third place, while Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries made up the top four. The blue-bonneted Polo S2000 of Giniel de Villiers and Ralph Pitchford crossed the finishing line in eighth position, making it a full-house end for the BP Volkswagen team.

Volkswagen also claimed the Manufacturer’s title at the event, with six Polo S2000s in the top 10 finishers. Then there were the privateer entries of Nicholas Ryan and co-driver Geoff Tyrer, and Japie van Niekerk and Dave Lewkowitz who rallied their cars to sixth and ninth overall respectively. ‘Getting all four of our cars to the finish was important,’ said Mike Barnard who manages the BP Volkswagen team. ‘Hard work and reliability have always been important and I’m glad to see it has remained the status quo into the new season.’ The Total Tour Natal was the first outing for the new BP Volkswagen Polo Vivo S2000 rally car. The BP Volkswagen Polo Vivo S1400 of Megan Verlaque and Lirene du Plessis also debuted as the young development team tackled their first rally together, producing a class-winning and impressive performance.

[Images: ledbitter@quickpic]

BP Volkswagen claims three of the top four positions at rally season opener
The BP Volkswagen team rallied hard this past weekend to claim a second, third and fourth place in the opening round of the South African National Rally Championship. Jan Habig and navigator Robert Paisley claimed second with Enzo Kuun and Guy Hodgson in third while Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries crossed the finish line for fourth.

Giniel de Villiers and Ralph Pitchford, the newest BP Volkswagen Polo Vivo S2000 entry, were the eighth car across the line at this punishing event. With De Villiers and Pitchford successfully completing their first national rally together it was a full-house finish for BP Volkswagen.

In addition to having three cars in the top five, Volkswagen also claimed the Manufacturer’s title at the event with six Polo rally cars in the top 10. In addition to the BP Volkswagen Polo Vivo cars were the privateer Polo entries of Nicholas Ryan and navigator Geoff Tyrer and Japie van Niekerk and navigator Dave Lewkowitz who rallied their cars to sixth and ninth overall respectively.

‘Getting all four of our cars to the finish was important,’ says Mike Barnard who manages the BP Volkswagen team. ‘Hard work and reliability have always been important and I’m glad to see it has remained the status quo into the new season.’ The Total Tour Natal was the first outing for the new BP Volkswagen Polo Vivo S2000 rally car – a real test for the new car.

‘A small group of people worked hard to make this car happen,’ says Barnard. ‘It has been a tough six weeks of weekends and late nights to get everything in place and ready for this event. All of that effort has paid off and the season is off to a good start.’

The potential of the new car was highlighted by Habig and Paisley who opened the taps on Saturday in a bid to claim the top podium step. The pair reeled in eventual rally winners, the Ford Fiesta of Conrad Rautenbach and Nicolas Klinger, by a second on stage nine, 5.2 seconds on stage 10 and an incredible 11.6 seconds on stage 12.

‘When your car works then you can really push hard out on the stages,’ says Habig. ‘To do that everything has to be working – and working well.’ Habig and Paisley were clearly pushing hard and their commitment showed – on the stages and also on the stage times. Where other competitors were hoping to make up a second or two on their rivals, this BP Volkswagen pair was gaining seconds by the handful.

A misfire late in the day worked against Habig and Paisley who had climbed from sixth place after day one to within grasp of the victory. With just one final spectator stage at the Arbour Crossing Mall to complete the pair did not have enough distance left to claim back the 8.2 seconds that was the gap to the eventual rally winners.

For third-placed Kuun and Hodgson the event was a solid performance and start to the season. A podium finish lays the groundwork for their efforts over the coming rounds.

‘I’m very happy with the result,’ says Kuun. ‘Our finish here is thanks to the reliability and consistency of our car. We lost power during the course of the second day, something we just couldn’t find to fix, but we’re staying positive and have been pushing hard.’

For Fekken and Arries the rally was a bit of a trial. Time was lost on the event and, with the pace maintained in the S2000 field it was not possible to claw back all of that time. ‘This event has been character building,’ says Fekken. ‘We had a good day on Friday and were second overall by the end of the day. Then, with a puncture on day two and the time lost after the tunnel we lost around two minutes in total on the event.’

Fekken and Arries hit the tunnel wall during one of the stages – something that many of the other teams did as well – but it cost them their power steering. This made the going difficult and slowed their pace.

De Villiers and Pitchford achieved their aim with the first event of the year and showed that there will soon be another strong BP Volkswagen Polo Vivo in the field to contend with. ‘Our main aim was to finish the event,’ says De Villiers. ‘Everything is new for us, but on a couple of stages we were not too far off the frontrunners so that is encouraging. I know exactly where I’m losing time so I’ll be working on that. I think it’ll take another two or three rallies to get into things properly.’

The BP Volkswagen team also had another strong debut at the Tour Natal, that of Megan Verlaque and Lirene du Plessis in their BP Volkswagen Polo Vivo S1400. This young development team tackled their first rally together over the weekend and produced a class-winning performance.

‘It’s been a frustrating weekend,’ says an eager Verlaque. ‘I know I can drive better but I must first get used to the car and navigator. I thought I’d know enough by the end of this first event by have realised I still have a long way to go.’

While Verlaque and Du Plessis might want to raise their pace and produce faster stage times, a class victory on debut while they are still working on becoming a team is result enough.

For Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin, together again in their BP Volkswagen Polo A7 entry the event looked to be a guaranteed result. By the end of the first day they were clear leaders in the class. Gearbox problems threatened their chances for the second day and rather than risk unnecessary damage to both the gearbox and engine the team retired to return stronger in the second round.

The BP Volkswagen team will be in action again at round two of the South African National Rally Championship on Friday and Saturday, April 15 and 16, a scant three weeks away.

[Source: Volkswagen South Africa]

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