10 June 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Habig and Pitchford finish a close second on the Rally of South Africa

The Rally of South Africa took its toll on the field of racers over the weekend of 29-30 May. Only 23 finishers crossed the line at Ermelo, with the BP Volkswagen Polo S2000 of Jan Habig and Ralph Pitchford in a hard fought second place, just 0.7 seconds behind the leaders Johnny Gemmell and Drew Sturrock and their Toyota Auris. A fantastic result considering that, at the end of the first day, the VW pair were over 1 minute and 48 seconds off the leaders and 79 seconds adrift of the eventual rally winners.

The second day proved more profitable, with the gap to the front of the pack narrowed to 46.8 seconds by the end of stage one. After six stages it was down to 38.0, and by stage eight had dropped further to 25 seconds. A further fall to 14.3 seconds had happened by the end of stage nine, while at the end of stage 10 it was up to 19.2 seconds, setting the scene for a nailbiting finish. No-one was quite sure who had actually claimed the rally victory until the cars pulled up at the podium. Analysing the list of fastest stage times, Habig and Pitchford claimed three stage wins.

A fearsomely tough rally for the bulk of teams, among the competitiors who did not finish was the BP Volkswagen Polo S2000 entry of Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries. The pair damaged a castor suspension arm in stage three of the event and, despite the best efforts at nursing the car back to the service park, the knock-on effect of the damage caused other mechanical problems, which brought them to a halt, dashing their Rally of South Africa hopes. In that same stage, misfortune also befell the 2010 championship leaders, Enzo Kuun and Guy Hodgson. They had been on form, but were robbed of posting any result by engine problems.

Kuun in particular thought the retirements were a bitter pill to swallow, commenting that the BP Volkswagen Polo S2000 engines had ‘proved themselves bulletproof’ season after season. Engine failures are an extreme rarity for the team – this was in fact the first in six years. With two BP Volkswagen Polo S2000s out of the running, it fell to Habig and Pitchford to fly the blue and green BP Ultimate colours to the finishing line. This was a tough task – made all the more difficult when, at the closing stage of day one, Habig slid into a bank.

The pair’s service crew went into overdrive replacing the necessary parts, including front and rear suspension, springs and a number of other damaged components – all in the 45-minute service time allowed to prepare the car for day two. Back on the road, Habig and Pitchford mounted perhaps the most spectacular comeback of the season to produce a finish that will go down in South African rally history as among the closest, if not the closest, split between the top two drivers. The Sasol South African Rally Championship takes a seven week break over the World Cup, resuming on 23-24 July with the Volkswagen Rally in the Eastern Cape.

[Images: QuickPic]

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