Du Toit's a Friday hat trick, Gazoo Toyota 1-2 Saturday

While JJ Potgieter and Tommy du Toit stamped their authority on the 2023 SA National Rally Championship by picking up the Friday win in the unforgiving Algoa Rally’s Longmore Forest stages in the Eastern Cape at the weekend, it was Toyota Gazoo Racing ‘s young lions who emerged victorious with a Saturday 1-2.

Friday: Potgieter & du Toit’s Hat Trick

Top class rookie Jono van Wyk and navigator Nico Swartz laid down a marker for what looked set to be a very closely fought battle win when they powered their Toyota Gazoo Racing Starlet the to victory in Friday’s opening Special Stage. At 1 minute 32.3 seconds, chief rivals and championship leaders JJ Potgieter and Tommy du Toit’s Hyundai R4 was a mere 0.2 seconds behind them.

Theuns Joubert and Schalk van Heerden’s Salom Toyota Auris set the third quickest time ahead of local duo Nick Davidson and Ashley Bezuidenhout in Toyota Auris S2000, and national pair Chris Coertse and Greg Godrich in their Rally Technik Mazda2.

The 21.45 kilometre second stage of the day gave Potgieter an opportunity to stretch the Hyundai’s legs as he stormed off into the distance to win by 18.6 seconds. Unfortunately, the effort of chasing him cost ‘Swazi Cowboy’ Jono the engine on his Toyota and forced his retirement for the day. An overheating engine also forced Davidson and Bezuidenhout’s retirement t on the same stage.

Chris Coertse was also getting into his stride and he was second quickest across the gravel stage, chased hard by Mandla Mdakane and Kes Naidoo in the second Toyota Gazoo Starlet, their car now seemingly free of the problems that it faced in Secunda’s season opener. Benjamin Habig and Barry White’s front drive NRC2 Just Tools Volkswagen Polo meanwhile mixed it up with their all-wheel drive NRC1 rivals in fifth.

Coertse and Godrich piled on the pressure to win MTO Sinkdam Stage 4 ahead of Potgieter and du Toit with Mdakane and Naidoo showing good pace to finish third ahead of Habig and White with another Regional Championship pairing, Owen Jones and Aden Bredenkamp’s Subaru Impreza claiming the fifth fastest time.

Stage 5, Culturama Twist, did just that. Run in the darkness, it saw Mdakane forced way down the field as the Toyota driver was obliged to run the stage without working spotlights on the Starlet. Up front, it was Potgieter and du Toit from Coertse and Godrich, Habig and White, and another skilful drive from Jones and Bredenkamp to secure fourth ahead of Joubert and van Heerden.

Potgieter and du Toit then closed their day as final 1.7 kilometre Mentor’s Sprint stage and rally winners to complete a hat trick of the first three rounds of the 2023 South African Rally Championship on stage saw. It was a most welcome result for JJ Potgieter, who also finally broke his duck of never having finished the Algoa Rally on several previous attempts.

Second overall and in NRC1 Coertse and Godrich held Mdakane and Naidoo and Joubert and van Heerden at bay, while Habig and White took the NRC 2 win from Gerald Klopper and Johan Aucamp’s Toyota Etios R2, and Gustav Poetgieter and Tommy Coetzee’s Ford Fiesta R2.

Saturday: A welcome Toyota Gazoo Starlet 1- 2

The 2023 National Rally Championship format sees two separate rallies run over two days, each using variations of the same special stages. Which means anyone with a repairable problem from Friday, can start afresh on Saturday. And that’s exactly what Jono van Wyk and Nico Swartz did in their Toyota Gazoo Starlet.

They NRC1 rookies once again blitzed through the opening stage of the day, albeit a mere 0.1 seconds ahead of JJ Potgieter and Tommy du Toit in the Hyundai. Gazoo Starlet teammates Mandla Mdakane and Kes Naidoo enjoyed a stormer of a run to finish third ahead of the Owen Jones and Aden Bredekamp Subaru. The opening stage claimed a victim as Johan and Juane Viljoen’s VW Polo suffered a broken CV joint.

Van Wyk carried the momentum into the second stage of the day, emerging victorious by a massive 54 seconds over Mdakane, with Potgieter a further second behind. They ended ahead of Habig and White still mixing it with the NRC1 cars and leading NRC2. The Coertse and Godrich Mazda had picked up a misfire in Stage 1, which continued as they slumped to ninth, but still better off than Joubert and van Heerden, whose Toyota succumbed to fuel pressure issues, while Davidson and Bezuidenhout exited with gearbox issues.

JJ Potgieter got the next stage of the day absolutely right to beat van Wyk by two minutes, while Coertse came back to finish a strong third with his misfire sorted, ahead of Mdakane, Jones and Habig. Van Wyk held the overall lead but Potgieter had cut that to just 53 seconds with three stages still to run.

Van Wyk however enjoyed another brilliant run over the penultimate Sinkdam stage to extend his overall lead over a minute over Potgieter with Mdakane third place a further 15 seconds adrift with all still to play for. Habig remained relentless in NRC 2 and notched up yet another stage win in the class ahead of Gustav Potgieter and Tommy Coetzee and George Smalberger and Robbie Coetzee, and Magriet Potgieter and Ingrid Jeacocks in a Ford Fiesta 1600.

Van Wyk held Potgieter off again in stage 4, but the repeat of the Culturama stage 5 as the penultimate of the day, proved dramatic. Jono van Wyk stormed to another stage win from Mdkane and Naidoo, and Coertse and Godrich as JJ Potgieter limped home three minutes off the pace and behind Habig, who was also nursing a damaged differential.

Identical final stage times for van Wyk and Potgieter with Mdkane in chase closed a fine rally off for Toyota Gazoo Racing, as Jono van Wyk and Nico Swartz led a memorable 1-2 over teammates Mdakane and Naidoo. Chris Coertse and Greg Godrich held on to third in the Mazda from NRC2 winners Habig and White, while championship leaders Potgieter and du Toit survived to pick up valuable points in fifth.

Gustav Potgieter and Tommy Coetzee ended sixth and second in NRC2 in their Ford Fiesta from regional winners Jody Van Zimmern and James Johnson’s amazing Datsun Coupe, and third placed NRC2 crew George Smalberger Robbie Coetzee’s Shield VW Polo R2.

The 2023 South African Rally Championship now heads back north to the Mpumalanga Forests of Tzaneen on 25 and 26 August, the scene of championship leader JJ Potgieter’s dramatic and victorious arrival in NRC1 last year.