Dust clouds, cheering fans and the treacherous gravel roads of KwaZulu-Natal’s central and south coast sugar cane fields characterised the 54th edition of the season-opening Total Rally. Contested by 32 crews in this the first round the 2012 South African Rally Championship, this event comprised of 16 stages over 196 km of timed rallying.
For this year the event organisers, the Natal Motorcycle and Car Club (NMCC) and Total South Africa, brought the sport to the people of Durban with a spectacular Super Special Stage run in the area around the Moses Mabhida Stadium. The Super Special Stages were run on Friday night and repeated on Saturday afternoon as the event’s grand finale in front of thousands of excited fans.
Amongst the top competitors were the three, brand new, BP Volkswagen Polo S2000 cars, which we were given a preview of at the launch of the Golf Cabriolet just one month ago. Despite being the first rally of the season with a new car, the new BP Volkswagen Polo S2000 posted competitive stage times – and claimed stage wins in the process.
“We are satisfied with the first rally performance,” says Mike Rowe who heads Volkswagen Motorsport in South Africa. “There is a long season ahead with many stages to go. We have found some things that need improvement and will be stronger in round two. The development cycle of the new BP Volkswagen Polo S2000 is on track and it won’t be long before we have the pace and finishing capability we are aiming for. The BP Volkswagen Polo S2000s are still very young and a great deal of the work that lies ahead involves understanding the car’s performance and how it responds to the adjustments we make,” says Rowe.
“The new BP Volkswagen Polo S2000 is competitive, right out of the starting gate,” says Rowe. “In itself that is a significant reward for all the effort that has gone into creating the BP Volkswagen Polo S2000. We have work to do for the next event and we will aim to advance even further by the time the second round of the championship arrives.”
Once all the dust had settled, the leaderboard was topped by the Ford Fiesta S2000 of Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton, followed by Johnny Gemmell/Carolyn Swan (Toyota Auris S2000) with Charl Wilken/Greg Godrich’s Ford Fiesta S2000 claiming the final position.
Electrical system problems forced Fekken and Arries into retirement, whilst their teammates Kuun and Hodgson and BP Volkswagen newcomers Hans Weijs Jnr and Björn Degandt continued the fight to finish in 5th and 6th respectively.
“The new BP Volkswagen Polo S2000 has great potential,” says Fekken. “We were in front at one stage before our problems surfaced so the potential is obvious. I can feel the new BP Volkswagen Polo S2000 is a stronger car, it pulls better and feels better. The potential is awesome.”
“We started the event with great expectations,” says Kuun. “There was great excitement on day one when the new BP Volkswagen Polo S2000 proved to be competitive. We were second overnight and I’m very excited about this new platform. We’re writing a new chapter of motorsport history with this new BP Volkswagen Polo S2000 built in Uitenhage. The car is built to the best standard in the country and this is a very good result for our first rally.”
The BP Volkswagen rally team will now focus on building upon the knowledge gleaned from the first event, as teams and competitors prepare for round two of the 2012 South African Rally Championship that takes place on the dirt roads and among the pine plantations of Sabie, Nelspruit and White River on 20th and 21st April.