The first-ever Heidelberg Rally, held over the weekend, saw Toyota Gazoo SA Racing pair Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee clinch their fifth win of the year, making them practically uncatchable in the national rally championship.

The Heidelberg Rally was well-received by the fans, with a surprisingly large spectator turnout at every stage, with spectators lining the road as the compact event brought the best gravel racers to their town. Night rallying returned with three night stages on the schedule, although one was cancelled for safety reasons.

Leeroy Poulter and Elvene Coetzee extended their championship lead over the weekend. Picture: Waldo van der Waal / Toyota Gazoo Racing SA.

“The weekend was great but not without its challenges. There was a lot of dust and some big rocks just offline”, said Poulter of his first event in the area. “We encountered a spectator vehicle in stage 5, cattle and a pack of dogs on Saturday, all of which cost us time but the people are very friendly and we got big cheers wherever we went”.

The 2014 champions powered their factory Toyota Yaris S2000 to the fastest time on ten of the fourteen stages with Ernie van der Walt and Gerhard Snyman taking three stage wins in their ex-works Vecto Toyota Yaris S2000. Van Der Walt surprised all with his sheer pace and ran ahead of the former Dakar winner Giniel de Villiers, moving into 2nd as early as stage 3.

Van der Walt had a scant 2.5 seconds in hand over De Villiers after Friday’s five stages, leaving the throngs of spectators relishing a ‘hunt-and-hunted’ scenario, but it wasn’t to be. De Villiers, in the second Gazoo Racing Yaris S2000 retired after Saturday’s first stage with a double puncture.

Theuns Joubert and his 18-year-old co-driver Mari Van Der Walt ran a strong event in their Salom Group Toyota Auris NRC4, consistently running in the top group and ultimately earning their maiden overall podium.

Maiden S1600 victory for Leeke

There were huge celebrations in the S1600 class when 20-year-old Richard Leeke and Henry Kohne claimed their maiden victory. The P1 Nutrition/ATS Ford Fiesta R2 crew took the lead on day one with perennial winners Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy Lyle (Yato Tools Toyota Etios R2) lurking 5.5 seconds behind after Friday’s action.

Botterill chased Leeke hard and caught the Ford pair, 0.3 seconds to the good after 12 stages. With 20km and two stages remaining, Leeke threw caution to the wind, while simultaneously Botterill was hampered with a misfire, leaving Leeke with a handy 14.2 second cushion.

The next round of the SA Rally Championship is the Toyota Cape Dealer Rally in the Western Cape on 16 and 17 September.