The opening round of the 2018 South African National Rally Championship (NRC) brought disappointment for defending champions Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle.
Image Supplied by Toyota South Africa
The Toyota Gazoo Racing SA crew, campaigning an updated version of the Class R2 Toyota Etios that brought them glory in 2017, were forced to retire on Stage 9 of the 2018 Trade Brands Tour Natal Rally.
"It was a bitterly disappointing start to the season for us," said Botterill after the event. "We had problems early on but sorted them out and were on course for a victory. But unfortunately, that's now how it worked out."
The Toyota Gazoo Racing SA crew struggled with a small gearbox issue in the first two stages of the event, which took place on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast. Their technical crew managed to install a new gearbox during the 30-minute service after Stage 2, and Botterill/Vacy-Lyle set about making up for lost time.
"We were nearly 16 seconds behind Richard Leeke after two stages, so we knew we had a lot of work to do," said Botterill. "Stage 6 saw us make up 12 seconds, and by Stage 7 we were in the lead of the rally."
Stage 8 saw the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA crew extend their lead to 15.3 seconds over the Ford Fiesta crew of Richard Leeke and Henry Köhne, but then disaster struck:
"The car just suddenly lost all drive to the wheels, and we were forced to retire. We're still not entirely sure of the cause, but we'll investigate thoroughly when we get back to the workshop."
The event was eventually won by Leeke/Köhne, with AC Potgieter/Nico Swartz (Volkswagen) in second place and Matthew Vacy-Lyle/Schalk van Heerden (Toyota) in third place.
Next up is Round 2 of the seven-round championship, the York Rally, which takes place in the area around Sabie on the weekend of 20-21 April, 2018.
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