Before even the thought of escape, being upside down in a rally car usually gives the driver a millisecond in which to reflect on what might have been.
So true for Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle, in their Class R2N Toyota Etios who rolled out of the Lake Umuzi Secunda Rally at the weekend.
The pair struggled with mechanical niggles on the opening day, but then fought back convincingly until a freak roll ended their charge on Stage 10 of the 12-stage event.
The Lake Umuzi Secunda Rally, was the penultimate round of the 2018 South African National Rally Championship. After a solid performance throughout the year, with the sole exception of a DNF at the opening round of the year, Botterill/Vacy-Lyle were hopeful to wrap up the championship in Secunda, leaving them with one round to spare.
“We’ve had a look at the maths,” said Guy Botterill prior to the race, “and it looks as if we only need to finish ahead of AC Potgieter to clinch the title.”
But it was not to be. The Toyota Gazoo Racing SA crew started their assault on the title on the back-foot, as their normally reliable Toyota Etios suffered a misfire early in the rally.
The team replaced as much of the electronics in the car as possible, in an attempt to sort out the gremlin in the engine.
“That effort put paid to the misfire,” explained Botterill after the event, “but then we picked up a problem with the gearbox. As a result we only had first and fourth gears for the afternoon, which saw us end the day with a deficit of 22 seconds to AC Potgieter.”
Potgieter (Volkswagen Polo) meanwhile, had to win the event in order to keep the championship alive, and the youngster from Secunda held nothing back. Even so, the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA crew fought back on the Saturday of the event.
“With the misfire sorted, and a new gearbox fitted in our Etios, we managed to claw back all the time we had lost on the opening day. But then it all went wrong on Stage 10,” said Botterill.
The pair entered Stage 10, a second run through the section known as Tjorrie, with a lead of 2.2 seconds over Potgieter. The Toyota Gazoo Racing SA crew approached a small bank on the inside of a corner on the same line they used during the previous run, but something went wrong.
“We’re not entirely sure what happened,” said Botterill afterwards. “We hit the bank in exactly the same spot as before, but this time it kicked the car up violently and we rolled over, ending our race. Maybe the angle was slightly different, but both Simon and I were caught out by how much the car reacted to the small bank.”
The crew emerged unscathed from the car, and even though they were forced to retire from the event, the damage to the Toyota Etios is reported to be largely cosmetic.
“This means we go to the final round of the season tied on points with AC Potgieter,” concluded Botterill. “It certainly isn’t ideal for us, but it does make the championship interesting. This time there’s no maths involved: Whoever wins the rally wins the championship.”
The final event of the year will be the Ermelo Rally, taking place in the Mpumalanga town of the same name. The dates for the event are 26 and 27 October, 2018, and the rally promises to deliver fireworks from both Potgieter and Botterill, as they duke it out for championship honours.
Images: Susan Vacy-Lyle