The townsfolk of Secunda have rallied around to ensure the event remains a favourite on the SA Rally Championship calendar, contributing over R300 000 in cash and services towards the smooth running of the event. The farmland roads have all been graded to ensure smooth, wide stages and the competition will be down to the best driver combination, rather than who builds the strongest car.
While Botterill and Vacy Lyle enjoy a 14-point advantage, the battle for best-of-the-rest has become a three-way fight between Jono Van Wyk/Scott Howden (Swazi Cowboy Ford Fiesta R2), Secunda hero AC Potgieter (Lake Umuzi Volkswagen Polo R2) and Richard Leeke/Henry Kohne (ATS Ford Fiesta R2).
Swaziland-based Van Wyk has quietly amassed 18 points after scoring two consecutive third places but the Ford pair will feel the pressure from Leeke, who is just one point behind. Leeke ended runner-up in KwaZulu Natal but rolled on the York Rally last time out. In spite of the time lost, they finished in the points, grabbing five for their efforts.
All eyes will be on Potgieter and co-driver Nico Swartz and the added pressure usually sees the young local resident perform at his best, unlike his outing in Natal when he rolled heavily. He bounced back with a runner-up podium place last time out and will be aiming to at least equal that result. They are fifth in the standings as a result of the KZN non-finish.
Fourth on the points log is Chris Coertse and Greg Godrich, who will debut their long-awaited new R2 machine in Electrothread colours. The new car will be launched on the Thursday night in Secunda. If the preparation is done to the teams exacting standards, the new car could spring a surprise while welcoming a new manufacturer into the sport.
Returning to the sport after a break of several years is Tjaart Conradie, partnered by Carolyn Swan. The Silverton Engineering Toyota Etios pair finished their first rally together on the first round, but crashed out of the York Rally last month after a finding a stricken competitor in the road around a blind corner. Conradie is ultra consistent and much can be expected from him on the open grasslands of the Mpumalanga Highveld.
The ever enthusiastic George Smalberger/Chris Brand will pedal their Shield Car care Volkswagen Polo R2 with their usual verve as they attempt to lift themselves off the foot of the leaderboard.
A new class for 2017 is the Classic Car class, which has developed into a two-way Ford fight between Lee Rose/Elvéne Coetzee (Ford Escort Mk 2) and Roelof Coertse/Barry White in another impeccably prepared Mk 2 Escort. While Rose runs a 2 litre motor, Coertse has an 1800cc mill powering his car. They will be joined by several Northern Regions runners, including another Secunda resident, Natie Booysen (Ford Escort Mk 1) and Ashley/Les McKenzie (Ford Escort Mk 1). Nico Nienaber/Gert van Rensburg will bring their immaculate Toyota Corolla Mk 2 to challenge the Fords, just as they did in rallying’s halcyon days of the mid-1970s. To add to retro feel, the ever popular Etienne Malherbe will represent the coast with Matt Kohler reading the notes in the Datsun P710 SSS. They have shown good pace but still need to record a finish.
The Open class should see local farmer Kosie van der Merwe and co-driver Coen van Zyl (Subaru Impreza STi) challenge for the class win, while an interesting entry from Bethal locals, Luné/Edward Strydom (Toyota Tazz) should help keep the fans entertained. Keep an eye out for this daughter and father pairing.
The action gets underway at 15h30 on Friday from the Trichardt Volkswagen dealer, taking crews to three gravel stages before returning for service at Lake Umuzi where the cars will be fitted with high beam lights for the short tarmac stage at the Graceland Casino at 18h00 which will be run twice. The cars will return to Lake Umuzi for their overnight break. Spectators will be treated to live entertainment on Friday evening when the racing action is over.
Saturday kicks off with the hugely popular gravel superspecial stage just outside town at 08h45. Two cars run side-by-side over the three km long stage which features a cross-over bridge and is a firm favourite with fans.
The rally crews will head to Tjorrie’s Farm where the service area and rally action will be from 10 am until 1pm. It promises a family atmosphere with jumping castles to keep the kids entertained whilst there will be plenty of food and drinks available. The public is more than welcome to make a turn at the service area to meet and greet the rally crews.
Stage seven (repeated as stage nine) is 28.3km, the longest of the event. The stage finishes in a quarry with a watersplash while the site offers fans a sweeping view from the top of the quarry rim, creating an amphitheatre experience unique in the SA Rally Championship.
The final stage will on the banks of the beautiful Lake Umuzi at 15h00 in the centre of town and fans are invited to stay for the champagne ceremony and the after-party with live music provided by William Blackrose and Jan Rhaap.