Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan (Toyota Auris S2000) became the third different rally winner this year at the 30th running of the 2012 Volkswagen Rally in Port Elizabeth. The team recorded a hard fought victory in trying conditions and now move into the lead of the Drivers’ and Co-Drivers’ Championship title races.
Waterlogged, slushy and muddy gravel roads with limited traction were the order of the two days in the cold and misty mountains of the Longmore Forest. Several stages were cancelled due to flooded roads and no spectators were permitted at all into the forest on the second day by rally organisers due to the wet and dangerous conditions. Despite the inclement weather, there was a fairly low attrition rate for all the competitors with 34 of the original 42 starters reaching the final Parc Ferme.
The event’s 12 stages were reduced to nine overall and this made the fight for stage wins all the more vital. Gemmell / Swan led former champions Habig / Paisley (Ford Fiesta S2000) by five seconds after Friday’s four stages, this set up the prospect of a close-fought battle for the overall honours on Saturday. Gemmell / Swan won the opening stage six over a challenging 19 km in the Longmore Forest and opened up the lead to 27 seconds.
Although Habig / Paisley won the next three stages, Gemmell / Swan continued to control the race from the front, leading on the road throughout the day. Poulter / Coetzee (Toyota Auris S2000) were the first to come unstuck in Saturday morning’s loop of stages after going off the road and being ruled out of the event. This promoted Cronje / Houghton (Ford Fiesta S2000) to claim the final podium position. Gemmell / Swan finally finished the rally 12.5 seconds ahead of Habig / Paisley.
The Toyota pair of Gemmell / Swan move into the lead in the championship with four rounds remaining. They now enjoy a three-point lead over Cronje / Houghton (Ford Fiesta S2000). The next event will be the Rally South Africa on 16 – 18 August, a new event added to the calendar for 2012 based in and around Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.