Zimbabwe: Conrad, Chase Slip Up in Polokwane

Published by the government of Zimbabwe

Collin Matiza

24 October 2011

Polokwane — THE gods of motor rallying cruelly turned their backs on Zimbabwe’s champion driver Conrad Rautenbach who failed in his brave attempt to lift the 2011 South African Rally Championship title at the two-day MTN Polokwane Rally which ended here yesterday morning.

The Polokwane Rally was the last of the eight-event 2011 South African Rally Championship series.

Rautenbach, in a Green Fuel ethanol-powered Ford Fiesta S2000, came into this event enjoying a nine-point lead at the top of championship leaderboard and he needed nothing short of victory in the Polokwane Rally to snatch the overall title ahead of his closest title rivals - South Africans Mark Cronje, defending champion Enzo Kuun and Johnny Gemmel.

His task looked easier after Kuun retired from the race on Day One on Saturday due to mechanical problems.

And this left it a three-horse race for the title between Rautenbach, Cronje and Gemmel.

But Rautenbach saw his dreams of being crowned as the overall 2011 South African Rally Championship champion going up in smoke when he was forced to settle for fourth place at the end of the Polokwane Rally at the Peter Mokaba Stadium here yesterday.

First place went to South Africa’s Leeroy Poulter in a Toyota Auris with his fellow countryman Hergen Fekken (VW Polo) coming second ahead of Cronje.

Poulter and Fekken were not in contention for the overall South African Rally Championship title.

Rautenbach just needed a win or, in the worst case scenario, he had to finish second and Cronje settling for at least fourth place in the Polokwane Rally inorder for him (Rautenbach) to be crowned the overall 2011 South African Rally champion.

But that was not to be as Rautenbach came short in this rally, coming home in fourth place behind Cronje, who walked away with the 2011 South African Rally Championship title.

Rautenbach, who had his father, the legendary Zimbabwean motor rallying driver Billy, following the proceedings of the two-day event from his helicopter that he brought here all the way from Zimbabwe, lost the title despite winning most of the stages - five - during the 16-stage Polokwane Rally on Saturday and yesterday.

On Saturday, Conrad won two stages before claiming another three yesterday - stages 10, 14 and 15 - but that was not good enough to win him the Polokwane Rally.

Conrad first went “through hell” on Day One of the rally on Saturday when he had a puncture on stage two and had to drive 15km on a flat tyre and this cost him about 25 seconds in the process.

And that’s where Conrad, who was first on the road on Saturday, thinks he lost the title to Cronje.

“We were first on the road on Saturday and unfortunately we had a puncture on stage two and it didn’t help us at all,” a visibly disappointed Rautenbach said at the end of the rally yesterday.

After Saturday’s early setback, Rautenbach came out firing from all fronts yesterday, driving like a demon in the morning but the times he lost during the previous day’s action were just too much for him to cover up the gap between himself and Cronje.

And at the end of the day yesterday, Rautenbach had to settle for second-best in the battle for the 2011 South African Rally Championship Drivers’ crown.

“I need (to take) a holiday first before deciding on what to do next year because I’ve had a very long year,” Conrad said.

Conrad was not the only Zimbabwean who was left distraught by the events of the day yesterday as his fellow countryman Chase Attwell failed to last the distance, going out of the race with two only stages to go.

Attwell, in a Toyota Auris, had done well to survive until stage 14 yesterday when he blew up his engine nine kilometres into this stage.

In fact, Attwell’s engine first blew up and caught fire, and he and his co-driver Miles Skinner tried to extinguish it without much success before South Africans Sebastiaan Klaasen and Cindi Harding, who were in a Subaru Impreza and driving behind them, came to their rescue, helping them to put out the fire.

And this summed up a disappointing outing for the two young Zimbabwean drivers at the otherwise well organised Polokwane Rally.

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