Richard Leeke and Henry Köhne, aka the ATS Motorsport Young Guns, head to the Volkswagen Rally brimming with confidence.
The event (now in its 35th year) gets underway from the impressive AutoPavillion museum at VW’s Uitenhage manufacturing plant on Friday, July 21, with the duo kicking off proceedings – they will be first down the start ramp.
While it has been a full two months since the previous round of the National Rally Championship, they’ve been busy boys in the interim. As well as testing commitments, they also compete in the Cross Country series and in fact took the runner-up spot in their class in the second leg of the Toyota 1 000 Desert Race at the end of June. For good measure, Kohne has also recently changed both his job and his career path!
“A recent test session with the Fiesta was extremely encouraging,” enthused Leeke. “We’ve made some significant changes to the rear suspension and the car is definitely quicker than before – and it was fast in Secunda two months ago! It is great that there is still development potential in the R2 Fiesta and I can’t wait to drive it in anger once again.”
Leeke/Köhne will have Toyota Etios crew and series leaders Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy Lyle in their sights on the Eastern Cape stages and are determined to finish ahead of them and close the points gap. It will also be their goal to stand on the top step of the podium – while they’ve had a brace of runner-up spots, they haven’t enjoyed the view from the top step yet.
At the moment they’re also joint second on the points log, with three of the seven rounds completed.
Friday comprises four stages: two gravel sections in Uitenhage followed by two on the tarmac at the Baywest Mall in Port Elizabeth, in each instance repeats of the same stage. The second tarmac run starts at 19h05 and will test crews’ mettle in the dark.
Saturday’s rallying comprises a further six stages and a highlight for competitors and spectators alike will be the Longmore forests, with repeats of certain stages, some of which run in the opposite direction. Total stage distance is about 150km with the final stage of the rally back at Baywest and starting at 15h20.
“When the dust has settled on the Volkswagen Rally the 2017 championship will be more than 50 percent done, and obviously we want a good result in the Eastern Cape so that we don’t have to play catch-up for the remainder of the season,” explained Köhne. “We’ve improved the car significantly and we’ve had plenty of race time together recently thanks to the Desert Race, so all things being equal, this should be a strong event for us!”