The South African National Rally Championship (NRC) made a welcome return to Limpopo this past weekend. Scores of spectators line the R71 across the bridge to view the most popular of the stages on Saturday afternoon as the drivers sped through the Tzaneen CBD.

The NTT Tzaneen Rally hosted round 7 and 8 of the MRF Tyres NRC that tested the crews with some challenging gravel stages in the forests surrounding Tzaneen. The 7th round was on Friday the 13th of August and the next round was held the following day on the 14th of August.

The top tier class, NRC1, was hotly contested and some of the crews and their machinery found the forestry stages a bit too much of a challenge and had to throw in the towel.

Former champions Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle in their NRC1 Gazoo Racing Toyota Starlet had a trouble-free run-in Friday’s Round 7 to win from NRC1 debutants, JJ Potgieter and Tommy du Toit, in their newly acquired Hyundai i20.

Johan Strauss and Elzaan Venter in their Subaru Impreza finished in third place while the current championship leaders, Chris Coertse and Greg Godrich, in their new Rally Technic Mazda2 completed the rally in fourth spot. The Mazda was unveiled a day before the start of the NTT Tzaneen Rally and just missed out on a podium spot in the crew’s first outing with the car.

Local rally hero from Letsitele and the defending driver’s champion, Theuns Joubert, with Schalk van Heerden in the co-driver seat, started well in their Salom Labour Toyota Yaris.

The third stage of 18km however proved to be a dramatic one for Joubert and van Heerden which saw electrical gremlins forcing the Yaris to a grinding halt. This ended Joubert’s aspirations of taking a possible victory on home turf.

The Salom Labour Yaris crew managed to sort out the electrical niggles that hampered their progress on the first day to be ready for the start the following morning for Round 8. The Tzaneen NTT Rally and its challenging forest stages however were not done yet and provided some more drama amongst the top contenders.

Friday’s winners, Botterill and Vacy-Lyle, won the Saturday’s opening stage by two seconds ahead of Potgieter and du Toit. The runners-up stormed into the rally lead with a 20 second stage 2 win over Joubert and van Heerden.

But they picked up a 1 minute 50 second penalty to drop down the overall order. Potgieter also claimed the win in the 15km of stage 3. Overall, Potgieter held a 42 second advantage over Botterill.

The 10-kilometre stage 4 proved to be another turning point in the pecking order. Joubert and van Heerden claimed a 20 second win as they fought back. Botterill and Vacy-Lyle’s Gazoo Starlet was halted by electrical issues which ended their hopes for a second victory in Tzaneen.

This handed the overall lead to Potgieter and du Toit. Championship leaders Chris Coertse and Greg Godrich followed the leaders in their new NRC1 Mazda2, with a resurgent Salom Labour Yaris of Joubert and van Heerden closing in on the leaders.

Coertze and Godrich and the NRC2 frontrunners, Klopper and Aucamp, hit trouble in Stage 5 to finish well down the order.

Joubert and van Heerden meanwhile maintained their fightback with the quickest time in the 12.5 km test. Rally leaders Potgieter and du Toit were back on top with a 15 second win in the 18km stage 6 which was enough to move back into second overall.

Joubert and van Heerden took another stage win in the short, final 3km stage over Potgieter and du Toit. It was still not enough to prevent Potgieter and du Toit taking a stunning overall victory in their first ever top class outing aboard the Rally Technic Hyundai i20.

Joubert and van Heerden’s fight back to second though could yet prove significant in the long run as they kept their title hopes alive with some valuable championship points scored.

Jono van Wyk and Ingrid Jeacocks drove to double overall podiums and NRC2 victories in their Ford Fiesta, ahead of the NRC1 crew of Johan Strauss and Elzaan Venter in their Subaru Impreza.

The MRF SA Rally Championship heads to Delmas next for another double header on the 16th and 17th of September, before the final round in Dullstroom in October.