The Team 432 experience

Entering Parc Fermé at Fairways, Ceres, on Saturday 13 May 2017 as the first car on the road was a somewhat strange feeling. Competitors assisted organisers in organising events back in the year and then received their best score as bonus at the end of each season. It avoided contentious issues such as the local teams having an unfair advantage in knowing the area and roads too well, saved costs in organising and provided safe routes as the crews doing the route check-run and actual 0, 00 of Follow-Up on the event did so out of their own limited budgets. Thus, though Johann Zulch and Patrick Vermaak enjoyed seven great season together as a team in the Ford Escort they never actually contested their “home” event.

Somebody felt threatened as the assisting crews could potentially be awarded a full score and the concept was dropped to the detriment of organisers who are now facing problems finding crews willing to fulfil these functions. Be that as it may, this past event set new records in the 34 year old Witzenberg Motorklub history when ten teams entered under the host club banner, nine actually started the event and all seven that finished the event were in the top ten whilst the podium positions were also claimed by WBMK teams. And Johann Zulch still assists with the organising, barefoot of course!

Herman Mathee and Ruan Reynders finally finished a Ceres Toyota Rally without major drama to record another excellent result with third overall in the impressive, home built, Madev 423 S4 Datsun GX Sedan 2.0. Four years of constant development finally starting to deliver results with this team surprising even themselves in 2017 by leading the overall Western Province Championship on points as driver and navigator after three rounds. Quite fitting that the Teletubbies, alias Thorsten Pey and Mark Palmer, was present as the previous rwd champions. Hopefully just the motivation required for the E36 BMW 325i to return?

Tiaan Rabe and Jean-Pierre Jacobs stunned on their debut as team in the beautifully rebuilt Time2Go Travel 404 S2 WBMK VW Golf MkI 1.6 by finishing in a mighty second position overall. Cleverly modifying the famous Porsche Gulf Oil colours to become the “Golf” colour scheme Tiaan certainly lived up to his reputation as a super smooth driver and their progress will certainly be closely monitored by all in future events.

Having gone from hero to zero between Klipdale and Malmesbury Ettiene du Toit and Patrick Vermaak saw their cautious start turn into overall victory with the Supa Mac 467 S3 Toyota Corolla RXi 1.6. Though the retirement of the two 4x4 entries certainly assisted their consistent approach paid dividends and a “home” victory was a very special reward to the team behind the scenes who had prepared a great car.

Every category of sport have their individual heroes and rallying is no different. In the Western Cape the most successful driver have undoubtedly been 16x WP Champion, Serge Damseaux, but they come and go. Good memories will always be relived through modern media  such as Facebook and  YouTube but nothing beats personal involvement. Behind the scenes one only has to look at officials such as Bill Bright, Pierre van der Westhuizen, Robert Marle, Hugh Young and Davey Smeda to pool more rallying experience than we can calculate and they can still be found assisting on most events.

Few have the good health and spirit to actually compete at the young age of 69, but then few can be compared to Andy Haigh-Smith who dates from the era of the Ford Escort BDA and Toyota Liftback.

Guiding his son, Ashley, through the ranks, initially as navigator, to eventually becoming  the youngest ever SA class drivers champion in a A5 Toyota Yaris he has lost none of his own driving skills. The well known AHS Racing 432 S3 “Yellow” Submarine” have given many young drivers opportunities in the sport and Andy has maintained the car in perfect condition.

With Ashley now contesting the International Peugeot 208 Cup in France the “Yellow Submarine” has returned to the Western Province Regional Rally Championship with Andy Haigh-Smith driving.

It would be safe to, respectfully, call Andy the oldest active rally driver in South Africa until somebody could provide a challenge to this statement. What an absolute honour to still have this man compete competitively!

Always furthering the future of the sport Andy opted for a rookie navigator in 2017 and recruited the services of 21 year old Tania Vermaak. With a number of class championships to her credit in the Witzenberg Motorklub Gymkhana Championship as navigator and limited experience as driver Tania made her rallying debut on the iKapa Reticulation & Flow Klipdale Rally and the combination finished in a very respectable 11th position overall and 5th in class.

Though the objective is to have all components of a rally team function in perfect unison it takes less than one event to realise that you are chasing a moving target that cannot ever truly be caught. Why would you return for the next event if perfection could be achieved? Mistakes will be made and you will fall, but the real achievement is the manner in which you face the disappointment and continue. Murphy is reality and he strikes when you least expect it and without exception everyone in the sport is on first name terms on that point.

Round two drove that home when the clutch retired the Yellow Submarine from the CPMCC Malmesbury Rally on 1 April 2017. Ashley Haigh-Smith and team fitted a stronger clutch assembly and the team enjoyed a most encouraging run on round three, the 13 May 2017 Ceres Toyota Rally to finish 7th Overall and 4th in class S3.

Tania gaining confidence on every stage thanks to a very experienced and patient driver / instructor whilst Andy have been very complimentary of the progress made by his student navigator.  There is apparently no truth in the assumption that the only reason why Andy opted for a young navigator was simply to lower the combined age of the crew in the Mitsubishi to a mere 90 years?
Finishing 1st and 7th father and daughter, Patrick and Tania Vermaak, will long cherish the 2017 Ceres Toyota result. Behind the scenes a huge hug and thank you to the two wives / moms, Christina Haigh-Smith and Anette Vermaak, who refuse to spectate but are always present in the service areas to motivate the good and smooth the bad.

Looking around us in the service park there were many enjoying similar camaraderie, something no result could ever match.

Truly a privilege to form a little part in the bigger picture in WP rallying!