The Thrill and Challenge of the NRC Tzaneen Rally

Despite all the challenges, the TGR team showcased its pursuit of excellence.

Ntsako Mthethwa
August 30, 2023
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The Thrill and Challenge of the NRC Tzaneen Rally

As broad as the local motorsport arena is, the National Rally Championship is a tale of passion and endurance as teams battle it out, driving on diverse and demanding terrain for hundreds of kilometres while pushing their machines to the limit. 


We joined the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team for the NTT Tzaneen Rally Rounds 5 and 6 of this year's SA NRC. It was a two-day adrenaline-fuelled spectacle, with the first day hot and sunny, a spectacular crowd of motorsport fanatics, and a range of great cars and drivers. 


The crowd's expectations were met, including yours truly. 


First Race: Round 5

We arrived in Tzaneen after a 4-hour drive from the Toyota SA offices in the bustling city of Sandton, traversing the scenic landscapes of Limpopo. Eager to witness the thrilling spectacle of rallying, where drivers and co-drivers work together to conquer the challenging terrain, we made our way to the spectator viewing stations. 


For the folks at Toyota Gazoo Racing, their entrants consist of two heavily modified first-generation Starlet cars, each modified to suit the demanding conditions of the stage. 


The first one was driven by seasoned racer Jono van Wyk and his confident co-driver Nico Swartz. The second was driven by the young and talented driver, Kes Naidoo, and his well-spoken co-driver, Mandla Mdakane. 


So much goes into the Toyota Starlet Rally cars to ensure they meet motorsport standards. That said, they come fitted with safety components such as a roll cage, special seats, harnesses, and fire extinguishers. 


What goes on underneath the bonnet is mind-blowing. Gone is the regular car’s 1.4-litre petrol engine, replaced by a 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder unit codenamed 3S-GTE with over 150kW of power sent to all-fours via a capable AWD system. This is the same powerplant that was used in the Toyota MR2—a mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive sports car that we still hold in high regard today. 


With all the modifications in place, they still have to be licenced in accordance with the National Road Traffic Act since they have to be used on the public road to get between stages, as we’ve seen with the rally cars prancing around Tzaneen. 


With all the action taking place, we could see the cars blasting past us and into the Merensky Forest with incredible speed and agility as the dust rose behind them and flew over steep hills. 


Before the day's end, the TGR team faced a setback when Jaco’s rally car encountered an engine issue, forcing the pair to withdraw from the event despite their initial determination. 


At the same time, their counterparts also experienced problems following a hard landing in the early stages of the rally, which caused the engine to shift in the engine bay. This resulted in damages that could not be fixed within the tight 30-minute limit. 


As a result, the team withdrew their car for the fifth round. with the entire day spent at the Tzaneen Toyota Dealership where we also got the opportunity to get up close with the competing cars.


Round 6: Resilience

Following extensive overnight work, the TGR engineers brought Mdakane’s car back to life, and the pair showed remarkable resilience throughout the sixth round and managed to fight their way to second place in their class. Ultimately, victory was clinched by JJ Potgieter and Tommy du Toit in their Hyundai R4 racer.


More Action Coming 

Both Starlets are expected to make their comeback, rejuvenated and ready for action, for Rounds 7 and 8 of the Delmas Rally, earmarked for October 20–21. This once again promises even more intense challenges as the season slowly nears its conclusion. 


According to TGR, the team remains steadfast in their pursuit of excellence, determined to build on their experiences and successes and continue their championship journey. 

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