One of his finest drives of the year
Twenty one year old Zimbabwean Conrad Rautenbach continued to impress with his third podium of the 2006 Junior World Rally Championship when he guided his Geoff Jones Motorsport run Renault Clio S1600 to 2nd in the JWRC on the recent
Rally of Turkey.
Overcoming a combination of minor problems and facing some of the most difficult weather conditions ever experienced in the World Rally Championship saw Conrad put in one of his finest drives of the year on a rally where survival was the key to the game.
After a recent test the team headed to Turkey confident of a good run but no one could have anticipated the monsoon like weather conditions which caused havoc with the stages and caused 3 stages on the opening day to have to be cancelled. Despite this Conrad revelled in the tricky conditions and posted the 4th quickest time on the first competitive stage, less than 1 second behind the 3rd placed local hero Faith Kara.
With conditions worsening the afternoon section was even more difficult and calling on all of his experience competing in the tough African championship Conrad set himself a pace that was both quick and mechanically sympathetic and despite having to nurture a problematic gearbox the young Zimbabwean acquitted himself well and returned to the end of leg service embroiled in a fight for 4th position.
When the Geoff Jones Motorsport team descended on the Renault Clio S1600 they discovered that the gearbox was not at fault but rather that the weather conditions had played havoc with the electronics causing the electronic cut off between gear changes to fail, making gear changes all the more difficult. However with no immediate remedy available Conrad would have to persevere and drive around the problem.
Saturday morning dawned cloudy but importantly it was not raining. However the roads were still in an atrocious condition after the incessant downpour experienced over the last few days. Despite this Conrad was happy with 6th quickest, and top Renault through the opening stage of the leg. This moved Conrad into 4th, with local man Kara his next target.
Returning to mid day service Conrad and co-driver David Senior commented on how bad the conditions were.
“The roads are horrendous. At one stage I thought we had a puncture… but we didn't. After our tyre choice was completely wrong for at least one stage…. We left service and it was bright and sunny, arrived at the stage to find it was snowing!!!”
As if having to nurture his gearbox wasn't enough of a challenge Conrad also had to contend with weak dampers through the afternoon section, further hampering him. Despite this a string of solid times throughout the afternoon saw him return to the days final service safe in 4th spot, once again best non Suzuki.
With some set up changes to assist with the problematic dampers Conrad felt more comfortable with the car on Sunday, but with only 3 stages on the day Conrad was focussed on maintaining his position and happy to let those around him push themselves and their cars to, and occasionally beyond, the limits.
Already Suzuki driver Guy Wilks had rolled and more dramas would befall those ahead. First Slovak driver Jozef Beres suffered suspension problems with his Suzuki Swift, elevating Conrad into a podium finish and then, upon arriving back at the finish the Zimbabwean heard that he had been elevated to 2nd overall behind Umo Aava after P.G Andersson had been penalised for a service park infringement.
“This is by far the trickiest rally I have ever done. The roads were terrible and we just drove as cautiously as we could – there was no room for heroics. We had a small overheating problem on the last few stages, caused by all the mud, but it seems every time we have over heating problems we finish 2nd, as the same happened in Sardinia earlier this year!”
Conrad now returns to the U.K. to contest the Bulldog Rally in his Subaru Impreza N12 as a test for the forthcoming Wales Rally GB.