YOU would be forgiven for losing count of the number of motor rallies that Conrad Rautenbach has finished in the top five at just 25 years of age.
In the history of motor rallies in Zimbabwe there are rally drivers, then great rally drivers, and then Conrad Rautenbach. Some observers however say the best is yet to come from Rautenbach as he is still young and keeps getting better with each outing.
In 2001, when he was just 16 years of age, he became the youngest person in the world to score FIA championship points when he finished seventh on the Zimbabwe Challenge Rally – a round of the African Rally Championship.
“I got my driving licence at 16 and did my first rally with my father (as Navigator) a few months later, we finished 7th overall and I hold the record for the youngest person to score FIA points,” Conrad tells IndependentSport.
His father is well-known businessman Billy Rautenbach, himself a former rally driver. Rautenbach Snr was a Zimbabwean Rally champion for many years.
Conrad is currently back home in Harare after a stint overseas to get practice and experience in the new S2000 car. The WRC is changing to that car in 2011.
The young Conrad attended primary and early senior schools in South Africa.
For “O” and “A” Level, he was at St Johns College in Harare, a sports academy in its own right.
He spent a year at a university in the UK, studying “Motorsport Engineering,” before quitting to “follow his passion.”
His other hobbies include helicopter piloting, hunting, fishing, sky diving, watersports and spending time with his friends.
In Africa, Rautenbach now enter every race as a frontrunner.
Only last month he collected a stunning debut win in his Ford Fiesta S2000 on the Toyota Dealer Rally in Caledon, Cape Town, which is the second round of the South African National Rally Championship.
He won the rally despite having his new Ford arriving in South Africa just days before the start of the event, and despite a minor technical issue which limited him to a mere 20 km of testing.
He said his lack of experience of the cars he drove at times, and the new roads together with different “pace notes” has never dampened his spirits.
Rautenbach was also quick to pay tribute to his M-Sport-built Fiesta which won out of the box – as it did in the hands of Mikko Hirvonen on the Monte Carlo Rally and for Nasser Al Attiyah when he contested the Qatar Rally in his Fiesta.
“The Ford has been fantastic,” says Conrad. “It is just an amazing car that his technicians have built. You know it was all such a last-minute job, but everything has come together – it’s been a fantastic rally for us.”
With only limited time to test the Fiesta ahead of the event, Rautenbach had been working on the car’s set-up for much of the opening day. But when day two came, he said he was happy with the car and he posted his fastest time — and moved into the rally lead. He remained out front at the finish despite never having started the Cape Town-based event previously.
“It has been a great start to the year for the team,” he says.
“But this has been a really enjoyable event. We turned it on a bit this morning and then in the 10th stage. We went into the final stage with a small lead and it was really hard to judge just how hard we should be pushing, but we got through with no problems to take the win. It was a great rally and a really fast one. In most stages, we were averaging around 140kph, it was crazy fast.”
At the end of 2009, Rautenbach was ranked 10th in the World and he helped Citroen win the manufacturers championship.
Last year alone he came 6th in Cyprus, 5th in Greece, 8th in Poland. ––