The country’s premier motorsport event, established in 1962, was the opening leg of the eight-legged FIA African Rally Championship (ARC).
Despite the low turnout from foreign teams especially from South Africa and Kenya, local rally enthusiasts were still treated to some exciting action from the 15 competitors drawn from Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Zambia, Uganda as well as a few from South Africa. Zimbabwe had 11 participants.
For the fourth consecutive year a local crew once again graced the top step on the podium at the end of the three-day event.
The eventual winners Jess and Sasha Watson went on to make history by becoming the first husband and wife team winners of an FIA African Rally Championship event when they drove their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10 over the finish ramp at the Cresta Lodge in Harare.
The Watsons led the rally from start to finish in 2 hours, 40 minutes and 17 seconds with a large margin of 7:15 ahead of compatriots Craig Green and Mike Exton in a Mitsubishi Evo 8 who came second.
Zambian driver Mohammed Essa and his Zimbabwean co-driver Greg Stead came third in a Subaru Impreza N10.
Fourth place went to the Rwandan entry of Giancarlo Davite and Burundian Sylvia Vindevogel who drove a Subaru Impreza.
Unlike in previous seasons whenthe Subaru Impreza hogged the limelight, this year it was the turn of the Mitsubishi Evo, which now sets the pace in the manufacturers’ championship.
The unrelenting wrath of the Toyota Zimbabwe Challenge Rally came to the fore again as eight drivers from the 17 flagged off on the opening day. These included former champions Jamie Whyte and Chase Attwell who bit the dust as they exited competition.
Richard Robinson, Big Chitma, Ugandan Jas Mangat, Rowan Whyte and female drivers Michelle York and Laureen Marufu also suffered engine problems.
Craig Batten, the chairman of the rally organising committee, however, lamented the lack of foreign competitors as the only setback on an otherwise successful event.
“The competition was obviously quite tough and most participants failed to last the distance because of the difficult stages, but that is what motor rallying is all about and in the end the best drivers won,” said Batten.
The Toyota Zimbabwe Challenge Rally is organised each year by Sables Motor Club under the jurisdiction of the Zimbabwe Motor Sports Federation.
The Challenge was first introduced in 1962 and, with the exception of a period during the late 1970s and the year 2000, has been run each year ever since.
The other legs of the African Rally Championships are in Zambia, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Madagascar.
2012 ARC Drivers Championship –– After Round 1
1. Jess Watson (Zimbabwe) 25 points
2. Craig Green (Zimbabwe) 18 points
3. Mohammed Essa (Zambia) 15 points
4. Giancarlo Davite (Rwanda) 12 points
2012 ARC Navigators Championship
1. Sasha Watson (Zimbabwe) 25 points
2. Michael Exton (Zimbabwe 18 points
3. Greg Stead (Zimbabwe) 15 points
4. Sylvia Vindevogel (Rwanda) 12 points
1. Mitsubishi 25 points
4. Subaru 18 points