ONE of Zimbabwe’s top motor rally navigators George Chitepo will this week make a welcome return to action when he competes in the Toyota Zimbabwe Challenge Rally.
The Toyota Zimbabwe Challenge Rally - the country’s premier motorsport event - will dust off at Cresta Lodge in the eastern part of Harare on Friday afternoon and will finish on Sunday, March 18.
This three-day event is the opening round of the tough eight-event 2012 FIA African Rally Championship series whose other races will be held in South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Madagascar during the course of the year.
A number of top African motor rally drivers and their navigators are expected for the start of the 50th running of the Toyota Zimbabwe Challenge Rally.
And among them will be Zimbabwe’s Chitepo who will be back in this event after a one-year sabbatical. Chitepo, who burst onto the local motor rallying scene in 2009, becoming one of the few local blacks to take up the sport, used to navigate for local driver Ronald Parsell before the prohibitive costs of taking part in this sport forced him to take a sabbatical last year.
But Chitepo has decided to make a comeback in the sport and will next weekend be navigating for South African Pieter Pilusa in the Toyota Zimbabwe Challenge Rally.
Chitepo confirmed yesterday that he will be “doing the notes” for Pilusa in this year’s Toyota Zimbabwe Challenge Rally and the duo will be in a Nissan 140GX.
“In fact, what happened is that a few weeks ago, Pilusa contacted the local rally secretary Lisa Upton asking her to get him a local navigator for this year’s Toyota Zimbabwe Challenge Rally.
“Upton then in turn initially indicated to him that Clint Ashdown, who used to navigate for Laureen Marufu, was available but he (Pilusa) later decided to take me on board after some consultation with South Africa-based Zimbabwean driver Robson Maganezi.
“So, I can officially confirm that I’ll be back competing in local motor rallying this year starting with next weekend’s Toyota Zimbabwe Challenge Rally and I will be navigating for Pieter Pilusa,” Chitepo said.
Chitepo and Pilusa were yesterday among the 17 teams that had officially entered to race in this year’s Toyota Zimbabwe Challenge Rally after Thursday night’s deadline.
By the end of business on Thursday, five “foreign teams” had entered for this event and they will be led by crack Ugandan driver Jas Mangat who will be having Gihan de Silva as his co-pilot in a Subaru Impreza.
Also in for the 2012 Toyota Zimbabwe Challenge Rally will be Kenya’s Don Smith and his navigator Sony Smith, Rwanda’s Giancarlo Davite and his tried and trusted female co-pilot Sylvia Vindevogel, and Zambia’s Mohammed Essa who will be having Greg Stead as his navigator.
Zimbabwe-born Robson Maganezi, who is based in South Africa, will also be returning to compete in this year’s Toyota Zimbabwe Challenge Rally after a two-year absence.
Maganezi will back driving a Subaru Impreza and will be assisted by South African navigator Dannie Stassen.
Pulisa, Mangat, Don Smith, Essa and Maganezi will be joined by a host of top local motor rally drivers who will be led by young Chase Attwell and two-time African motor rally champion Jamie Whyte.
Attwell won the Toyota Zimbabwe Challenge Rally in 2009 before surrendering the title to Whyte the following year.
Defending champion Conrad Rautenbach is out of this year’s race and this is likely to see Attwell and Whyte jostling for the first podium place during next weekend’s three days of racing in Harare and the surrounding areas of Ruwa and Norton.
It is also interesting to note that two top Zimbabwean female drivers - Laureen Marufu and Michelle Yorke - have also entered for this year’s Toyota Zimbabwe Challenge Rally.
Marufu, who is yet to confirm her co-pilot, will be competing in the Toyota Zimbabwe Challenge Rally for the third year on the trot after making her historic debut appearance in 2010.
In 2010, Marufu became the first black Zimbabwean female driver to take part in the male-dominated Toyota Zimbabwe Challenge Rally and she did extremely well, finishing ninth.
She was also classed as the first female driver home.
2012 Toyota Zim Challenge Rally Provisional Entry List
1. Robson Maganezi (Zim)/Dannie Stassen (SA (N4 Subaru Impreza)
2. Jas Mangat/Gihan de Silva (Uganda) (N4 Subaru)
3. Pieter Pilusa (SA)/George Chitepo (Zim) (S Nissan 140 GX)
4. Jess Watson/Sasha Watson (Zim) (N4 Mitsubishi Lancer)
5. Mohammed Essa/Greg Stead (Zambia) (N4 Subaru)
6. Craig Green/Mike Exton (Zim (N4 Mitsubishi Evo 8)
7. Michelle Yorke/Stephen Murton (Zim) ( Mitsubishi Evo 4)
8. Giancarlo Davite/Sylvia Vindevogel (Rwanda) (N4 Subaru Impreza)
9. Tyrone Carr/Matthew Murrell (Zim) (N2 Toyota Corolla)
10. Chase Attwell/Miles Skinner (Zim) (S2000 Toyota Auris)
11. Jamie Whyte/Gareth Dawe (Zim) (N4 Subaru Impreza)
12. Don Smith/Sony Smith (Kenya) (N4 Subaru Impreza)
13. Rowan Whyte/Craig Archenoul (Zim) (S Subaru WRX)
14. Richard Robinson/Colin Schreiber (Zimbabwe) (N4 Mitsubishi Evo 8)
15. Big “Bigs” Chitima/Amos Chamunokara (Zimbabwe) (N4 Subaru Impreza)
16. Laureen Marufu (Zimbabwe) (N3 Toyota RunX)
17. Ronald Parsell/Bronwyn Ebrahim (Zim) (N4 Mitsubishi Evo 6)