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GP Week : Issue 5
WRC INSIGHT >> D AYS have long gone when rally drivers drove their own, or borrowed, cars to success at World Championship rallies. Daniel Carlsson, then 29 years old, used help from sponsors to rent a Mitsubishi and finished third in Sweden two years ago. And Gigi Galli had help from Pirelli to finish third in a Peugeot in Argentina in 2006. But what made 23-year-old Conrad Rautenbach’s fourth place this year in Argentina so special was that this was a sponsor-free project, a real private effort by all concerned. And, above all else, he isn’t even European ... Resident and indigenous Zimbabweans, and before them Rhodesians, have a long and respected history in motorsport. People like the Welsh-born Gary Hocking and Bulawayo-born John Love waved their country’s flag proudly around the world. Rautenbach is rapidly joining the tradition. Rautenbach was born in Harare, where his father Billy, nowadays a multi-faceted businessman was himself an active privateer rally man. Rautenbach Sr contested the Safari and Ivory Coast World Championship Rallies in Toyotas, finishing ninth in Kenya in 1992. Karting followed, and when he was 16 he had the chance to start rally driving. The car was a two wheel drive Toyota Corolla RSi, a South African homologation model, little known outside the country. His first rally was the Dunlop Zimbabwe Challenge Rally, a qualifying round of the FIA’s African regional series, and he finished seventh overall, becoming the first 16-year-old driver to score FIA championship points on a rally. Two years later, in 2003, Rautenbach contested the African series, still in the Toyota. He finished runner-up in the series, the first African-born driver, beaten only by the Spaniard Fernando Rueda. 2004 was the year he arrived in Europe and entered the Junior WRC. Car fragility and driver inexperience hallmarked the season, which started with him driving a Puma and progressing to a Corsa. He only finished in the points once that year. A change to a Citroen C2 S1600 for 2005 brought new contacts and more experience, and by now his programme was being sandwiched with entering events in Africa and studying in Britain. In 2006 Rautenbach expanded his plans, contesting the JWRC and the British championship with Super 1600 Renaults, and then contesting rallies in Africa with a Group N Subaru. In 2007 he re-emerged in the African series with a Subaru and in the JWRC back with a Citroen. He won the Zimbabwe Rally an event run in extremely difficult organisational conditions, he won the FIA African title with outright victories on the Safari Rally in Kenya, the Mountain Gorilla Rally in Uganda, top ARC finisher on the Zulu Rally in South Africa, and to round off the year, he drove a Citroen Xsara WRC on the Wales Rally GB. His programme for 2008 is to contest all 15 rounds of the WRC with a privately-entered Citroen World Rally Car. This started with a Xsara for the first two rounds, moving on to a C4 from Mexico onward. Argentina was only Rautenbach’s second appearance with the C4, an event where curiously many African drivers have excelled in the past. The sight of his Citroen adorned simply with the stickers of Citroen Sport and their preparation agents PH Sport, from which the car is leased, makes a distinctive change in the service parks and stages these days. A reminder that motorsport is not just a commercial maelstrom. There is still a place for successful sportsmen, even when they are still only 23 years old. Second time lucky: Rally Argentina was only the second outing for Rautenbach, left, in a Citroen C4, but he went on to finish fourth, far left. Even as a junior Rautenbach was capable of flying, above left. 39