Motoring / Motoring News
Andre De Kock
She is petite, pretty, married, a business woman, plus a qualified mathematics, arts, culture and technology teacher.
She is also a triple overall South African Rally Navigators’ champion and currently employed as co-driver by the Ford Castrol Cross Country Team.
But then, it would seem inevitable that Elvene Coetzee-Vonk would pursue a career in the motorsport arena.
Her father is the legendary Kassie Coetzee, who rallied a variety of Nissan – mainly Skylines – in the late 1970s and early 80s, before winning many Cross Country races for the works Toyota Hilux team.
Having grown up around motorsport, she was irresistibly drawn to horsepower. That at first manifested itself in the equestrian world with the young girl awarded Springbok colours in 2001 for her Equestrian Tent-Pegging Gymkhana talents.
In 2006 she swapped saddles for bucket seats in rally cars, navigating in regional events for Johann van der Merwe in a Toyota Tazz.
Between 2007 and 2008 she further developed this talent alongside Tjaardt Conradie and Etienne Louwrens. National title success came in 2009, when Coetzee-Vonk joined multiple SA Cross Country Special Vehicle Champion Evan Hutchison in a Toyota RunX to win Class A7 of the SA Rally Championship.
The works Toyota Gazoo team took notice and placed her next to Leeroy Poulter in the top class of the 2011 national title chase. Their partnership spanned over a period of six years with the pair crowned overall SA Rally champions in 2014 and 2016.
As a pair, they finished second overall in the 2015 championship, but the winning driver, Mark Cronje, swapped navigators in the middle of the season, elevating Coetzee-Vonk to the Navigator’s title. This achievement made her the most successful female navigator in South African rallying.
Between 2015 and 2018 she shared the cockpit with various drivers in the Special Vehicle category. They included Australian Dave McShane in a Fox Porter, Schalk Burger in a King Price Porter and Visser Du Plessis in a Porter.
Last year she rejoined Burger in a Red-Lined Nissan Navara in the Production Vehicle category, but a huge mid-season crash curtailed the programme.
At the end of the year, the Ford Castrol Cross Country Team approached Coetzee-Vonk, offering her the hot seat next to multiple Cross Country Class T champion Lance Woolridge.
What is more, the pairing will tackle the rest of this year’s SA Cross Country championship in the all-new FIA class Ford Ranger, powered by Ford’s 3.5-litre twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 engine.
“This is fantastic. I believe Lance counts among the country’s top Cross Country drivers, and that this is the beginning of great things,” she says.
Coetzee-Vonk thinks Cross Country navigation is more difficult than rally co-driving. She had her first taste of Cross Country racing in the hot seat next to Poulter in a Toyota Hilux at the 2013 Toyota 1000 Desert Race.
“You do not, as is the case with rallying, get to drive through the route the day before – you see the terrain for the first time when you arrive there at speed.
“That apart, you have the route schedule, two odometers and a GPS system to manage. My job is to warn Lance about upcoming dangers and route specifics, so that he can decide at what pace to tackle every section of the route.
“Having done one event together at the beginning of the year, I know he is a calm, attentive driver, with excellent car control and we communicate extremely well under pressure.
“I can see myself building a long partnership with Lance, hopefully extending to some international exploits
“Ultimately, it is every Cross Country competitor’s dream to tackle the Dakar Rally and I am no different in that regard.
“Over the years I have enjoyed incredible support from my family, fellow competitors, team managers, team members and my husband Werner Vonk. Without their love and dedication none of this would have been possible.
“I believe that our current crises will eventually pass, at which point I shall be ready and able to go racing again,” she concludes.
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