DRIVING DUO: Navigator Ryle Murray, left, and rally car driver Neil Keeton with their Golf 1400 rally car Pictures: LOUISE KNOWLES
Youngster wins four Algoa Rally Club events in his class
NOT yet old enough to get a driver’s licence, 16-year-old rally car driver Neil Keeton has nonetheless been wowing the competition on the track, having won four out of seven recent Albany Motor Club events in his class.
Keeton drives a modified 1400 Golf, competing against older and more experienced drivers in the S1 class of light vehicles.
When Bathurst residents hear gears screaming, stones knocking on metal and see dust rising, they know it’s young Keeton travelling down the farm roads.
In Grade 10 at Graeme College, Keeton was raised in a family with a passion for cars. He learned to drive at the age of eight and started competing in rallies at the age of 10.
Rallies are organised in sections, with sections of the road closed off, and ironically when his section is complete, the young man must be driven to the next section by his navigator, as he does not yet have his licence.
His cousin Ryle Murray navigates with pace notes which describe the twists and turns of the road ahead. The club issues the pace notes in which corners are graded from 1 to 9 so that L9, for example, means a sharp left hand turn coming up. The navigator must keep his eye on the speedometer and warn the driver if he is approaching a corner too quickly and needs to slow down.
The other half of the driving duo, Murray is a teacher at Port Alfred High School.
“I have always wanted to be a rally car driver and now I can cross it off my bucket list,” he said.
The driving duo must complete seven events a year. They came second at the Port Elizabeth Hunter’s Retreat Rally in Greenbushes on April 2. They competed at the Ocean Basket Rally in Uitenhage on June 11, and crashed in the first stage of the VW National held in Uitenhage on July 15. Approaching a corner too fast, their car left the road.
They also competed at the Spekboom Lapa in Loerie on September 3, and on Saturday they will be competing at the Fountains Mall Rally in Jeffreys Bay.
Fans can also watch them race on circuit at the Aldo Scribante Raceway on November 26.
BATHURST 4X4 ENTHUSIAST: Neil Keeton (16) with the pipe car that he built himself using the suspension of a VW kombi and steel pipes from Algoa Steel
Last year Keeton constructed his own pipe car and participated in the Bathurst 4×4 Challenge. The challenge which his father, Difford Keeton, organises involves navigating obstacles between the pegs and manoeuvring the pipe car despite difficult terrain. He constructed the car using the suspension of an old kombi and steel piping from his uncle’s business, Algoa Steel, in Port Elizabeth.
His sponsors currently include Mike and Lyn Millard of Multi-Security, Marius Schmidt of Buco and Speedequip in Port Elizabeth.
He did not do as well as he would have liked after crashing earlier this year, but is hoping to earn more points when they start afresh in the new year, and to attract new sponsors.
“The club is very supportive,” said Keeton, as they obtain exposure when their drivers do well.
But in future he would like to become a professional driver and race for someone.
He assures that rally driving is fairly safe. The Golf is stripped of carpets and back seats, is reinforced and has webbing and seat belts around the legs and the shoulders Drivers must wear helmets with radio communications and kidney belts although Keeton finds it necessary to visit a chiropractor once a year.
Keeton dreams of studying mechanical engineering and completing the 16-day, 9000km Dakar Rally which recently moved from Africa to Brazil when it became unsafe.