Jon Williams takes flying finish!

Jon Williams (Sasol Racing Rally Team Ford Fiesta) scored a popular debut victory in the Toyota Gauteng Dealer Rally, round three of the South African Rally Championship which ended at Zwartkops Raceway west of Pretoria yesterday. For co-driver Cobus Vrey it was a second win.

Second, 6,9 seconds behind after two days and nearly 180 kilometres of gravel and tarmac racing spread over nine special stages, were Hein Lategan and Johan van der Merwe (SAC Peugeot 207). Ex-circuit racing champion Lategan took full advantage of his tarmac experience to overtake third-placed Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Grant Martin (Team Total Toyota Auris) on the final stage, a 16-kilometre race around the 2,4-kilometre Zwartkops circuit. The gap between the Peugeot and the Ford at the finish was 4,9 seconds.

Jan Habig and Robert Paisley (Basil Read Ford Fiesta), who led the rally overnight by 35,9 seconds from Williams and Vrey, finished fourth after losing the lead on Sunday’s second stage when they were slowed by a puncture and lost 1 min 45 sec. The former national champions were one of the few crews among the front runners to avoid picking up a flat wheel on the rally’s opening stage on Saturday, a brutal 28-kilometre test that saw no less than 14 of the original 38 starters suffer flat wheels. Williams, Damseaux and Lategan were similarly fortunate to avoid the tyre carnage and were second, third and fourth at the overnight stop at RallyStar near Bapsfontein.

The Dutch/Belgian combination of Hans Weijs Jnr and Bjorn Degandt (BP Volkswagen Polo) finished fifth, 2 min 13,9 seconds behind the winners and 13,1 seconds ahead of Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan (Castrol Team Toyota Auris). The Toyota pair, who started the weekend in second place in the championship behind Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Sasol Racing Rally Team Ford Fiesta), was among the opening stage casualties. They lost nearly four minutes when they stopped to change a flat wheel and then battled with the jack. Gemmell showed why he is probably the best rally driver in the country not to have won a championship – he has several runner-up finishes to his name – with a masterful performance throughout the remainder of the event. He won two stages and finished second in three to reduce the gap to the winners to 2 min 17 sec.

A brave performance by Sebastiaan Klaassen, driving his Monster Ford Fiesta with a broken leg sustained in a skiing accident, and co-driver Cindi Harding resulted in seventh place, 3 min 10 sec behind the winners. Charl Wilken and Greg Godrich (Basil Read Ford Fiesta) recovered well from two punctures on stage one to win stage three and finish the event in ninth place, 11 min 51 sec in arrears.

Cronje and Houghton, who won both of the two previous rounds after epic battles with Gemmell and Swan, were early casualties. They destroyed their rear suspension after hitting a ditch just one and a half kilometres into the opening stage and played no further part in Saturday’s proceedings. They were able to rejoin the rally on Sunday under the Super Rally rules after their service crew repaired the car overnight and they went on to finish 11th and pick up 10 valuable championship points after winning two of today’s five stages. In the process they retained their championship lead over Gemmell and Swan, now reduced to three points. Williams and Vrey move up to third, seven points in arrears.

Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin (BP Volkswagen Polo) won the S2000 Challenge for the older specification premier class four-wheel drive cars, finishing a fine eighth overall and 20 min 50 sec ahead of second placed Wilro Dippenaar and Morne du Toit (PZN Panelbeaters Toyota RunX), who were 15th overall, and Werner Koekemoer and Etienne Lourens (Glasurit Toyota RunX), who finished 22nd overall.

A fine performance by Nic van der Westhuizen and Henry Dearlove (SA Earthworks Ford Fiesta R2) saw the pair finish 10th overall and comfortably take the honours in the two-wheel drive S1600 championship by nearly five minutes from ex champion Craig Trott and Robbie Coetzee (Team Total Toyota RunX). Third were Tjaart Conradie and Kes Naidoo (Galvadip Toyota Auris).

The next round of the championship is the Volkswagen Rally in Port Elizabeth on July 13 and 14.