In a fitting finale to the 2012 South African National Rally Championship the two crews who have dominated the season to date will vie for the honour of claiming the title at the last event, the Garden Route Rally in the Western Cape on November 2 and 3.
Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Sasol Racing Ford Fiesta) lead Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan (Castrol Team Toyota Auris) by 20 points after seven rounds with a maximum of 25 points still on offer. Both need to drop their worst round of the season and right now this would see a 10-point swing in favour of Gemmell and Swan.
Their domination of the championship in their S2000 four-wheel- drive cars is illustrated by the fact that between them they have won six of the seven rounds so far (Cronje four and Gemmell two) and 46 of the 81 special stages (Cronje 34 and Gemmell 12).
Whichever way it goes, history is in the making. Neither driver has won the championship before and Swan would become the first woman co-driver champion since Minota van Bergen in 1970. Houghton is the reigning co-driver champion. Toyota, aiming for a record 15th successive manufacturers championship and 21st altogether, trails Ford, who has not won since 1976, by 18 points.
Gemmell, who has finished runner-up on three occasions since 2001, has kept his hopes alive with two wins and a second in the last four events, but opened the door for Cronje with a non-finish in the most recent round in Limpopo a month ago, which was won by Cronje.
Although no other teams are in a position to catch the leading pair in the championship, there is a tight battle for the final place on the podium. Jon Williams and Cobus Vrey (Sasol Ford Fiesta), who are the only other crew to have won an event, are 42 points behind the leaders but just a single point ahead of multiple former champions Jan Habig and Robert Paisley (Basil Read Ford Fiesta). Williams will be partnered by father Doug in the final round.
With pride at stake and a final chance to wear the victors’ laurels this season, strong performances can be expected from a number of potential winners. Former champions Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries and BP VW team-mates Enzo Kuun and Guy Hodgson have had a lean season so far in the new S2000 Polo, but have shown good form in recent events, with both crews posting a second place in the last two rounds.
Also worth watching are Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee (Castrol Toyota Auris), Hans Weijs and Bjorn Degandt (BP VW Polo), Charl Wilken and Greg Godrich (Basil Read Ford Fiesta), Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Grant Martin (Team Total Toyota Auris), and Giniel de Villiers and Celeste Snyders (Imperial Toyota Auris).
While Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin (BP VW Polo) have already wrapped up the inaugural S2000 Challenge for older specification four-wheel drive cars after four wins to date, Namibians Wilro Dippenaar and Morne du Toit (McCarthy Toyota/PZN Panelbeaters Toyota RunX) will be keen to add to their two category wins. Teenager Henk Lategan and Barry White (Q8 Oils VW Polo), who are the only other crew to have won a round, will sit out the final round as Lategan is writing his matric exams.
In the Two Wheel Drive Championship for S1600 cars all eyes will be on the battle between championship leaders Craig Trott and Robbie Coetzee (Team Total Toyota RunX) and Ashley Haigh-Smith and Craig Parry (Castrol/BP Ford Fiesta R2).
The drivers’ title is a straight fight between the veteran former champion Trott and the up-and-coming youngster Haigh-Smith. With one class win to Haigh-Smith’s two, Trott enjoys a significant 18-point advantage over his younger rival and will be relying on all his experience and guile to claim the silverware.
The situation is slightly different in the co-drivers’ championship. Kes Naidoo, who has navigated for both Haigh-Smith and Tjaart Conradie (Galvadip Toyota Auris), is 23 points behind Coetzee and has a slim mathematical chance of overhauling him.
The S1600 class has produced six different winners to date with only Haigh-Smith winning more than once. Contenders in this final round will include previous winners Clint Weston (Reef Tankers Citroen C2 R2), Guy Botterill (Yato Tools Toyota RunX) and Nic van der Westhuizen (SA Earthworks Ford Fiesta R2). Reading the notes for them will be Pierre Jordaan, Simon Vacy-Lyle and Stefan Cilliers respectively.
The Garden Route Rally starts from the Garden Route Mall outside George at 12:00 on Friday, November 2 following a qualifying stage at K1 Quarry at 09:30 that will determine the start order. The first day will consist of five special stages and will finish at the Wilderness Beach Hotel. There will be six special stages on Saturday starting from the Wilderness Beach Hotel at 07.00 and finishing back at the hotel in the afternoon.