Reigning South African Rally Champions, Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton, finished fifth on the Malcolm Wilson Rally, which ended late in the afternoon of March 2 in the Cumbrian city of Cockermouth, England.
It was their first taste of overseas competition, taking part courtesy of M-Sport’s Malcolm Wilson, benefactor of the event and founder of the company which built the S2000 Ford Fiesta which took them to the 2012 title. On the one-day, seven special stage event they campaigned a Fiesta similar to what is used in the World Rally Championship.
The duo ran as high as third place overall before a spin on stage five – Grizedale South – cost them about 30 seconds and dropping them down to fifth. A cautious approach on the penultimate stage saw them lose a further place, before they clawed it back on the final timed section.
The event was won by Euan Thorburn and Paul Beaton in a Ford Focus WRC, 20 seconds ahead of the similar machine of Paul Bird/Carl Williamson. Cronje/Houghton finished one minute and 32 seconds behind the leader
“It has been an amazing experience,” enthused Cronje. “We were up against some tough opposition in full WRC-type cars running the latest developments, and we really had to give it our all. We were unfortunate that the rear anti-roll bar broke on the 13 km fourth stage and then had to complete the following 18 km stage with the car not handling perfectly as a result, which probably contributed to our spin. Nevertheless, I loved every minute of it!”
“It has been a privilege to be part of M-Sport for the event,” added Houghton. “They gave us all the support we could’ve wanted and a great car to boot. It has been a real eye-opener and the perfect way to prepare us for our title defence, which starts back home in less than a week’s time.
“The event was very professionally run and the setting in the Lake District of Cumbria was a bonus. We’ve experienced some beautiful roads – very technical and challenging – which were perfect for high speed rallying. We’ve also gathered some useful information which we can put to good use in the year ahead.”