Cronje and Ford claim first win in 2013 South African Rally Championship

South African Rally Champions Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (S2000 Ford Racing Fiesta) started the new season off as they did in 2012 with a dominant victory in the Total Rally, which took place among the cane fields of the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast on Friday and Saturday.

They led the 30-strong field at the end of the first day on Friday, winning four of the five stages, and continued their good form on Saturday with six wins out of nine.

Former champions Jan Habig and Robert Paisley made it a 1-2 for Ford in their Basil Read Fiesta, finishing 1 min 5 sec behind the winners after starting the final day 34 seconds in arrears. They won a stage on each day and were the only S2000 crew to keep the champions honest.

Third was the Team Total combination of Jean-Pierre Damseaux and new co-driver Hilton Auffray in the first of the S2000 Challenge cars in a Toyota Auris, who did well to overcome a strong challenge on Saturday from the Castrol Team Toyota Yaris of Leeroy Poulter and Elvene Coetzee.

The battle between these two was a feature of the event, with Poulter and Coetzee, giving the brand new Yaris rally car an impressive debut, occupying third place throughout the day until slowed by power steering problems on the last two gravel special stages. The Toyota pair picked up a 40-second penalty for lateness after repairing a broken power steering pulley and dropped to fourth behind Damseaux and Auffray with just the 1,3-kilometre tarmac super special stage on the site of the old Durban drive-in remaining.

Fifth overall and second in the S2000 Challenge were inaugural challenge champions Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin in the first of the factory Volkswagen Sasolracing Polos, 38 seconds behind Poulter and Coetzee. Rounding out the top six and missing a top-five finish by five seconds were Giniel de Villiers and new co-driver Greg Godrich (S2000 Imperial Toyota Auris), who battled with power steering problems on Saturday and picked up a 40-second penalty for lateness after replacing a high-pressure pump.

Namibian Wilro Dippenaar and Kes Naidoo were seventh overall and third in the S2000 Challenge in a McCarthy Toyota/PZN Toyota Auris.

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Mohammed Moosa and Andre Vermeulen (Team Total Toyota Auris) were challenging for fifth overall on Saturday when they dropped back after contact with a bridge and, later, put their car on its roof after hitting a drainage ditch. They were able to continue after righting the car and finished eighth overall and fourth in the S2000 Challenge.

The many incidents involving the S2000 four-wheel drive cars resulted in two-wheel drive S1600 cars occupying ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th places.

Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan were 13th overall and ninth in S2000 in the second of the new Castrol Yaris cars after hot gases from a broken exhaust pipe ignited a power steering pipe and caused their retirement on Friday. They restarted on Saturday under Super Rally rules and gave a demonstration of the new Toyota’s potential by finishing in the top three in four of the seven gravel stages and winning the final one.

It was not a good weekend for the factory-based VW Sasolracing team, with former champions Enzo Kuun and Guy Hodgson crashing out on Friday’s stage three while fighting for second place with Habig and Paisley. The Polo was severely damaged after rolling end over end several times and the crew was taken to hospital for observation.

Former champions Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries (VW Sasolracing) also competed in the Super Rally on Saturday after they went off the road on Friday’s first stage and were unable to continue. They finished 18thoverall and 11th in S2000, but second-fastest times in Saturday’s first two stages before they lost time with a puncture on stage 12 was a reminder of the VW Polo’s potential.

Teenager Henk Lategan and Barry White impressed in their debut in the third VW Sasolracing Polo, finishing third on Friday and recovering from contact with a concrete tunnel wall and a brief grass fire to finish 13th in S2000. Their incident saw the cancellation of stage eight, the first of Saturday’s six gravel stages, as officials and bystanders extinguished the blaze caused by the car’s hot exhaust setting fire to the dry undergrowth. The 18-year-old Lategan marked himself as a champion of the future with a spirited fight-back which saw him take the honours from his more illustrious rivals on stage 12 on his way to 23rd overall and 13th in S2000.

Click here to download the final overall classification: https://handbrakeshairpins.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/2013-total-rally-final-results.pdf

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