Reigning South African national rally champions Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton go to Mpumalanga next week determined to keep the pressure on their rivals. And with an emphatic win on the opening round in KZN under their belt and some go-faster bits recently added to their Ford Dealer Team Fiesta, they are feeling bullish about a good result.
But the big news is that they will have some serious backstop on the Sasol Rally, which starts in Sabie at midday on April 19, and joining them in a second S2000 Ford Fiesta will be Matthew Wilson, whose CV includes a fourth place on the Japan Rally 2007, a round of the World Rally Championship. Matthew, 26, has a wealth of experience at the highest level and entered his first WRC event at the tender age of 17. He is the son of Malcolm Wilson founder of M-Sport – the company which built and developed the Cronje/Houghton car and over the years he has been instrumental in the development of various fast Fords from his father’s stable.
Says Cronje: “We won this event last year and we’d dearly like to repeat the result. It is one of the toughest and longest events on the calendar so a measured approach is needed. We’re testing some new components next week (April 15 and 16) and we’re confident they will give us added performance, while having a second car with a top crew on the event as well as an engineering team from M-Sport on hand will enable us to maximise testing mileage.”
Cronje/Houghton have become a formidable partnership and are now into double figures as far as wins go, with victory in KZN six weeks ago their 10th. They won four events in 2012 and made a further two podium visits, clinching the championship with a fourth place in the final round.
The presence of world-class navigator Chris Patterson (who has navigated for the likes of Petter Solberg) will also be put to good use. Explains co-driver Robin Houghton: “Writing pace notes is a specialised task, and I’m hoping to learn from an expert who has performed at an international level for many years. There’s about 200 km of special stage on the Sasol Rally, so the pressure is on the co-driver too. The event is a round of the FIA African Rally Championship, so on Wednesday April 17 we can drive the route twice at strictly controlled speeds and make notes – it is here where I believe Chris will be a great asset.”
“We believe in leaving as little as possible to chance, and thorough preparation of both man and machine is what ensures success at this level of competition,” explains Cronje. “That’s why for us the event actually starts on Monday 15, and I’ll be behind the wheel of the Dealer Team Ford Fiesta every day for the next week – with the exception of Sunday, when we’ll hopefully be having a lie-in and celebrating win number 11 as a team!”