Champions Cronje and Houghton lead Ford Dealer Rally [PLUS photo gallery]

It was an action-packed and incident-filled first day of the inaugural Ford Dealer Rally in Gauteng today with defending champions Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Dealer Fiesta S2000) emerging comfortable winners after the first six special stages in the Cullinan area east of Pretoria.

The champions won stages one, four and five and will start the first of tomorrow’s eight gravel stages from Zonderwater Correctional Services at 08h00 with a handy 47sec advantage over Castrol Team Toyota’s Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan in the first of the factory Yaris S2000s.

Third and five seconds behind the Toyota pair were veteran former champions Jan Habig and Robert Paisley (Basil Read Ford Fiesta S2000), who received a 20sec penalty for deviating from the official route. They took the honours in the final stage, the event’s only tarmac stage over less than two kilometres at the Mamelodi Plaza.

Former champions Enzo Kuun and Douglas Judd in the first of the factory Volkswagen Sasolracing Polo S2000 entries were fourth, two seconds behind Habig and Paisley and six seconds ahead of VW team-mates Henk Lategan and Barry White. The 19-year-old Lategan lived up to his great promise by winning stages two and three, but lost out on third place when he picked up a 20sec penalty for deviating from the route. Privateers Japie van Niekerk and Gerhard Snyman were a fine sixth and first in the S2000 Challenge for older specification four-wheel drive cars in only their second outing in their New Africa Developments Ford Fiesta S2000.

Seventh and a further six seconds in arrears was the Team TOTAL Toyota Auris S2000 Challenge car of Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Hilton Auffray, 12 seconds ahead of Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee in the second Castrol Toyota Yaris S2000.

Poulter and Coetzee actually completed the six stages in second place overall, 29sec behind the Cronje and Houghton Ford, but were hit with two penalties totalling 1 min 10 sec for jumped starts on the first two stages. They eventually were placed just one second ahead of ninth-placed Toyota Motorsport team-mates Giniel de Villiers and Greg Godrich (Imperial Toyota Yaris S2000).

Completing the prestigious top 10 were Mohammed Moosa and Andre Vermeulen in the second Team Total Auris S2000 Challenge car. They finished 20 seconds behind De Villiers and Godrich.

Significant first-day casualties included former champions Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries, who hit a gate in their Volkswagen Sasolracing Polo S2000 on stage two and retired, and S2000 Challenge defending champions Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin (Volkswagen Sasolracing Polo), who finished 12th overall and fifth in the Challenge after experiencing drive shaft problems on stage two and also a misfire.

Leaders after the first day in the S1600 class for two-wheel drive cars were championship leaders Clint Weston and Christoff Snyders (Reef Tankers Citroen C2 R2 MAX) despite a persistent misfire. They won stages two, four and five and finished four seconds ahead of Paul Franken and Henry Kohne (Manitou Group Volkswagen Polo R2) and five seconds in front of Chad van Beurden and Nico Swartz (Beurden Construction Volkswagen Polo R2).

Fourth were Ashley Haigh-Smith and Craig Parry (Castrol Ford Fiesta R2), who lost time with a puncture that dropped them to eighth after the first three stages. Fifth were Andrew Heine and Stephen Jones (Toyota Auris S1600), ahead of Matthew Vacy-Lyle and Schalk van Heerden (Fragram Tools Toyota RunX S1600), rallying rookie Ernie van der Walt and James Aldridge (Ferodo Ford Fiesta R2), Marko Himmel and Gert Nienaber (Toyota Corolla S1600), Lourens van Rensburg and Jason Plumbley (7 Films Ford Fiesta R2) and defending two-wheel drive champion Craig Trott and Janine Lourens (Team Total Toyota RunX S1600).

Notable casualties were Thilo Himmel and Armand du Toit (Toyota Etios R2), who won stages one and three and led the class after the first three stages, only to drop back to 13th when a drive shaft broke on stage four and they had to complete the last two stages without any assistance from their service crew.

Tomorrow’s action starts from Zonderwater Correctional Services at 08h00 and includes eight gravel stages before the podium ceremony back at Zonderwater at 16h00.

Handbrakes & Hairpins is a FREE weekly eMagazine. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and entertainment from the world of rallying.

Cover 289