Four wins in five rallies for Cronje and Ford in South Africa [PLUS Photo Gallery]

A very successful inaugural Ford Dealer Rally ended in Cullinan, Gauteng yesterday with another dominant national rally championship victory for reigning champions Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Dealer Fiesta S2000).

It was the current runaway championship leaders’ fourth win in five events and, with three rounds remaining, they enjoy a comfortable 30-point lead at the top of the standings. They won eight of the 14 special stages over the two-day event, which took place in the historical diamond mining area of Cullinan east of Pretoria.

It was the perfect weekend for Ford. In addition to winning the four-wheel drive S2000 class, Ford Fiestas also won the S2000 Challenge for earlier specification four-wheel drive cars and the two-wheel drive S1600 class. Toyota spoilt the party slightly by taking the Manufacturers’ Award and extending their lead in the Manufacturers’ Championship.

Henk Lategan/Barry White (Volkswagen Sasolracing Polo S2000) were second overall, 01min 16sec in arrears. The 20-year-old Lategan, the hottest young property in South African rallying today, came from fifth overnight and added another three stage wins to the two he scored on Day One. Had it not been for a 20-second penalty for deviating from the route on Day One, he would have finished the first day in third place.

Third was the Castrol Team Toyota combination of Johnny Gemmell/Carolyn Swan in a Yaris S2000, who finished 42 seconds behind the Polo and, who in turn, just managed to hold off a determined challenge from Toyota team-mates Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee.

Poulter/Coetzee were penalised a total of 70 seconds for two jump starts on Day One, which saw them drop from second to eighth overnight and lost them a second place finish at the end of the rally. Seven top three finishers in Day Two’s eight stages saw this crew close to within six seconds of their team-mates at the finish at Zonderwater Correctional Services in Cullinan.

Privateers Japie van Niekerk/Gerhard Snyman were fifth and enjoyed their best result of the season so far in only the second outing in their New Africa Developments Ford Fiesta S2000 Challenge entry. Former champions Enzo Kuun/Douglas Judd (Volkswagen Sasolracing Polo S2000) scraped home in sixth place with a fast-finishing Giniel de Villiers/Greg Godrich (Imperial Toyota Yaris S2000) following just two seconds in arrears.

Completing the top ten were Team Total’s Jean-Pierre Damseaux/Hilton Auffray and Mohammed Moosa/Andre Vermeulen in eighth and ninth places in their Toyota Auris S2000 Challenge cars, with another Challenge entry the Toyota RunX of Stephanie Botha and her father Willem Hugo in tenth.

Defending S2000 Challenge champions, Gugu Zulu/Carl Peskin (Volkswagen Sasolracing Polo Vivo S2000), were forced to retire with a broken engine valve after completing just one stage on Day Two.

Former national rally champions Jan Habig/Robert Paisley were cruelly robbed of a hard-earned fifth place on the very last stage of the rally, when their Basil Read Ford Fiesta S2000 suffered a broken camshaft belt.

Hergen Fekken/Pierre Arries (Volkswagen Sasolracing Polo S2000) had a weekend to forget. The former champions hit a gate on SS2 on Day One and were forced to retire. They started on Day Two under Super Rally rules, which apply stiff penalties for all the stages missed, but only managed to complete two stages before retiring once again with a severe driveshaft vibration.

The two-wheel drive S1600 class honours went to a resurgent Ashleigh Haigh-Smith/Craig Parry (Castrol Ford Fiesta R2), who were 12th overall and 01min 22sec ahead of the second S1600, the Beurden Construction Volkswagen Polo R2 of Chad van Beurden/Nico Swartz. It was circuit racer Van Beurden’s best result in his first year in rallying, and came after he and Swartz won the final stage.

Haigh-Smith had started fourth on Day Two after a puncture on Day One dropped him to eighth after the first three stages. He fought back magnificently to win the Class for the first time this season. Third were Paul Franken/Henry Kohne (Manitou Group Volkswagen Polo R2) in their best result of the season, who were just 0.8sec behind Van Beurden after more than two hours and 160 kilometres of gravel rally action.

Another circuit racer competing in only his second-ever rally, Ernie van der Walt was a very happy fourth with co-driver James Aldridge in their Ferodo Ford Fiesta R2. Fifth were Matthew Vacy-Lyle/Schalk van Heerden (Fragram Tools Toyota RunX S1600) ahead of Andrew Heine/Stephen Jones (Toyota Auris S1600) and Lourens van Rensburg/Jason Plumbley (7 Films Ford Fiesta S2000).

Completing the top ten were eight-times former Class champion Craig Trott/Janine Lourens, whose rally was bedevilled by punctures and delays in other competitors’ dust; championship leaders Clint Weston/Christoff Snyders (Reef Tankers Citroen C2 R2); and Marko Himmel of Namibia and Gert Nienaber (Toyota Corolla S1600).

Weston and Snyders had led throughout the event until dropping back to second behind the winners on SS13 and rolling their car on the final stage due to a wheel breaking off their Citroën on a straight section 5km into the final stage.

Himmel’s older brother Thilo and Armand du Toit (Toyota Etios R2), second in the championship, competed in the Super Rally on Day Two after suffering a broken driveshaft on Day One. They dominated the stage times with five wins out of eight to Weston/Snyders’ two, and retired on the final stage with suspension problems.

The next round of the Championship is the Toyota Western Cape Dealer Rally in the Western Cape on 13 and 14 September.

Final Overall Classification:
01) M. Cronje/R. Houghton
Ford Fiesta S2000 – 01h 44m 56.4s
02) H. Lategan/B. White
Volkswagen Polo S2000 + 01m 16.9s
03) J. Gemmell/C. Swan
Toyota Yaris S2000 + 01m 59.7s
04) L. Poulter/E. Coetzee
Toyota Yaris S2000 + 02m 06.3s
05) J. Van Niekerk/G. Snyman
Ford Fiesta S2000 + 02m 25.6s
06) E. Kuun/D. Judd
Volkswagen Polo S2000 + 02m 46.1s
07) G. De Villiers/G. Godrich
Toyota Yaris S2000 + 02m 48.9s
08) J-P. Damseaux/H. Auffray
Toyota Auris S2000 + 03m 28.9s
09) M. Moosa/A. Vermeulen
Toyota Auris S2000 + 05m 39.0s
10) S. Botha/W. Hugo
Toyota RunX S2000 + 11m 20.5s

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