Cronje, Houghton seal Sasol Rally
Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton followed up their recent win in kwaZulu-Natal with victory in the Sasol Rally in Mpumalanga over the weekend.
The Lowveld proved a thrilling battleground for the current championship leaders who were involved in a titanic clash with Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan (Toyota Auris) throughout the 600km event run over Friday, April 20 and Saturday, April 21, 2012.
Gemmell and Swan led Cronje and Houghton by 14.3sec at the end of Friday’s six special stages, each winning two stages.
PUNCTURES AND RETIREMENTS
Gemmell was to rue two slow punctures at the end of stages two and nine while Cronje did well to overcome a 20sec penalty at the end of day one because he clocked in late at the final control after damaging his Ford’s sub-frame. This cost him the lead at the end of the day.
Stage 13 was the last of the recognised gravel racing stages before the final ceremonial stage over just 500m in the Lowveld Showgrounds where it was clear that whoever won the final stage would likely win the rally. Both crews put in a supreme effort and it was Cronje and Houghton who took the honours, 5.2sec ahead of Gemmell and Swan to clinch their second successive rally victory by the slim margin of 3.1sec.
Cronje won four of Saturday’s stages, Gemmell two.
A distant third overall were Dutch driver Hans Weijs and Belgian co-driver Bjorn Degandt (VW Polo) after their best outing so far in their first year in the SA championship. They finished 1min37.4 sec behind the winners.
Fourth was the Fiesta of multiple former champions Jan Habig and Robert Paisley, a further 29 seconds behind. Fifth went to Jon Williams and Cobus Vrey in another Fiesta.
Sixth overall and first in the S2000 Challenge category for older-spec four-wheel drive cars were Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin (Polo Vivo), who delivered their best performance yet in their first year in the top class of rallying. Second in the challenge and ninth overall were Henk Lategan and Barry White (Polo), ahead of Werner Koekemoer and Etienne Lourens (Toyota RunX), who finished 12th overall.
Making up the top 10 overall were former champions Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries (Polo), who recovered well from a puncture delay in stage one, Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Grant Martin (Auris) in eighth place and Japie van Niekerk and Gerhard Snyman (Polo) in 10th.
Punctures on the rocky roads in the York Timbers forests in the Sabie, Graskop and Hendriksdal areas took their toll of the 40-strong field, with several top crews among those who lost time completing stages on flat wheels or were forced to stop to change a wheel.
Among them were 2011 winners Leeroy Poulter and Elvene Coetzee (Auris), who lost nearly four minutes on stage three on Friday and lost more time in stage 11 on Saturday. They eventually finished 11th.
...AND THE RETIREMENTS
Notable retirements in the premier S2000 class were former champions Enzo Kuun and Guy Hodgson, who had the misfortune of a flat battery within kilometres of the final stage in Nelspruit.
The S1600 class and the two-wheel drive championship category was won by Morne van Rensburg and Rikus Fourie (Polo), who were somewhat surprised to find themselves in the lead after starting the final day fifth .
Overnight leaders Ashley Haigh-Smith and Craig Parry (Fiesta) dominated the class until losing six minutes with a flat tyre on stage nine. This dropped them to second behind Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle (RunX) but they regained the lead when Botterill retired with a dropped valve in the Toyota’s engine only to retire themselves with a broken driveshaft.
Also casualties in the two-wheel drive class were former champion Craig Trott and Robbie Coetzee (RunX), who dropped out of third on Saturday with a broken driveshaft. Nic van der Westhuizen and Henry Dearlove (Fiesta) had been third at the end of the first day, only to retire with a broken oil cooler on Saturday’s first stage.
The second round of the FIA African Rally championship, which ran in conjunction with the second round of the SA championship and was won by Cronje and Houghton from Habig and Paisley with Williams and Vrey third overall.
The leading visiting crew of Mohammed Essa of Zambia and Greg Stead of Zimbabwe (Subaru Impreza WRX) finished fourth ahead of fellow visitors Giancarlo Davite and Sylvia Vindevogel, also in an Impreza. Essa was 13th overall in the SA championship event, one place ahead of Davite.