FORD WINS ROUND 1: Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton raced their Ford Fiesta to victory in the 2015 Tour Natal Rally. The next round of the SA National Rally championship will be in Mpumalanga in April. Image: Videosport
SCOTTBURGH, KZN - Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta) dominated the Tour Natal Rally, the inaugural round of the 2015 South African National Rally championship, winning seven stage wins and overall victory.
While the Ford pair romped virtually unchallenged in the S2000 class it was very different in the S1600 class as the lead changed hands numerous times before Paulus Franken/Henry Kohne (VW Polo) took victory.
Cronje/Houghton, after 11 special stages through the sugar-cane fields inland from Scottburgh, finished in 2hr06min01, beating defending champions Leeroy Poulter/Elvene Coetzee (Toyota Yaris S2000) by 44.6sec.
‘CAR PERFORMED FAULTLESSLY’
Cronje said: “The car performed faultlessly and so did the team. It was a great rally for us and we are happy to start our season with a good win. It gives us the momentum to carry over to the next event.”
An overnight change on his Yaris did not bear fruit for Poulter: “The revised settings did not work and after the first two stages we changed back but by then it was too late, Mark was too far ahead.”
Winning the final stage of the rally, the power stage, was small consolation for the Toyota crew. This stage and its innovative format also proved very popular with the spectators.
Henk Lategan/Barry White (VW Polo S2000) were third, scoring their first finish and a podium 28.2sec behind Poulter/Coetzee.
Dakar hero Giniel de Villiers and Carolyn Swan (Yaris) took no risks to secure fourth and Japie van Niekerk/Gordon Noble (Ford Fiesta S2000) had to work hard to regain fifth after a puncture in Stage 8.
Ultimately the pair beat the VW Polo team of Gugu Zulu and Pierre Arries, in his first outing in top-tier rallying in a year, by nine seconds, displacing them with one special still to run.
It was a day of major upsets and heartbreak in the hotly contested S1600 class. Worst affected were Ashley Haigh-Smith and Damian van Ass (Ford Fiesta S1600). With the front-runners hit by trouble, they took the class lead and looked set for victory until a broken wheel halted them two kilometres from the finish.
Overnight leaders Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle (Toyota Etios) lost four minutes to a puncture then had brake problems, leaving them floundering at the bottom end of the grid.
Chad van Beurden/Nico Swartz (VW Polo), second in the class, tried to capitalise on Botterill’s woes but had mechanical issues during Stage 7 which ended their charge.
A damaged control arm on Stage 7 ended the race for Richard Leeke/Rikus Fourie (Ford Fiesta R2) while Ernie van der Walt/Rowan Robberts (Ford Fiesta R2) rolled out of the rally in Stage 8.
Stage 8 also claimed Andrew Heine/Robby Coetzee (VW Polo R2) as they skidded off-road and beached their Polo.
Paulus Franken/Henry Kohne Polo) raced to victory in the S1600 category, a minute ahead of Matthew Vacy-Lyle/Schalk van Heerden Etios), with Botterill/Simon Vacy-Lylethird.
The only surviving NRC4 entry after the 11 stages was that of Piet Bakkes and Shaun Visser (Auris). They finished ninth overall while Wilro Dippenaar/Kes Naidoo (Auris) finished second in class though due to transmission trouble, Superally rules left them out of contention.
In the NRC2 Challenge, Bryan and Keith Heine (Datsun SSS) were the pick of the bunch and indeed won the challenge.
They were followed by Trevor Graham/Brian Clifton (Nissan Skyline) with Hanno Ehlers/Kevin Cunningham (Toyota Corolla) bringing up the rear after Tony Ball/Wade Harris (Lancia Fulvia) ran out of fuel after Stage 8. In total 13 out of 25 vehicles completed the 426km rally.
The next round in the SA National Rally and Africa Rally championships, the Sasol Rally, will be run in Mpumalanga over April 17/18.