Race for SA rally title heats up
TIGHT RACE: Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan (Toyota Auris) and Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta) are the two teams to beat.
The recent Volkswagen Rally in the Eastern Cape saw a slight shuffle among the top four drivers in the South African Rally championship but the battle for the title remains one of the closest in years.
A mere 12 points will cover top contenders when the second half of the season starts with the kwaZulu-Natal Rally over August 17/18.
Their first win of the season has given Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan (Toyota Auris) a slim three-point lead over Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta).
TOUGH ROUNDS AHEAD
The two teams remain on top of the standings with 82 and 79 points respectively. Between them they have won three of the four rounds to date and 27 of the 47 special stages, with 16 going to Cronje and 11 to Gemmell.
Seven points behind Cronje and moving up to third overall are multiple former champions Jannie Habig and Robert Paisley (Fiesta). In what was probably the toughest round so far, Habig won five of the nine stages on his way to a close second and clearly signalled his intention to win a seventh championship.
Jon Williams and Cobus Vrey (Fiesta), the only other race winners so far in 2012, are fourth in the points standings and two points behind Habig/Paisley after their maiden success in the 2012 Toyota Gauteng Dealer Rally in June.
Fifth overall and also in the all-wheel drive S2000 class are Hans Weijs Jnr and Bjorn Degandt (VW Polo).
Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin (Polo) continue to impress in their first season in the premier S2000 class. They are eighth overall and lead the S2000 Challenge for the older specification all-wheel drive cars after a hat trick of top 10 finishes. They have a 31-point advantage over S2000 rivals Wilro Dippenaar/Morne du Toit (Toyota RunX).
Third are promising youngsters Henk Lategan/Barry White (Polo) after seventh place overall in the VW rally.
Jean-Pierre Damseaux/Grant Martin (Auris) are sixth with 56 points after a steady, if unspectacular, run. They're six points ahead of Charl Wilken/Greg Godrich in the second Fiesta though both crews are race winners and looking to reassert themselves through the rest of the season.
Leeroy Poulter/Elvéne Coetzee (Auris), with two wins in their debut S2000 season in 2011, have endured a frustrating season and are 17th in S2000 and 20th overall after three non-finishes - one of them because of a fire that cost them their car during the first round.
Completing the top 10 overall are Hein Lategan/Johan van der Merwe (Peugeot 207), ninth with 41 points, and former champions Hergen Fekken/Pierre Arries (Polo) 10th with 35 points. Fekken and Arries were non-finishers in the opening round and are having a quiet season by their standards, something they're sure to rectify in the rounds ahead.
Outside the top 10 but not to be discounted are former champions Enzo Kuun/Guy Hodgson (Polo) in 11th and Mohammed Moosa/Andre Vermeulen (Auris) in 12th. Kuun and Hodgson, with two non-finishes in the first four rounds, showed their class in the VW rally when they recovered from 13th on day one to finish fifth on day two and can be expected to mount a serious challenge through the remainder of the season.
Leading the two-wheel drive championship for S1600 cars are former champion Craig Trott/Robbie Coetzee ( RunX) with 67 points. The wily and experienced Trott, driving his ageing Toyota in its sixth season, is holding off a crop of talented youngsters that includes Nic van der Westhuizen/Henry Dearlove (Fiesta R2) second with 57 points and Matthew Vacy-Lyle/Schalk van Niekerk (RunX), third on 52 points.
FORD LEADING MANUFACTURERS
It’s been a tight contest in this championship: with different winners in each of the first four rounds – Trott, Morne Janse van Rensburg (Polo), Van der Westhuizen/Ashleigh Haigh-Smith (Fiesta R2) – and the destination of the title is still very open.
Ford continues to lead the Manufacturers’ championship from Toyota thought the gap is down to 56 points (390-334). VW is third on 273.
The next round of the championship will be Rally SA in KZN over August 17/18.