Ford triumphs in rally thriller

2012-03-26 08:15
FLYING TO TOP SPOT: Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton steer their Ford Fiesta to victory in the opening round of the 2012 SA Rally championship.
The opening round of the 2012 South African Rally championship turned into a thrilling two-horse race in kwaZulu-Natal this weekend.

The Total Rally ultimately became a showdown between Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton’s Ford Fiesta and the Toyota Auris of Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan. The privateer Ford crew finally took overall honours by 39.3 seconds after two days of racing and nearly 200km of special stages.

Gemmell pushed Cronje all the way after losing the lead to the Ford on Saturday’s opening 25km Ellingham stage near Scottburgh, the longest stage in the rally and the one that had the biggest influence on the result. At the finish, near the Suncoast Casino, the pair had left the rest of the field in their wake with Cronje winning six of the 10 stages and Gemmell two.


Third, and winner of the final three-kilometre tarmac spectator stage in Durban, was the Fiesta of Charl Wilken and Greg Godrich, 1min37.2sec behind the winners.

Former champions Enzo Kuun and Guy Hodgson were the first of the all-new factory VW Polos in fifth place, who came in ahead of team mates Hans Weijs of the Netherlands and Belgian co-driver Bjorn Degandt, who impressed in their first appearance on a South African rally.

Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Grant Martin finished seventh in an Auris ahead of team mates Mohammed Moosa and Andre Vermeulen. Making up the top 10 in the S2000 class were Jon Williams/Cobus Vrey (Fiesta) and Wilro Dippenaar/Morne du Toit in a Toyota RunX.

Prominent non-finishers in the premier class included Toyota’s Leeroy Poulter and Elvene Coetzee who went off the road on Friday’s Ellingham stage after just four kilometres and were helpless to prevent their car from being burnt to a shell after the hot exhaust set the dry undergrowth on fire.

Former champions Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries were forced to retire their Polo on Saturday with a recurrence of the electrical problems that robbed them of finishing first on Friday.


The new S2000 Challenge category for older versions of the premier class cars was won by Dippenaar/Du Toit, who finished 6min50 ahead of the VW Polo of Gugu Zulu/Carl Peskin. The only other competitors in the class failed to finish as Henk Lategan/Barry White (VW Polo) rolled out of contention on Friday and Nicolas Ryan/Geoff Tyrer (VW Polo) also watched their car burn out in an incident similar to that of the Poulter Toyota. Nobody was hurt in either crash.

Former champion Craig Trott and co-driver Robbie Coetzee won the S1600 class for two-wheel drive cars and were 13th overall, beating closest rivals Matthew Vacy-Lyle/Schalk van Heerden (Toyota RunX) by 3min53. Murray Lloyd/Ralph Lehman (VW Polo) were third, 6min33 behind the class winners.


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