Mark Cronjé and Robin Houghton completed their domination of the Volkswagen Rally in the Eastern Cape this weekend when they brought their S2000 Sasol Ford Fiesta home in first place at King’s Beach in Port Elizabeth.
Watched by a huge crowd of spectators in warm and sunny conditions, the pair completed the 175-km, 12 special stages 36,1 seconds ahead of the factory Castrol Toyota of last year’s winners, Johnny Gemmell and Drew Sturrock. Third, a further, 1 min 32,8 sec back was the first of the four factory BP Volkswagen Polos, driven by reigning national rally champions Enzo Kuun and Guy Hodgson.
Kuun just edged out team-mates and former champions Jan Habig and Robert Paisley, who were fourth, 6,1 sec behind. Zimbabwean Conrad Rautenbach and French co-driver Nicolas Klinger were fifth in their Green Ford Fiesta, 2 min 10,6 sec behind the winners. Jon Williams and Cobus Vrey were sixth in another Sasol Ford Fiesta, 45,9 sec behind Rautenbach.
Rounding out the top 10 were Nicolas Ryan/Armand du Toit (Grandmark VW Polo), Giniel de Villiers and Ralph Pitchford (Red Bull VW Polo), Guy Botterill/Schalk van Heerden (winners of the Super 1600 class in a Yato Toyota Yaris), and Visser du Plessis/Gerhard Snyman (Pirtek Peugeot 207).
Cronjé led at the end of the first day and won four stages on his way to his second consecutive national championship rally victory. He never put a foot wrong on a tough event made more difficult by recent heavy rains and by the traditionally daunting Longmore Forest stages.
The high-speed slippery surface in the forests took its toll. On Friday, on the first visit to the forests, top contenders Charl Wilken and Greg Godrich (Basil Read Ford Fiesta) crashed out a few kilometres into the first stage, to be followed by Japie van Niekerk and Simon Vacy-Lyle (NAD VW Polo).
Other prominent casualties included Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee in the second factory Toyota, who rolled while lying second on the second stage on Friday. They competed under non-points-scoring Super Rally regulations on Saturday after overnight repairs and scored a stage win on the penultimate stage (a new tar stage next to the Soccer World Cup stadium).
Botterill and Van Heerden’s performance in the Super 1600 class was impressive. It was Botterill’s maiden win in his first year in rallying and to finish inside the top 10 overall on such a tough rally was a great achievement. Second in the class was multiple former class A6 champion Craig Trott and co-driver Robbie Coetzee (Total Toyota RunX) and third was former class A7 champion Chris de Wit with Frans de Wit in a Toyota Corolla.
Current S1600 championship front runners Christoff and sister Celeste Snyders (Sabertek VW Polo) were in a three-way battle for the class lead on Friday when they broke a wheel and their rear suspension after hitting a kerb on one of the tar stages. After replacing the rear axle overnight they went out on Saturday after odometer troubles caused them to get lost and run out of petrol.
Ashley Haigh Smith and James Aldridge (React Ford Fiesta), who had been in the battle with the Snyders’ on Friday, rolled out of contention on Saturday.
Provisional honours in the Super 1400 class went to the only survivors, the all-woman combination of Megan Verlaque and Lirene du Plessis (BP VW Polo), who did very well to finish 15th overall out of just 16 crews that completed the event from 33 starters. Their joy was all the sweeter as they beat former national champions and team-mates Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries in a class S2000 Polo. Fekken and Arries finished last after challenging strongly for second place early on Saturday before breaking a wheel and losing 38 minutes on the road as they effected repairs.
Karting star and rally rookie Ian Young and Henry Dearlove (Associated Toyota Yaris) rolled out of contention on Saturday after leading the class at the end of the first day.
The next round of the championship is the sixth in the championship and will be held in the George and Knysna areas of the Garden Route on 26 and 27 August.