Conrad Rautenbach takes slender lead into Garden Route Rally

Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton are blazing a trail to the top of the SA rally scoreboard. Quickpic

With two wins from their most recent rallies, Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton are in a fighting second place overall on the South African Rally Championship points log, with Mark just six behind leader Conrad Rautenbach and Robin one point shy of the top step with three rounds to go, starting with the brand new Garden Route Rally. 

Team Sasol’s second driver Jon Williams and Cobus Vrey are getting quicker by the rally, having won more stages so far than the defending champion Enzo Kuun and former champion Hergen Fekken.  Armed with M-Sport-built Ford Fiestas, Team Sasol has turned the establishment on its head this season with stunning performances out of the box. 

Mark is oozing confidence as the season hurtles towards a nail-biting finish.  “I’m very confident for the rest of the year.  Our package is really good now and I know we have the pace to push Conrad and Johnny (Gemmell) all the way.  I need to start thinking about who to race and who to ignore so I don’t go un-necessarily hard in an attempt to win every stage – that would be silly.  My mind is firmly on the championship”. 

“Physically, I’m in good shape and so is the car.  The team will put in the effort to get some testing done to try and find an ideal set-up but it will be tricky because no one knows what conditions to expect.  I don’t think that the stages will be that slow but they are quite narrow according to the organizers.  Robin and I will have to pay a bit more attention in the open sections as well but it’s the same for everybody”, Mark added. 

Mark and Robin start the Garden Route Rally running 2nd on the road. “I’m not scared to run up at the front.  After the various appeals from the Gauteng Rally were finalized, the championship has been blown wide open. Everyone will be pushing hard – Conrad, Johnny, Enzo and Hergen are all serious players in the championship.  We’ll see what happens when we add up the points at the end of the year”. 

Jon sees the brand new event as his best opportunity to shine this year.  “It’s new for everybody.  I can line up at the start of a stage and know that no one knows what to expect – it should be a great leveler and I’ll be really disappointed not to be in the top 5”. 

“I knew this year would be challenging and I’m not where I’d like to be.  Our stage wins show we have the pace; I need to be able to string a whole series of fast times together and I have a good feeling for the Garden Route Rally”, said Jon.

“Cobus and I are putting in a lot more effort on the notes.  This is one event where the co-driver needs to be on the ball.  My time in Europe was all about going fast on new events, so that experience should help me settle into a fast rhythm quite quickly.  I tend to spend too much time on Friday getting up to speed and coming on strong on Saturday.  I need to focus more on getting on the pace on Friday’s stages”, Jon admitted. 

Jon predicted that the nature of the terrain will suit the Sasol Fiestas. “The rally should suit the car well.  The package is good enough to get the result I’m hoping for.  I’m expecting tight, twisty and narrow roads which is Fiesta territory!  I’m enjoying driving the car and we’re determined to get a great result for the Team and for Sasol”. 

The Garden Route Rally starts from the Garden Route Mall at noon, heading straight into a short five-kilometre special stage adjacent to the Garden Route Mall, followed by three forest stages in the Outeniqua mountains and a short tar stage in the popular seaside resort town of Knysna. 

Saturday’s action starts at 08:00 from Simola Estate in Knysna with a new stage adjacent to the property before repeating Friday’s three forest special stages plus a fourth forest stage and a final tar stage at Simola Estate.

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