Hat trick for Ford on Garden Route

Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (S2000 Ford Fiesta) getting down and dirty on the inaugural Garden Route Rally.

Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (S2000 Ford Fiesta) completed a dominant performance in the inaugural two-day Garden Route Rally, which ended in Knysna on Saturday afternoon, winning four of the nine special stages to take their third consecutive victory in the South African Rally championship and move to the top of the points standings with two rounds remaining. 

Their overall time for the 168km of gravel special stages in the George and Knysna forest areas was 2hr 16min29.8. 

Second, 1min31.1 in arrears, was the works S2000 Toyota Auris of Johnny Gemmell and Scottish navigator Drew Sturrock., while Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee impressed with third overall in the second works Auris in their first season in the premier class, winning four of Saturday’s five stages. 

Defending champions Enzo Kuun and Guy Hodgson were fourth and first of the four factory S2000 Volkswagen Polos, 3min 17.9 behind the winners, and 2009 Dakar Rally winner Giniel de Villiers, competing in his first season of South African rallying, scored his best result of the season so far when he and navigator Ralph Pitchford finished a creditable fifth, three minutes behind Kuun and Hodgson. 

Zimbabwean Conrad Rautenbach and French navigator Nicolas Klinger (S2000 Ford Fiesta) lost their championship lead after a subdued performance that saw them finish sixth, 4min6 behind Cronje’s Ford. 

“I wasn’t confident behind the wheel all weekend,” said Rautenbach. “We’re not quite sure what the problem is, but the car just hasn’t felt right for the past two events.” 

Making up the top 10 were Jon Williams and Cobus Vrey (S2000 Ford Fiesta), Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Carolyn Swan (S2000 Toyota Auris), Mohammed Moosa and Grant Martin (S2000 Toyota Auris) and, Nicolas Ryan and Armand du Toit (S2000 VW Polo). 

In a tough event run in varying weather conditions – Friday was rainy with very slippery roads, while the sun shone on Saturday and conditions were a lot firmer – the tight and challenging route with mostly forest stages reduced the original 32 entries to 17 at the finish. 

Significant retirements in the four-wheel drive top class were the VW Polos of former champions Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries (who went out with a blown engine while lying third after completing Friday’s stage three) and former champions Jan Habig and Robert Paisley (who ripped off a front wheel after hitting a log on Saturday’s stage nine while lying seventh). 

Also forced out of the event, on the final stage, were top S2000 contenders Charl Wilken and Greg Godrich (Ford Fiesta) with overheating problems. They had struggled with rear-differential problems throughout the two days and were well down in the placings when they retired with electrical gremlins. 

The first car home in the Two Wheel Drive championship was the S1600 Ford Fiesta of Ashley Haigh Smith and James Aldridge, who were gifted theclass win – and an impressive 11th overall – when the Toyota RunX of championship leaders Craig Trott and Robbie Coetzee retired on the final stage with a broken gearbox. Second in class and 12th overall were Tjaart Conradie and Kes Naidoo (Toyota Auris), 35.6 sec in arrears and 19.6 sec ahead of third-placed brother and sister combination Christoff and Celeste Snyders (VW Polo). 

Megan Verlaque and Hilton Auffray (VW Polo) took the S1400 honours after a rally-long battle with the similar Polo of 17-year-old rising star Henk Lategan and Pierre Jordaan. The two crews were neck and neck when, in a great show of sportsmanship, Lategan stopped to rescue Verlaque when she got stuck in mud on Friday. 

In the end, four minutes’ worth of penalties for lateness – two on Friday and two on Saturday – were the undoing of Lategan and Jordaan, and they eventually finished second in class and 16th overall, 43.6sec and one place behind Verlaque and Auffray. 

The next round of the championship will be the Toyota Cape Dealer Rally in the Western Cape on September 23/24.

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