Brian Joss –
The Ford Performance team of Mark Cronje and Gerhard Snyman won the Toyota Cape Dealer Rally in Cape Town today in emphatic style. Crucially, the victory powered them back into the championship lead with just one round of the 2015 series remaining.
Despite this being the first outing with Cronje and Snyman paired together, after regular co-driver Robin Houghton vacated the navigator’s seat due to the unfavourable weight regulations, the crew dominated the proceedings on the first day of the rally in their Class S2000 Ford Fiesta – even though Cronje was suffering flu-like symptoms the whole weekend.
They claimed all four stage wins, including the popular specials at the Killarney race track in Cape Town. Championship rivals Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee suffered a setback after damaging their suspension when they hit the pit wall at Killarney, losing more than two minutes as a result.
Going into the overnight stop, Cronje and Snyman enjoyed an 18.6 sec margin over the VW Polo of Henk Lategan and Barry White, with Giniel de Villiers and Carolyn Swan (Toyota Yaris) slotting into third.
“It was great to have everything go our way on Friday but the real race is Saturday,” Cronje said. “It’s amazing how much you can lose or gain on these short stages and they have to be taken seriously.”
Snyman was happy with their progress too. “Today went really well. In some ways it’s difficult to tell how we were doing, as there weren’t too many calls on the short tar stages. The real test will be when we hit the gravel.”
While Lady Luck wasn’t on their side at the previous round in Cullinan, robbing the Ford pair of victory with the end almost in sight due to a mechanical failure, the Cape Rally favoured the Fiesta and they snatched three second-fastest times on SS10, SS11 and SS12.
The Toyota challenge went the opposite way as any potential challenge from championship rivals Poulter/Coetzee evaporated when they rolled out of the rally, as did their team-mates de Villiers/Swan a stage later.
Cronje and Snyman stamped their authority on the penultimate round in confident style by winning SS13 and rounding off the action-packed weekend with a comfortable margin of 3 min 23 sec over the VW Polo of Gugu Zulu/Hilton Auffrey, with Hergen Fekken/Pierre Arries a further 28.5 sec adrift.
Lategan’s impressive run also came to a halt when he suffered suspension failure on the final stage.
“It was really tricky out there but the rally went very well,” an elated Cronje stated, as the stellar performance saw him move back into the championship lead with 88 points, 11 clear of Poulter. “Gerhard and I are still getting used to each other, but he’s making a massive effort and the results are exactly as we hoped.
“It was tough making the decision to have a new, lighter navigator for the last two rallies, but things have worked the way we wanted them to in the short term. We just have to hope it pays dividends in the long run.”
Snyman added: “We’re still getting used to each other and I made one or two calls a little early but we’re settling in. Fortunately the results are what matters and so far so good.
“It was a very fast rally and Mark is really quick, so it takes some getting used to. I had to read a lot more instructions way quicker than I’m used to, but after the first two stages we seemed to find our rhythm and things just got better and better.”
Manager John Nagel praised the performance and superlative team effort: “We’re thrilled with the result. Robin made a huge sacrifice and we are really thankful that it paid off. This weekend can’t have been easy for him but he’s continued to give his all to the team and it really is appreciated.
“It still promises to be a nail-biting end to the championship – even though this weekend’s result puts us one step closer to achieving our goals.”
In the S1600 class, Ashley Haigh-Smith and Nial Burns finished third in their Ford Fiesta and earned the Ford Performance incentive.