Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton dominated the Polokwane Rally from the first stage, giving Sasolracing their fifth victory from seven rounds of the South African Rally Championship and re-took the championship lead by twenty points with one round remaining.
Jon Williams and Cobus Vrey ended 10th overall after a challenging weekend, while Gavin Cronje and Van Aardt Schoeman made a great debut in the third Sasolracing Fiesta, claiming the fastest time on stage 4 before retiring with a failed clutch on day 2.
A unique Sasolracing record was set on the final Saturday tarmac stage where Mark, Jon and Gavin set the first-ever 1-2-3 stage result.
Recording the biggest margin of victory this season on their way to their fourth victory, Mark and Robin put their plan of attack into action on the very first stage, taking an immediate 14 second lead over the chasing pack. Over the remaining dry Limpopo stages run in sweltering mid-30°C temperatures, Mark and Robin came under threat from the similar Fiesta driven by Jan Habig but that threat soon wilted and the Sasolracing pair went to bed happy with a 38.8 second lead in their pockets.
The scene was set for Mark’s superb win on Friday afternoon when a qualifying stage was held, allowing the top ten seeded drivers to choose their road position. Mark chose to run 7th on the road, giving the Sasolracing S2000 better grip after their rivals swept the racing line clean of loose gravel.
“Running 7th on the road on the first day was key to doing well in this rally”, Mark related at the Peter Mokaba Stadium finish. “I knew we had to push hard to build a solid lead as that would take the pressure off us on the rougher and more technical 11th and 12th stages on Sunday. I had to concentrate really hard to keep on the lines but it paid off with a near perfect clean run”.
The Sasolracing technicians changed the Fiesta’s rear differential and repaired a leaking power steering pump in the final 45 minute service after the handbrake failed on Saturday afternoon, the only issues to cause a blip on the otherwise flawless performance.
“Sunday’s stages were bad and I knew I could bleed time at a reasonable rate and retain the lead; it was so easy to rip a wheel off as the roads were exceptionally narrow in places. The second day was like a watch; it just ticked over all day”, said the ecstatic driver.
Jon and Cobus in contrast, had a torrid first stage, taking a wrong slot in their own dust as the stage curved around on itself. With confidence shaken and rhythm lost, they lost another 50 seconds when they took another wrong turn in stage three, ending the day in an unaccustomerd10th place overnight.
Determined to put the previous day’s misfortunes behind them, Jon won the opening tarmac stage but their day went backwards from there. The pair got lost in the open section after stage 11 and earned a 3½ minute penalty for their troubles. In the final gravel stage, the Fiesta overheated and Jon backed off to claim his eventual 10th spot.
Gavin Cronje and Van Aardt Schoeman put in a workmanlike drive in brother Mark’s spare Sasolracing-liveried car. The debutant kept his head and kept his day clean to gain valuable seat time. The former le Mans Series champion put in a sensational stage-winning time in the first tarmac road of the event, fast enough to pip former double champion Enzo Kuun by 0.9 of a second.
En route to the first Sunday stage, Gavin felt the clutch slipping and retired the car rather than risk the unit and was satisfied with a sensible debut.
With Mark’s main title challenger failing to finish the Polokwane Rally, the championship leaderboard has the Cronje/Houghton combination back on top with a 20 point lead. SA rally rules dictate a team can score seven of the eight event results towards the title and after Polokwane, Mark must potentially discard ten points earned on the Gauteng Rally, leaving him with a net 10 point lead.
The final round of the championship is the Garden Route Rally on 2nd and 3rd November.