Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Sasol Racing Ford Fiesta) emerged the winners of day one of the Polokwane Rally in Limpopo this afternoon.

Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton

They are seeking their first national championship rally title and started today’s penultimate round five points behind championship leaders Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan (Castrol Team Toyota Auris).

Cronje and Houghton completed the eight special stages in and around the Limpopo capital 47 seconds ahead of former champions Jan Habig and Robert Paisley (Basil Read Ford Fiesta).  Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries (BP VW Polo) were third, 1 min 7 sec behind the day’s winners.

Giniel de Villiers and Celeste Snyders (Imperial Toyota Auris) finished fourth, 18 seconds behind Fekken and Arries and 12 seconds ahead of Castrol Toyota’s Gemmell and Swan.

Making up the top 10 overall and in the premier S2000 four-wheel drive class were Japie van Niekerk and Gerhard Snyman in sixth place, enjoying their best outing of the season in the New Africa Developments VW Polo, Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Grant Martin (Team Total Toyota Auris), Jon Williams and Cobus Vrey in a second Sasol Ford, Mohammed Moosa and Andre Vermeulen in the second Total Toyota, and Mark Cronje’s brother Gavin and Van Aardt Schoeman in a third Sasol Ford.

Despite winning the lion’s share of today’s stages, Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee in the second Toyota Auris find themselves in 12th place after picking up 5 min 20 sec lateness as a result of a broken suspension strut bolt on the opening stage.  The Toyota pair, who won this event last year, went onto record the fastest time in stages three, five, six and seven in a scintillating performance.

Prominent retirements included Hein Lategan/Johan van der Merwe (Q8 Oils/SAC Peugeot 207), who went out in stage five with a broken cam belt while lying fifth, and former champions Enzo Kuun/Guy Hodgson (BP VW Polo), who were running in a strong third place when they came to a halt with mechanical problems on stage seven.

Leading the S2000 Challenge for older specification four-wheel drive cars after day one are challenge leaders Gugu Zulu/Carl Peskin (BP VW Polo), who finished 16th overall despite a puncture on the opening stage and a broken control arm in the morning that cost them nearly three minutes in lateness penalties.

Namibians Wilro Dippenaar and Morne du Toit (McCarthy Toyota/PX Panelbeaters Toyota RunX) are second in the challenge  after finishing 20th overall.

Ashley Haigh-Smith and Craig Parry (Castrol Ford Fiesta R2) led the S1600 two-wheel drive class all day and enjoy a 14-second lead over Tjaart Conradie/Kes Naidoo (Galvadip Toyota Auris).  Third in the class were championship leaders Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy-Lyle (Yato Tools Toyota RunX), who finished 15th overall.

Clint Weston and Herman Groenewald (Reef Tankers Citroen C2 R2) lost any chance of taking a second class win of the year when they beached themselves on top of a sand bank on the opening stage and lost more than five minutes.  They were making a strong recovery and posting some of the fastest stage times in their class when they retired on stage six with mechanical problems while lying seventh.

The rally restarts tomorrow at 07:18  from the Tom Naude Technical High School and another five stages remain, including two short ones on tarmac and three more gravel stages in the Limpopo bushveld.  The final stage, in the parking area of the Peter Mokaba Stadium, will be followed by the traditional podium ceremony and champagne spraying and the official prize-giving.