Reigning South African National Rally Champions Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton intend hitting the ground running when they kick off their title defence in Kwazulu-Natal on March 7.
Cronje is fresh from a test session in the province over the weekend of February 23/24, where the team carried out about 140 kilometres of simulated stage running to fine-tune their Ford Racing S2000 Fiesta for the new season.
“It went very well and we made good progress with suspension, tyre, and differential settings,” commented the multiple circuit, off-road and rally champion. “I haven’t driven since November so it was good to get behind the wheel again. We tested near Scottburgh, in an area where some of the stages of the Total Rally KZN take place, so we’ve come away with some useful set-up information. ”
And on Wednesday February 27 Cronje and Houghton tested an M-Sport Fiesta RS WRC in the United Kingdom – the car they will campaign in the Malcolm Wilson Rally on March 2. Wilson is the founder of M-Sport, the Cumbria-based company which also built their local Fiesta, and hosts the seven-stage, one-day event virtually in their back yard. It accommodates a wide variety of rally cars from different eras and forms a round of a number of championships – over 100 cars are entered. Cronje/Houghton’s main challenge will come from a brace of four-wheel-drive Focus WRC cars, and various Mitsubishi Evos and Subaru Imprezas in the premier WR1 class.
Their weapon for the event is a full World Rally Championship car and virtually identical to those run in the 2013 WRC by the Qatar M-Sport Rally Team. It has a turbocharged 1.6-litre engine with about 20 kW more power than the 200-odd they’re used to in the S2000 car, but it has significantly more torque.
“The test went off very well and the WRC car doesn’t feel dissimilar to the S2000 in terms of handling, though the engine characteristics are very different,” commented Cronje. “We did about 140 km of fairly muddy forest stage and by the end of the day we were pretty much in the groove though the icy conditions will take time to master. It was also useful in that we were able to try out a number of components that we can use to make improvements to our South African car.”
Adds Houghton: “It was minus 5°C this morning, but we soon warmed up inside the car. We don’t have any great aspirations for the event on Saturday and are approaching it as an opportunity to learn more, in an international environment. Having said that, we intend running at the sharp end of the field and have an excellent car as well as a very experienced engineer – Ross Sutherland from M-Sport, whom we have been lucky enough to work with back home a couple of times – to take care of us on the event.”