Ford Fiesta RacingA brutal 28-kilometre opening special stage that saw a proliferation of punctured tyres end the victory aspirations of many of the top contenders marked the first day of the Toyota Gauteng Dealer Rally, round three of the South African Rally Championship, this afternoon.

When the dust had settled after the end of the fourth and final special stage at RallyStar near Bapsfontein on a cold and blustery Highveld winter’s day it was the experienced pair of multiple former champions Jan Habig and Robert Paisley (Basil Read Ford Fiesta) who emerged at the head of the field after a trouble-free run. The results are provisional.  They completed the 80-odd kilometres of gravel road racing, in a time of 52 min 42 sec.  Second, 35,9 seconds in arrears after also managing to complete the route without a puncture, were Jon Williams and Cobus Vrey (Sasol Racing Rally Team Ford Fiesta).  Third, after a day-long duel with the Sasol Ford was the Team Total Toyota Auris of Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Grant Martin, a slim nine seconds behind.

Fourth and also puncture-free but delayed behind another car that had stopped to change a flat wheel was the SAC Peugeot 207 of Hein Lategan and Johan van der Merwe,  49 seconds behind Damseaux and Martin.  Fifth, a further 1 min 6 sec in arrears, were Sebastiaan Klaassen and Cindi Harding, who also had a clean run in their Monster Ford Fiesta.   The Dutch/Belgian combination of Hans Weijs Jnr and Bjorn Degandt (BP Volkswagen Polo), also delayed behind the car in the stage, were sixth, 2 min 12,4 sec behind the leaders.

Among the notable casualties were championship leaders Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Sasol Racing Rally Team Ford Fiesta), who destroyed their rear suspension after hitting a ditch just one and a half kilometres into the opening stage.  Punctures delayed Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan (Team Castrol Toyota Auris), Cronje and Houghton’s closest challengers, who finished ninth, former champions Enzo Kuun and Guy Hodgson (BP VW Polo), who were 14th, Charl Wilken and Greg Godrich (Basil Read Ford Fiesta), 15th.

Former champions Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries (BP VW Polo) retired after the opening stage with electrical problems.  Leeroy Poulter and Elvene Coetzee (Castrol Team Toyota Auris) were also delayed by a puncture as well as a faulty clutch.  The Toyota Motorsport technicians performed a small miracle by changing the clutch, which included having to remove the gearbox, within the 30 minutes allocated for the service stop at RallyStar.  The Toyota pair finished eighth overall.

Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin were an impressive seventh overall in their older specification BP VW Polo to claim first place in the S2000 Challenge.  A distant second in the Challenge and 22nd overall were Wilro Dippenaar and Morne du Toit (PZN Panelbeaters Toyota RunX), with Werner Koekemoer and Etienne Lourens (Toyota RunX) third and 23rd overall.

Leading the S1600 category for two wheel drive cars are Nic van der Westhuizen and Henry Dearlove (SA Earthworks Ford Fiesta), who finished 10th overall and 1 min 49,1 sec ahead of second-placed S1600, the Team Total Toyota RunX of Craig Trott and Robbie Coetzee.  Third was the Reef Tankers Citroen C2 R2 of Clint Weston and Herman Groenewald, a further 2 min 20,8 sec in arrears.

Prominent S1600 contenders were among those who suffered punctures.  These included Ashley Haigh-Smith and Craig Parry (Castrol Ford Fiesta R2), who had four punctures on the day.  Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle (Toyota RunX) retired after undisclosed problems in stage one.  Brother and sister Christoff and Celeste Snyders (VW Polo) retired with a bent rear axle, also on stage one, and the Lourens twins, Janine and Michelle, had a harsh introduction to national championship rallying with two punctures on stage one , which forced an early retirement in their Toyota Conquest.

Sunday’s action starts from RallyStar at 07:00 and consists of four gravel special stages totalling some 80 kilometres  and a final 16-kilometre tarmac stage at Zwartkops Raceway west of Pretoria.