Another dominant performance by the Ford Performance team of Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton saw the pair chalking up their third consecutive victory in the 2015 national rally championship by winning the inaugural Secunda Motor Rally in their Ford Fiesta S2000.
They led from start to finish, winning the first five stages of the rally on the trot, and but for a slow puncture in stage nine after they clipped a fence and lost the Fiesta’s roof vent and rear wing, it was plain sailing for the Ford crew.
“With the vent sheared off we struggled with dust in the car, but the team did well to fix it and we could cruise to victory,” an elated Cronje said afterwards. “It was quite slippery out there this morning, which made it difficult for us as we were first on the road, but we kept it clean and it paid off.”
For Henk Lategan and Barry White (Volkswagen Sasolracing Polo) it didn’t work out so well.
At the restart they were 26.9 seconds behind the Ford pair and quickly made up over 10 seconds in the opening stages, but their charge was ended when they clipped a gate post 5km into stage nine which broke the right rear wheel of the Polo.
With their retirement Giniel de Villiers/Carolyn Swan (Castrol Team Toyota Yaris) moved up into second place, but were under pressure from Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries in their return debut for the Volkswagen Sasolracing team.
Fekken/Arries slowly closed the gap on the Dakar champion, but in stage nine a broken wheel scuppered their chances of a good result, while team mates Gugu Zulu/Hilton Affray, who lost 30 seconds due to a time penalty when the gearbox on their car was changed, were now up to third.
Meanwhile reigning champs Leeroy Poulter/Elvéne Coetzee (Castrol Team Toyota Yaris), on a charge after a disastrous day yesterday, were winning stage after stage and with the demise of Lategan and Fekken inherited fourth position.
At the finish at the Lake Umuzi waterfront complex in Secunda De Villiers/Swan were 51.4 seconds behind the winners, with Zulu and Auffray, in their first outing together, scoring a podium, another 32 seconds adrift, with Poulter/Coetzee a distant fourth. They were followed by Thilo Himmel/Armand du Toit (Volkswagen Sasolracing Polo) who had problems with a misfiring engine in their Polo.
In the S1600 class Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle (Yato Tools Toyota Etios S1600) delivered an impressive performance – winning the class in style, more than a minute ahead of their closest opponent, and finishing a fine sixth overall.
Richard Leeke Jnr and Rikus Fourie (ATS Ford Fiesta R2), lying fourth in class at the overnight stop, capitalised on the problems Chad van Beurden/Nico Swartz (Beurden Transport VW Polo) and Ashley Haigh-Smith/ Damian van Ass (Castrol Ford Fiesta R2) experienced.
Van Beurden retired with a blown engine in stage eight, while Haigh-Smith did the same as a precautionary measure before stage nine since the engine of his Fiesta was misfiring badly.
Third in class and eighth overall was Matthew Vacy-Lyle and Schalk Van Heerden (Fragram Toyota Etios) after a steady run, while Andrew Heine/Robbie Coetzee (VW Polo) retired with a broken shock after stage eight and AC Potgieter/Tommy du Toit (RickyB Transport and Plant Hire VW Polo) went out on stage 11.
Marko Himmel/ Francois Schoombee (VW Polo R2), who competed under SupeRally rules today, showed some good sportsmanship by stopping in stage seven to assist Nico Higgs/Etienne Lourens after their VW Polo caught fire – leading to their retirement.
The only classified NRC4 team at the end of 12 gruelling stages was Theuns Joubert and Mari van der Walt (Toyota Auris) and the winners of the NRC2 challenge was Jaco and George Baker in their Toyota Tazz.
The next round of the 2015 South African rally championship, the Bela-Bela Rally, will take place on 19 and 20 June in and around Bela-Bela area in Limpopo Province.