Jon Williams won a hard-fought Toyota Gauteng Dealer Rally to take his maiden South African Rally Championship victory by a narrow 6.9 second margin after nine dusty and rocky stages around the Bapsfontein area.
He and co-driver Cobus Vrey jump into 3rd place on the championship log, seven points behind their team mates and maintains Sasol Racing Rally Team’s full house of victories this season, three out of three, following Mark’s victories on the opening round in KwaZulu Natal and the Sasol Rally a month later.
“I am so happy to win my first rally on such a tough event. I’ve worked hard for it over the years and it’s finally paid off and I’m very happy to give Sasol their third win of the year”, said an elated Jon at the Zwartkops Raceway finish.
Championship leaders Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton retired from the event 2km into the first stage after they hit an unmarked hole in the road and damaged the rear rim and brake assembly. Running day two under the SuperRally rules (which allows a competitor back into the event but with a five minute penalty per stage missed) Mark and Robin set off to claim some valuable points from an otherwise fruitless weekend.
It was plain sailing for Jon and Cobus who drove sensibly through the first stage carnage “We saw all the cars on the side of the road with punctures and stayed well in the middle of the road and were cautious over the rough stuff”, said Cobus.
The Sasol Ford Fiesta S2000 ended 2nd overall on Saturday, 35.9 seconds behind leader Jan Habig in another Fiesta. The Cape Town pair was quick out of the blocks on Sunday morning, winning the opening stage. Jon takes up the story: “It was never going to be easy chasing down someone like Jan Habig, but we wanted to apply some pressure to him. In the very next stage, Habig had a puncture and fell to 4th place”.
The breather Jon needed was short-lived for other victory hopefuls attacked the Sasol pair in the closing stages with both JP Damseaux (Toyota Auris) and Hein Lategan (Peugeot) chasing down the Sasol Fiesta. With one stage to go, the teams arrived at Zwartkops Raceway not knowing what was required to secure their win, as there was an unresolved timing issue from earlier in the day.
“I tried to put it out of my mind and concentrate on driving smoothly and braking at the right place. I was quite relaxed. I could only give my best and hope it was enough”, said the elated youngster. “It still hasn’t sunk in. I knew after seeing all the cars on the side in the first stage that this was our best chance so we went for it”.
Mark and Robin had a rally to forget as Mark explains: “There was a hairpin right about 2km into the stage; as I got on the power there was a massive whack from the back of the car and when we stopped I found the wheel was off. We patched it up as best we could, but in the confusion, we had unplugged the communications system and I was driving without notes. On that stage without notes you were always going to hit something and we had two punctures – that’s what put us out”
Once the championship leader’s car was repaired, Mark and Robin had a clean run, winning two stages on their way to an eventual 11th place. “I’m happy to walk away with 10 points after the massive amount of preparation we did for this event”, said Mark, who remains upbeat going into round four next month.
Mark and Robin lead the driver’s and co-driver’s championship with 60 points, 3 ahead of Toyota factory pair Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan on 57 and Jon and Cobus on 53 points.
The next outing for the Sasol Racing Rally Team is the Volkswagen Rally on 13th and 14th July in the Eastern Cape.