Wilderness, Western Cape, Saturday–The Belgian/Dutch combination of Hans Weijs Jnr and Bjorn Degandt (BP VW Polo) completed an impressive guest season in the 2012 South Africa National Rally Championship by winning the season finale, the Garden Route Rally, that ended here this afternoon.

Volkswagen Racing

It was Weijs/Degandt’s and Volkswagen’s first win of the year and it was well deserved.  They won seven of the 11 stages and had to overcome a 2 min 20 sec delay on Friday when they were forced to stop in special stage three to change a flat wheel.  Their popular victory was made all the sweeter by team-mates and former national champions Enzo Kuun and Guy Hodgson finishing second in another VW Polo, 33 seconds in arrears after 11 special stages run in the George, Wilderness and Knysna areas on Friday and Saturday.

Third, 55 seconds behind the winners, were Jon Williams and father Doug in a Sasol Racing Ford Fiesta , who were one of the few to avoid a puncture on the fast and stony forest roads cleaned by the recent rains.

Garden Route Rally

Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Sasol Racing Ford Fiesta) clinched the championship by finishing fourth overall and in the S2000 class for four-wheel drive cars, nine seconds ahead of their nearest championship rivals Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan (Castrol Team Toyota Auris), who were fifth.  The final points score was 155 to 144 after eight rounds, with Cronje/Houghton winning five and Gemmell/Swan two.

Cronje and Houghton, who was the co-driver champion in 2011, had led at the overnight stop in Wilderness on Friday, over a minute ahead of Kuun/Hodgson and Williams/Williams, who in turn were separated by less than two seconds after almost 100 kilometres of gravel road racing.

Gemmell and Swan, who lost over three minutes with a puncture on Friday’s special stage four, were ninth overnight and pushed hard throughout Saturday to improve to fifth at the finish despite another puncture on special stage 11 and close the gap to the Ford pair from over three minutes to 9,5 seconds.  They led t by nine seconds with one stage to go, but lost 18 seconds to the new champions on stage 11 when they had another puncture.

Sixth were Japie van Niekerk and Gerhard Snyman (New Africa Developments VW Polo).  Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin, who wrapped up the inaugural S2000 Challenge for older specification four-wheel drive cars in their BP VW Polo at the previous round in Limpopo, were seventh overall and again the first S2000 Challenge finishers.

Namibians Wilro Dippenaar and Morne du Toit (McCarthy Toyota/PZN Panelbeaters Toyota RunX) were the only other competitors in the S2000 Challenge in the absence of Henk Lategan and Barry White (Q8 Oils VW Polo) and finished 11th overall, over six minutes behind Zulu/Peskin after experiencing clutch and gearbox problems on Saturday.  The 19-year-old Lategan, who has emerged as one of the stars of the future, is writing his matric exams.

Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee in the second Castrol Toyota converted a disappointing 14th overall on Friday after three punctures and braking problems to finish eighth.  They were particularly impressive on Saturday, finishing second in the first four stages and winning the last two.

Completing the top 10 were Mark Cronje’s brother Gavin and co-driver Van Aardt Schoeman in a third Sasol Ford, who finished 2 min 28 sec ahead of Charl Wilken and Greg Godrich in a Basil Read Ford Fiesta.

Prominent retirements on the final day included former champions Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries (BP VW Polo), fourth overnight despite two punctures on Friday, who damaged the VW’s rear suspension when they went off the road on stage seven.  Former champions Jan Habig and Robert Paisley (Basil Read Ford) were lying fifth behind Cronje and Houghton after the penultimate stage when they suffered a broken steering rack on the open section to the start of the final stage.

Veteran Craig Trott and co-driver Robbie Coetzee (Team Total Toyota RunX) clinched the Two Wheel Drive Championship for S1600 cars with third place behind the Castrol/BP Ford Fiesta R2 of Ashley Haigh-Smith and Craig Parry and the Reef Tankers Citroen C2 R2 of Clint Weston and Pierre Jordaan.

S1600 casualties included Nic van der Westhuizen and Stefan Cilliers (SA Earthworks Ford Fiesta R2) who were forced to retire on stage eight after running out of tyres, and Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy-Lyle (Yato Tools Toyota RunX), who went out on Friday with a persistent misfire.  Tjaart Conradie and Kes Naidoo (Galvadip Toyota Auris) were retirements on Friday after mechanical problems.

The Manufacturers championship was won by Ford with a total of 744 points in a closely contested battle with Toyota winners for the past 14 seasons, who finished this year with 710 points.  Third was Volkswagen on 528 points.