Even a late change of navigator could not prevent Ford Performance driver Mark Cronje from achieving an imposing victory in an incident-filled 2015 Toyota Cape Dealer Rally, thereby taking command of this year’s SA National Rally Championship. Cronje’s victory in the Ford Performance Fiesta S2000 in the penultimate round of the series, coupled with a non-finish by his nearest competitors and championship leaders Leeroy Poulter/Elvéne Coetzee (Castrol Team Toyota Yaris) has swung the championship odds firmly in his favour. For Poulter and Coetzee, and for the Castrol Toyota team, it was an event to forget.
After damaging their Toyota Yaris yesterday in an altercation with a wall at the Killarney race track, the pair today had to push hard to make up lost time. They managed to move up to fifth position by the end of stage eight, but in the next stage Poulter hit a series of jumps at high speed, the car went end over end and rolled into a ditch next to the road, ending their onslaught. Meanwhile Cronje and new navigator Gerhard Snyman went on to finish the 13th and final stage of the Western Cape event in a time of 1 hour 53 minutes 59.8 seconds to beat Gugu Zulu/Hilton Auffray (Sasolracing Volkswagen Polo) by a full 3 minutes 23 seconds, a country mile in rally terms.
The proverbial sting in the tail of the rally saw to the demise of Henk Lategan/Barry White (Sasolracing Volkswagen Polo), the only team to really threaten Cronje and Snyman, in the final stage due to suspension failure. Lategan/White won five stages on the trot in their quest to catch the Ford crew and stood a real chance when Cronje was penalised with 20 seconds for hitting a chicane in stage 11, but in the end it was in vain. Even while not finishing they were classified fourth under Superally rules, but will only score half the points. For the experienced Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries (Sasolracing Volkswagen Polo) it was a rally of ups and downs.
Having worked their way up to fourth they gained a further position with the demise of Giniel De Villiers and Carolyn Swan, when spectacularly rolling their Castrol Toyota Yaris out of the rally in stage ten, promptly losing it by being docked with 20 seconds for also hitting the chicane in the next stage. This promoted Zulu and Auffray to second, and with Lategan failing to finish the final stage, Fekken and Arries claimed the last podium position – 28.5 seconds adrift of their team mates.
At this stage Enzo Kuun and Kes Naidoo, after an indifferent rally in the NAD Ford Fiesta, looked set for fifth position, but it was not to be, in the final run the Fiesta’s engine shouted enough, leaving them stranded 1,7 km inside the stage. They were eventually classified sixth under Superally rules. The high rate of attrition amongst the leading contenders saw privateers Ernie Van Der Walt and Greg Godrich moving up the order, the youngster, feeling under the weather with flu, achieving his best result in a national event to date by finishing fifth in the Vecto Fuel sponsored Toyota Yaris.
For Theuns Joubert and Mari Van Der Walt (Salom Agri Toyota Auris) consistency was the watchword on their run to seventh position overall and first place in class NRC4. They were followed by class S1600 winners Guy Botterill/Simon Vacy-Lyle (Yato Tools Toyota Etios R2) who, after an initial battle with Richard Leeke Junior/Rikus Fourie (ATS Ford Fiesta R2), built up a huge lead to win by over a minute from team mates Matthew Vacy-Lyle/Schalk Van Heerden in their borrowed Fragram Tools Toyota Etios R2.
Third in class, but also finishing under Superally rules after suspension failure on their Castrol backed Ford Fiesta R2 were local racers Ashley Haigh-Smith and Nial Burns. In NRC2 the only finishers were Etienne Malherbe/ Mauritz Malherbe (Datsun SSS) and Paul Van Dyk/Quinton Swarts (VW Golf). Only twelve out of the 34 original starters made it to Parc Ferme at the finish – testament of how tough the event was on cars and crew.
The final rally of the season, the Polokwane Rally, scheduled for Friday, 16 October, and Saturday, 17 October, in the Limpopo Province promises to be a humdinger.