Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Sasol Racing Rally Ford Fiesta) emerged the winners at the end of the first day of the two-day Rally South Africa, which started form the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Friday morning and finished at the site of the old Durban Drive-in last night.
The first day of the fifth round of the SA Rally Championship, which is also a candidate event for the World Rally Championship in 2014, consisted of two gravel special stages in the Valley of 1000 Hills in the Inanda Dam area north-west of Durban and a short evening Super Special on tarmac.
Cronje and Houghton, winners of the first two events of the year and currently second in the championship behind the Castrol Team Toyota’s Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan, won the opening 9-kilometre stage on their way to edging out Gemmell and Swan’s Auris by 13,6 seconds after 24 kilometres of timed racing. Third, a further 4,2 seconds behind the Toyota was the BP VW Polo of former champions Enzo Kuun and Guy Hodgson..
VW team-mates Hans Weijs Jnr of Holland and Bjorn Degandt of Belgium were fourth. Fifth were Jon Williams and Cobus Vrey in the second Sasol Ford Fiesta.
Sixth were Hein Lategan and Johan van der Merwe (SAC Peugeot 207), 2,2 seconds ahead of Lategan’s teenage son Henk and co-driver Barry White in a Q8 Oils VW Polo. Eighth after experiencing suspension set-up problems was the Basil Read Ford Fiesta of former champions Jan Habig and Robert Paisley. Ninth were Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin (BP VW Polo) ahead of Charl Wilken and Etienne Lourens in the second Basil Read Ford Fiesta.
Early casualties were former champions Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries in the third BP VW Polo, who failed to make the start of the first stage after experiencing electrical problems on the liaison section to the Valley of 1000 Hills.
Two of the leading S2000 four-wheel-drive contenders rolled their cars out of the event on special stage three. Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Grant Martin (Team Total Toyota Auris) went out five kilometres into the 14-kilometre stage, while Castrol Team Toyota’s Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee ended up some 200 metres off the road after rolling several times down the side of a hill. They were in second place overall at the time. None of the crew members were injured.
Special stage two, a 38-kilometre test worthy of a WRC candidate event and expected to provide the highlight of the day and have a significant impact on the outcome of the event, was cancelled for safety reasons.
The evening Super Special was over a tight and technical 1-kilometre course and pitted two cars at a time in separate lanes but following the same 1-kilometre route. The cars crossed over at the mid-point of the stage and finished alongside each other in the opposite lane.
The winners were Cronje/Houghton, from Kuun/Hodgson and Williams/Vrey.
Overnight leaders of the S2000 Challenge for older specification four-wheel drive cars are Lategan and White, with current Challenge leaders Zulu and Peskin second and Wilro Dippenaar/Morne du Toit (PZN Panelbeaters Toyota RunX) third.
Ashley Haigh Smith and motoring journalist Patrick Vermaak (Castrol Ford Fiesta R2) are the leaders of the S1600 class for two-wheel-drive cars and enjoy a 2,4-second advantage over second-placed Clint Weston and Herman Groenewald (Reef Tankers Citroen C2 R2). Third is the Toyota Auris of Tjaart Conradie and Kes Naidoo.
Saturday’s action starts from Moses Mabhida Stadium at 06:50 with the first timed stage in the Mondi forests near Richmond south-west of Durban due to start at 08.41. There are five special stages altogether on Saturday, four on the fast gravel roads in the Mondi forests and local sugar cane fields covering a total of 111 kilometres and a repeat of Friday evening’s Super Special in Durban at 15:44.