document : Championship crunch time for Sasol Rally Team's Cronje and Houghton

Championship crunch time for Sasol Rally Team's Cronje and Houghton
information supplied by: MSA Rally Commission 25 October 2012


Take one M-Sport Fiesta S2000, wrap it in eye-catching Sasolracing livery and head out onto the unforgiving special stages scattered across South Africa. Set the fastest time on 36 of the 81 speed tests, win four rallies from seven starts, and stand on the podium twice more and build a 20 point cushion on the South African Rally Championship points log before the final round.

This is exactly what Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton have done with just the Garden Route Rally remaining, so this is crunch time for the Sasolracing Rally Team, which will again be a three-car effort with Jon/Doug Williams joined by Gavin Cronje/Van Aardt Schoeman competing under the fuel giant’s umbrella.

The privateer team still has to discard their worst score of the year as just seven of the eight events can be counted towards the championship. With an 11th overall and 10 points from the Gauteng Rally in the drop zone, Mark and Robin have a net 10 point lead over their only title rivals from the factory Toyota team, Johnny Gemmell/Carolyn Swan.

Should Gemmell win the Garden Route Rally, Mark needs to be 6th or higher, if Gemmell is 2nd, Mark can cruise to 10th place overall and if Gemmell is 3rd, Mark must finish in any points paying position.

It will not be easy for the Sasolracing pair as they face 12 technical mountain stages around the Wilderness and Knysna areas, totaling around 180km of racing mileage.

“It’s a great place to be”, said Mark of his championship lead. “We are going to concentrate fully on the championship and not set the world on fire”.

“We will develop a plan and drive to that plan and not focus on anyone else unless we are 6th or lower. I know that if it doesn’t go to plan, we have the pace to dig deep and fight back to where we need to be”.

In terms of preparation, Mark is confident in his team’s approach: “I cannot ask for a better package. The technicians have done an exemplary job and put massive effort into the tiniest detail. We’ve only had one failure in two years and that was my fault. I have some surprises left in the car’s development and we understand the car very well”.

Robin added: “We unpack each rally into individual stages and drive each stage on its merits. If that approach means we are ahead then so be it. We have already achieved a great deal this season with over 50% of the wins and we’re seeded first by a long way. It would be great to win the Garden Route Rally but it’s not our main objective”.

“The Polokwane Rally win took a bit of pressure off and gives us a bit of a stop-gap in that we don’t kiss the championship goodbye if we have a puncture or other issue. We are preparing as best as we can – this is crunch time, you had better believe it!” Robin concluded.

Jon is the only other driver to have stoop on top step of the podium this year besides the two championship challengers, carving his name into the history books on the Gauteng Rally. For the season finale, he will have his father Doug in the #6 Sasolracing Fiesta S2000.

Doug Williams navigated for Jon in his formative years and although out of the navigator’s seat for three years, the trust between father and son will go a long way to achieving the confidence required in the car in this crucial event.

Lying third on the leaderboard, Jon is a single point ahead of the similar Fiesta pairing of six times champion Jan Habig; it is going to be a fight to the finish in less than ideal circumstances. “It’s a fight between young vs old, experienced vs inexperienced”, Jon reasoned. “I will give it a full go; it will be a tall order to beat Jannie but if I do get beaten by a six times champion, then it will be an honourable defeat. I would really like to end the year on a high note and achieve a good result for Sasol”.

“I need to stay focused, train hard and put extra effort into compiling my notes. It’s been a great season for Sasolracing having two cars in the top three and hopefully we can maintain that to the end”, said Jon.

Gavin Cronje and Van Aardt Schoeman made a sensational debut in a third #26 Sasolracing Fiesta S2000 winning his first stage and running as high as 9th overall on day two of the Polokwane Rally before retiring with a failed clutch.

The former Le Mans Series champion has viewed some footage from last year’s inaugural event by way of preparation and is intrigued as to what awaits them: “It’s not a rally for sissies”, he laughed. “It looks very challenging and our goal is to get to the end”.

“I hope to start scratching at the lower-to-middle pace of the top 10. And another Sasol 1-2-3 stage result would be great”, he added. “I believe we will be seeded inside the top 10 for qualifying due to two other teams not entering and if so I will have to give it my all as I don’t want to sweep the Garden Route”.

The qualifying stage for the Garden Route Rally will start at 09:00 next to the Garden Route Mall outside George. Spectator guides will be available at the mall, which will host the rally headquarters, scrutineering and documentation on Friday morning and also the official start of the rally at 12:00.

There will be a total of five gravel special stages on Friday with an overnight stop at the Wilderness Beach Hotel.

Saturday’s action gets underway from the Wilderness Beach Hotel at 07:00. The start order will, as usual, be in the order in which the cars finished day one, with the overnight leaders going off first. There will be four special stages before the finish back at the Wilderness Beach Hotel in the afternoon, where there will be a podium ceremony and prize-giving.

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