document : Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton clinch SA National Rally Championship


Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton clinch SA National Rally Championship
information supplied by: MSA Rally Commission 05 November 2012

MARK CRONJE AND ROBIN HOUGHTON CLINCH SA RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

• Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton win 4 events in 2012
• Jon Williams claims 3rd overall in championship and maiden win in 2012
• Sasolracing on podium on every rally in 2012

Sasolracing completed a successful season when Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton clinched the 2012 South African Rally Championship after ending 4th overall on the Garden Route Rally, having led the event from stage 4 until a puncture dropped them back on day two.

“I’m relieved and overwhelmed”, beamed Mark at the Wilderness finish. “It’s not an easy championship to win. Johnny was a tough contender throughout the year. We kept things neat and tidy and didn’t have great pace, especially when we were first on the road on Saturday. It’s been a tough year but the Sasolracing team has done everything possible to make this championship happen. It’s great for the sport that a privateer team can win at the highest level in what is one of the most competitive rally championships in the world”.

Jon and Doug Williams ended third on the Garden Route Rally to claim 3rd overall on the championship log while Gavin Cronje and Van Aardt Schoeman ended 9th overall in their second national rally in the third Sasolracing Fiesta S2000.

The three-car Sasolracing Rally Team was faced with 11 tough, rough and rocky stages in the Wilderness and Knysna areas of the Western Cape, meaning it was no walk in the garden for the championship leaders going into the final round. With Mark and Robin’s main factory Toyota rivals needing to win, come what may, they settled into a steady rhythm putting safety first in terms of avoiding the worst of the rough conditions.

Stage 1 saw a steady 5th fastest time, well ahead of their title rivals but increased their pace over the repeated stages, sweeping into the lead after a pair of second-fastest stage times to end day one’s action, held under bright skies, with a comfortable 1 minute 4.9 second lead.

Robin picks up the story that led to the championship. “We ran day two with two spare tyres and a little extra fuel to be on the safe side and thank goodness we did as we had a puncture in stage 6 and stage 8. We were punished a bit with the extra weight but it paid off”.

“Our first puncture happened in stage 6 with 5km to go and we had to drive carefully to the end. It was tight and twisty so we didn’t lose much time. The second puncture in stage 8 happened 4km in where the road was so narrow we couldn’t pull off to change the wheel. That cost us quite a bit of time”. The Sasolracing pair only recorded the 18th fastest time just under three minutes slower than the stage winner, but considering that included a tyre change, it was a phenomenal effort but dropped them out of the lead to 4th overall but crucially, still ahead of Gemmell’s Toyota.

Although Gemmell passed Mark in the overall standings on the penultimate stag, the championship was never under threat; Mark reversed the order once more on the final test of the year. “Thank you to my dream team and Sasol for their belief in us and their support to achieve our goal”, Mark concluded.

Jon, navigated by father Doug on the final round, was ecstatic to achieve his year’s ambition by ending 3rd in the championship. A solid run without any issues on Friday saw Jon end 4th overall, just 1.8 seconds off a podium place.

“It was a good position to be”, said Jon. “I had to balance speed with the need to preserve the car and finish. Enzo (Kuun) had nothing to lose. We had a bit of a go at each other in the last stages and dead-heated in stage 10. That was great fun!”

Jon had no idea before the final stage that his main rival for 3rd place in the championship, Jan Habig, had dropped out in the penultimate stage but ignorance is bliss and Jon did the job. “Dad was awesome. He stepped into a pressured situation and handled it really well. Last time we drove together in 2009 we also ended that rally in 3rd”, he smiled.

Gavin Cronje and Van Aardt Schoeman were first on the road on day 1, sweeping the roads of loose gravel for the following cars. “It was a baptism of fire but we had a clean run”, the younger brother reported, happy to be 11th overall at the overnight stop.

On Saturday, the third Sasolracing car also suffered flat tyres as well as no front drive on the four-wheel drive machine, leaving the Fiesta in rear-wheel drive only. Once the driveshafts were changed at service after the first three-stage loop, another puncture prevented them from challenging for a higher overall position.

“I think it’s a fantastic achievement to finish 9th in my second national rally. The team did a great job. I can see I still have a lot to learn but it was great to have all three Sasolracing cars inside the top 10”.

The final icing on the cake was Sasolracing winning the Team award on the Garden Route Rally.

The 2013 SA Rally Championship gets underway in KwaZulu Natal in early March.
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Tags | Motorsport | MSA Rally Commission | 2012 Garden Route Rally |