Rally stars rev up for season opener

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IOL mot pic mar13 Tour Natal Rally Preview Cronje Houghton . Mark Cronje was in a class of his own last year, winning seven of the eight rallies. Toyota and VW have a battle on their hands to rein in the Ford Fiesta driver. Picture: Motorpress

Scottburgh, KwaZulu-Natal - The 2014 South African Rally Championship will be all about who can prevent reigning champions Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (S2000 Ford Fiesta) from winning their third consecutive title.

After taking seven wins in last year’s eight-round series, Cronje will start the new season as hot favourite. But he will have to contend with a strong challenge from the S2000 factory teams of Toyota and Volkswagen.

The Ford driver begins his title defence at this weekend’s season-opening Tour Natal Rally on Friday and Saturday.

Toyota will be represented by Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee, Hergen Fekken and Carolyn Swan, and Giniel de Villiers and Greg Godrich, each crfew in an all-wheel drive S2000 Toyota Yaris

Fekken will be making his debut for the work Toyota team after winning two championships with Volkswagen

Volkswagen will be fielding a four-car team of S2000 Polos. Henk Lategan and Pierre Arries, and Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin, graduating from the S2000 Challenge, which they won in 2012 and were runners-up in last year, will represent South Africa while visiting crews Raimund Baumschlager and Walter Illmer of Austria and the Dutch/Belgian combination of Hans Weijs Junior and Bjorn Degandt will add a European flavour to the championship.

Baumschlager, who won the Austrian rally championship for the 11th time in 2013, is partnered with his regular engineer for his South African safari after finishing third in the opening round of the European Rally Championship, the Jänner Rally in Austria in January.

UPGRADED

The Austrians will be making a guest appearance in KwaZulu-Natal while Weijs and Degandt will contest the full season after their impressive debut South African season in 2010.

Privateers Japie van Niekerk and Gerhard Snyman will team up again in the Ford Fiesta with which they won the 2013 Tara Rally in Namibia. The car has been upgraded by MSport since its debut last year and will compete in the S2000 class.

S2000 CHALLENGE

Four crews will contest the S2000 Challenge for older specification all-wheel drive cars. Nic van der Westhuizen returns with Stefan Cilliers in the ex-works Toyota Auris. Namibia’s Wilro Dippenaar and South African navigator Kes Naidoo are back in their ex-works Toyota Auris, Piet Bakkes is teamed with Johan Aucamp in a Toyota RunX, and Namibian Thilo Himmel steps up from S1600 to contest the Challenge with Armand du Toit in a Volkswagen Polo.

S1600

A strong field of 16 entries will contest the S1600 two-wheel drive class, led by defending champions Clint Weston and Christoff Snyders in their R2-spec Citroën C2.

The Tour Natal rally will start from the Scottburgh Country Club on Friday and rally fans can meet the teams before they leave for the first stage from noon. - Star Motoring

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