Jon Williams (Ford Fiesta) scored a popular debut victory in the Toyota Gauteng Dealer Rally, Round three of the South African Rally championship at the weekend. For navigator Cobus Vrey it was a second win.
Second, 6.9 seconds behind after two days and nearly 180km of gravel and tarmac over nine special stages, were Hein Lategan and Johan van der Merwe in a Peugeot 207. Ex-circuit racing champion Lategan took full advantage of his tarmac experience to overtake third-placed Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Grant Martin (Toyota Auris) on the final stage, a 16km race around the 2.4km Zwartkop circuit. The gap between the Peugeot and the Toyota at the finish was 4.9 seconds.
Jan Habig and Robert Paisley (Basil Read Ford Fiesta), who led the rally overnight by 35.9 seconds from Williams and Vrey, finished fourth after losing the lead on Sunday's second stage when they were slowed by a puncture and lost almost two minutes.
BRUTAL FIRST STAGE
The former national champions were one of the few crews among the front runners to avoid a puncture on the rally's opening stage on Saturday, a brutal 28km test that saw no less than 14 of the original 38 starters suffer flat tyres.
Williams, Damseaux and Lategan were similarly fortunate to avoid the tyre carnage and were second, third and fourth at the overnight stop at RallyStar near Bapsfontein.
The Dutch/Belgian combination of Hans Weijs Jnr and Bjorn Degandt (Volkswagen Polo) finished fifth, 2 min13.9 behind the winners and 13.1 seconds ahead of Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan (Toyota Auris).
The Toyota pair, who started the weekend in second place in the championship behind Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta), were among the first-stage casualties. They lost nearly four minutes when they stopped to change a flat tyre and then battled with the jack.
Gemmell showed why he is probably the best rally driver in the country not to have won a championship - he has several runner-up finishes to his name - with a masterful performance throughout the remainder of the event. He won two stages and finished second in three to reduce the gap to the winners to 2 min 17 sec.
A brave performance by Sebastiaan Klaassen, driving his Ford Fiesta with a broken leg sustained in a skiing accident, and co-driver Cindi Harding resulted in seventh place, 3 min 10 sec behind the winners. Charl Wilken and Greg Godrich (Ford Fiesta) recovered well from two punctures on Stage 1 to win Stage 3 and finish the rally ninth, 11 min 51 sec in arrears.
Cronje and Houghton, who won both of the two previous rounds after epic battles with Gemmell and Swan, were early casualties. They destroyed their rear suspension after hitting a ditch just 1.5km into Stage 1 and played no further part in Saturday's proceedings.
They were able to rejoin the rally on Sunday under the Super Rally rules after their service crew repaired the car overnight and they went on to finish 11th and pick up 10 valuable championship points after winning two of Sunday's five stages.
In the process they retained their championship lead over Gemmell and Swan, now reduced to three points. Williams and Vrey move up to third, seven points in arrears.
Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin (Volkswagen Polo) won the S2000 Challenge for the older specification four-wheel drive cars, finishing a fine eighth overall and 20 min 50 sec ahead of second placed Wilro Dippenaar and Morne du Toit (Toyota RunX), who were 15th overall, and Werner Koekemoer and Etienne Lourens (Toyota RunX), in 22nd overall.
A fine performance by Nic van der Westhuizen and Henry Dearlove (Ford Fiesta R2) saw the pair finish 10th overall and comfortably take the honours in the two-wheel drive S1600 championship by nearly five minutes from former champion Craig Trott and Robbie Coetzee (Toyota RunX). Third were Tjaart Conradie and Kes Naidoo in an Auris.
The next round of the championship will be the Volkswagen Rally in Port Elizabeth on 13/14 July.