Ford's Cronje scoops SA Rally titleComment on this story
The Belgian/Dutch combination of Hans Weijs Jr and Bjorn Degandt (VW Polo) completed an impressive guest season in the 2012 South African Rally Championship by winning the season finale, the Garden Route Rally.
It was Weijs and Degandt's - and Volkswagen's - first win of the year and it was well deserved. They won seven of the 11 stages, after overcoming a 2min20sec delay on Friday when they were forced to stop in Special Stage 3 to change a flat tyre.
Their victory was made all the sweeter when team mates and former champions Enzo Kuun and Guy Hodgson finishing second in another VW Polo, 33 seconds in arrears after 11 special stages run in the George, Wilderness and Knysna areas on Friday and Saturday.
Third, 55 seconds behind the winners, were Jon Williams and father Doug in a Ford Fiesta, one of the few crews to avoid a puncture on the fast and stony forest roads, washed clean by the recent rains.
Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta) clinched the championship by finishing fourth overall and in the S2000 class for four-wheel drive cars, nine seconds ahead of their nearest championship rivals Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan (Toyota Auris), who were fifth. The final points score was 155 to 144 after eight rounds, with Cronje and Houghton winning five, and Gemmell and Swan two.
Cronje and Houghton, who was the champion navigator in 2011, had led at the overnight stop in Wilderness on Friday, more than a minute ahead of Kuun and Hodgson, and the Williamses, who in turn were separated by less than two seconds after almost 100km of gravel road racing.
Gemmell and Swan, who lost more than three minutes with a puncture on Friday's Special Stage 4, were ninth overnight and pushed hard throughout Saturday to improve to fifth at the finish - despite another puncture on Special Stage 11 - and close the gap to the Ford pair from more than three minutes to just 9.5 seconds.
They led by nine seconds with one stage to go, but lost 18 seconds to the new champions on Stage 11 when they picked up a third puncture.
Sixth were Japie van Niekerk and Gerhard Snyman (VW Polo).
Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin, who wrapped up the inaugural S2000 Challenge for older specification four-wheel drive cars in their VW Polo at the previous round in Limpopo, were seventh overall and again the first S2000 Challenge finishers.
Namibians Wilro Dippenaar and Morne du Toit (Toyota RunX) were the only other competitors in the S2000 Challenge in the absence of Henk Lategan and Barry White (VW Polo) and finished 11th overall, more than six minutes behind Zulu and Peskin after suffering clutch and gearbox problems on Saturday. The 19-year-old Lategan, who has emerged as one of the stars of the future, was busy writing matric exams.
IMPRESSIVE ON SATURDAY
Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee in the second works Toyota recovered from a disappointing 14th overall on Friday, after three punctures and braking problems, to finish eighth. They were particularly impressive on Saturday, finishing second in the first four stages and winning the final two.
Completing the top 10 were Mark Cronje's brother Gavin and navigator Van Aardt Schoeman in a Ford Fiesta, who finished 2min28 ahead of Charl Wilken and Greg Godrich, also in a Fiesta.
Prominent retirements on the final day included former champions Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries (VW Polo), fourth overnight despite two punctures on Friday, who damaged the Polo's rear suspension when they went off the road in Stage 7. Former champions Jan Habig and Robert Paisley (Ford Fiesta) were lying fifth behind Cronje and Houghton after the penultimate stage when they suffered a broken steering rack on the open section to the start of the final stage.
Veteran Craig Trott and navigator Robbie Coetzee (Toyota RunX) clinched the Two Wheel Drive Championship for S1600 cars with third place behind the Ford Fiesta R2 of Ashley Haigh-Smith and Craig Parry and the Citroen C2 R2 of Clint Weston and Pierre Jordaan.
The Constructors' championship went to Ford with 744 points after a closely contested battle with Toyota - winners for the past 14 seasons - who finished the season on 710 points. Third was Volkswagen with 528 points.