The second half of the eight-round South African Rally Championship kicks off with the brand new Ford Dealer Rally in the Cullinan area east of Pretoria in Gauteng on Friday and Saturday.
The smart money is on reigning champion Mark Cronje, sharing a works Ford Fiesta S2000 with navigator Robin Houghton, successfully defending his title.
Three wins in the opening four events sees Cronje leading veteran former champions Jan Habig and Robert Paisley (Ford Fiesta S2000) by five points with Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan (Toyota Yaris S2000) third, a further 25 points in arrears.
While Pretoria resident Cronje has been the driver to beat on sheer pace – he has won 27 of the 48 special stages to date – six-times champion Habig’s consistency in the second M-Sport-built Ford has kept him in the hunt, and when Cronje stumbled briefly in round three it was the experienced KwaZulu-Natalian who took the victory.
Gemmell is chasing his first national title after numerous runner-up finishes and, together with team mates Leeroy Poulter and navigator Elvéne Coetzee, is a good bet for a maiden win for the new Toyota Yaris. Dakar Rally winner Giniel de Villiers and Greg Godrich in their Toyota Motorsport-prepared Toyota Yaris have adopted a conservative approach to their first year in S2000 together, but have accumulated enough points to be fourth in the championship, just 2.5 points behind Gemmell, and were third in the VW Rally.
The three factory Volkswagen Polos have yet to score the results they are undoubtedly capable of. Various problems have restricted them to just two podium appearances, but five special-stage wins on the recent Volkswagen Rally in the Eastern Cape by Enzo Kuun and Douglas Judd (four) and Henk Lategan and Barry White (one) have issued a warning to their rivals.
Nineteen-year-old Lategan is quickly making a name for himself as a star of the future and is best-placed of the three in ninth place in the point standings with a best result of third in the Sasol Rally in April. Multiple champions Hergen Fekken and Pierre Arries are 10th and overdue a podium finish, while multiple champions Kuun and Judd are an uncharacteristic 12th, thanks to two non-finishes. Third in the Toyota Gauteng Dealer Rally in May was their best result and their four stage wins in the VW Rally would have encouraged them.
The Ford Dealer Rally will be headquartered at the Zonderwater Correctional Services facility in Cullinan, east of Pretoria. The two-day route covers some 160 kilometres of timed special stages – six on Friday and eight on Saturday.
ON THE GROUND
The rally will start from the Zonderwater facility at 11am on Friday and the first of the day’s six special stages (five on gravel and one on tarmac) will be close to Cullinan and Mamelodi.
The final stage of the day will be a 2km spectator special on tarmac at Mamelodi Plaza starting at 4pm, an ideal opportunity for spectators to see the cars in action.
The event will restart from Zonderwater at 8am on Saturday, with eight gravel stages to be contested.
Spectator guides with full details of recommended spectator points and information about the teams and the championship will be available at the Zonderwater start. - Star Motoring