Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Sasol Racing Ford Fiesta). Picture: Quickpic
Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Sasol Racing Ford Fiesta). Picture: Quickpic
The smile of a 2012 South African Rally Champion.
The smile of a 2012 South African Rally Champion.

Team Sasol’s Mark Cronje may have just won the 2012 SA Rally Championship, but he’s certainly no stranger to the top podium step.

The 35-year old Gauteng resident started kart racing in 1990 and went on to become a karting World Champ when he won the Rotax Max World Final in 2003. His circuit racing career however, had already taken off years earlier when he joined the Toyota development team in 1996, winning the Group N Class E title and Rookie of the Year award in the same year.

Mark moved up through the circuit racing ranks with Toyota, and eventually became one of the factory Class B Corolla RSi drivers during the early 2000s where he regularly fended off challenges from his brother Gavin, who at the time was signed with Honda’s rival team.

In the same year as his World karting win, Cronje left tarmac for dirt when he was introduced to offroad racing with the Toyota squad in a Hilux.

His debut year, which was contested with veteran navigator Chris Birkin at his side, culminated in a comfortable Class E Championship win after successfully completing all eight rounds.

In the following season, the duo narrowly missed out on the Class D Championship, conceding the title by only one point after a controversial ruling.

In 2006 Mark moved up to national offroad racing’s premium Class SP, where he won races and achieved regular podiums, but it was during this same year that he was introduced to rallying, again with Toyota in a Class A6 Auris. Cronje cruised to the class championship in the same year, and repeated the feat in Class A7 in 2007.

In 2008 Mark was given a seat in the top-flight S2000 category, where he partnered with co-driving legend Robert Paisley in an all-wheel drive Auris, and won the VW Rally in that year. The duo also won the Osram Rally in 2009, but Mark’s career with Toyota came to an end after the 2010 season when he signed with current team Sasol in a Ford Fiesta S2000 with navigator Robin Houghton.

Another controversial decision left him just missing the 2011 SA Rally title, but this year there’s been no doubt as to the winner. He won four rallies, more than any other driver in the 2012 championship, and sewed up the championship with fourth place in last weekend’s season-ending Garden Route Rally.

Congratulations Mark, 2012 Rally Champ.