Championship leaders Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton were first away in their Ford Fiesta.

The picturesque Mpumalanga town of Sabie was abuzz this morning as it hosted the start of the second round of the South African Rally Championship and round two of the African Rally Championship, the Sasol Rally.

With thousands of excited spectators shouting encouragement amid food stalls and streets bright with advertising banners and bunting, the Mpumalanga MEC for Culture, Sport and Recreation, Sibongile Manana, and the managing director of Sasol Oil, Alan Cameron, flagged away the first cars.

Current championship leaders and winners of the recent Total Rally in KwaZulu-Natal, Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton (Ford Fiesta) led the impressive 40-car field of rally cars, which will tackle four gravel stages in the forests around Sabie, Graskop and Pilgrim's Rest and night tarmac stages in the towns of Sabie and White River on Friday.


The rest of the field followed at two-minute intervals, led by the works Toyota Auris cars of Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee (winners of last year's Sasol Rally), Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan, factory Volkswagen crew Hergen Fekken and Pierre Aries, and the privateer Ford crew of Charl Wilken and Greg Godrich.

The 21st running of the Sasol Rally is also the second round of the African Rally Championship, and among the visiting crews are Giancarlo Davite and Sylvia Vindevogel of Ruanda in a Subaru Impreza WRX and Zambia's Mohammed Essa and Greg Stead from Zimbabwe in another Subaru WRX.

Several of the crews contesting the SA championship will also be competing for ARC points, including Cronje and Houghton, Wilken and Godrich, Jon Williams and Cobus Very (Ford Fiesta), Jan Habig and Robert Paisley (Ford Fiesta), and Joos and Danie Stassen in their Subaru WRX.

Rally action on Saturday will start at 7.45am in Nelspruit and the rally will finish at the Lowveld Showgrounds on Saturday afternoon.