Mark Cronje & Ford off to a winning start at Total Rally 2013

Run Ride Dive Motorsport

Ford Fiesta off to a flying start

Run Ride Dive Motorsport

With 10 out of 13 stage wins to their name and a victory margin of over a minute, reigning South African rally champions Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton could not have hoped for a better start to their title defense.

Their Ford Dealer Team S2000 Fiesta was the dominant force in the season-opening Total Rally 2013, which took place on the province’s South Coast and in Durban on March 8 and 9, with 30 vehicles driving down the start ramp on a hot Friday afternoon to kick off the 2013 National Rally Championship.

The reigning champs were set off in fifth position in terms of lucky draw system under which the first eight seeded teams drew their final start position, and they made a flying start in car #24, winning the first two stages. By the end of Friday – during which accidents and incidents caused the event to run late and resulted in two of the seven scheduled stages being cancelled – the duo had a 34-second advantage over the their nearest rival. The scorching hot afternoon certainly took its toll on a number of leading competitors, with some spectacular accidents and incidents, including one in which Houghton/Cronje’s Fiesta was first on the scene to lend assistance to the burning Toyota of Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan.

That stage was cancelled as a result, the first of two days ending with a 1.4 kilometre tarmac stage at Durban’s old drive-in, which Cronje/Houghton also won convincingly, showing that their pace is hot irrespective of the surface.
“We had a near-perfect day from the very beginning, and starting fifth after the seeding draw meant we could really show our pace rather than sweeping the roads,” commented Cronje. “In the very first stage, which was just over 12 kilometres long, we were 14 seconds quicker than anyone else, so we knew straight away our homework had paid off.”

Saturday started in similar fashion and Cronje and Houghton set a blistering pace on the day’s first stage – Ellingham 1 – at 20.15 km the longest of the event. But with just two cars through to the finish the stage it was cancelled when the Polo of Henk Lategan crashed into a concrete bridge and caught alight.

Nevertheless, the leaders were able to take a fairly conservative approach thereafter and drove in measured fashion. Said Cronje: “We knew we could turn up the wick if need be, but we were in a position where we could dictate from the front and we knew it would be virtually impossible for someone to overhaul us. Nevertheless, as a crew you still need to maintain a high level of concentration and just a single puncture could’ve changed the face of the event.”

With the win this weekend secured, the Ford Racing Fiesta S2000 – which is financed partially by the Ford dealer network via a ‘levy’ on every new car sold – is now preparing for the Sasol Rally in Mpumalanga on April 19 and 20. It’s an event they won last year, and they’re keen to do so again.

 Gallery from the Total Rally here.

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