Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton lead the South African Rally Championship log by four points as Team Sasol heads into the penultimate round in the Swartland region of the Western Cape. With four teams vying for the title, there is no time to relax or dwell on Team Sasol’s hat-trick of victories as the technicians ready the pair of M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000s for battle.
The Toyota Dealer Cape Rally is one of Mark’s favourite events having claimed his maiden victory on this event two years ago while Jon Williams and Cobus Vrey built their rally careers on the canola and wheat field farm roads that make up the bulk of the route.
The new championship leaders will leave the start ramp first but their title rivals should remember that road-sweeping duties did not slow the lead Team Sasol Fiesta on the recent Garden Route Rally, where Mark and Robin thundered through the first stage on Saturday morning two seconds per kilometer faster than their main challengers. “We’ve run first on the road on the Saturday on nearly every rally, so we’re not overly concerned”, Robins asserts.
With 32% of the fastest stage times this season and three wins from the last three events, the Team Sasol Ford pair has gained crucial championship momentum at a critical part of the season.
“It’s going to be an interesting event”, said Mark. “There are two big events ahead and the title fight will go all the way. Johnny (Gemmell) will have a far better road position and the Toyota has got serious horsepower while Leeroy (Poulter) has nothing to lose by going all out for the win, even though he’s out of the championship. Conrad (Rautenbach) seems to have gone off the boil and I think Enzo is suffering the effects of Volkswagen running a car that started life six years ago, but none of them can be discounted”.
The region is renowned for a lot of contours that cause the cars to get serious airtime under their gravel tyres. “I’m not scared of the jumps – the car is very good over them. The roads are wide and quite smooth, a bit like the Volkswagen Rally but without the mountains and there’s not much to hit if you overcook it a bit; it’s the type of terrain that I really enjoy”, Mark added.
“Whatever happens by the end of the year, I’m ecstatic with our season. The sport needs an exciting showdown and the Cape fans are in for a really spectacular show. We have a test planned and will be putting in maximum effort and we’ll see where it goes from there”, Mark concluded.
Jon Williams has his best opportunity of the year to achieve his objective of standing on the podium as he chases a top five placing on the leaderboard. “I know the type of roads well and while I don’t know every road, I have a good idea of their nature and the grip levels. I would like to end in the top five of the championship and to do that, I need a podium or two”, said Jon.
“The cautious approach I’ve taken so far hasn’t really worked, so I think I’m going to go 120% from the first stage and if I need to lean on a fence or two then that’s what I have to do”, Jon laughed. “I’m excited to be driving the Sasol Fiesta at home and want to put on a good show for my fans and put the bad luck I’ve had this year behind me. I’ve got a good feeling for this one and can’t wait to get going”.
“The tarmac element is quite big so I must apply my mind to achieving a good set up for that – not just arrive and hope for the best. You can lose – or gain – a significant amount of time on the black stuff on this event because it is about 25% of the route. I have a plan and Cobus and I will put in a lot effort to perfect our notes”, Jon continued.
“I’ve viewed the in-car video footage and spent a lot of time looking at the data to help me improve my driving and set-up and the Cape Rally is where I hope it will pay off. If I can keep one or two of the championship guys behind me to help Mark, that will be a bonus. I don’t have the same gearbox options as Mark in terms of longer gearbox ratios but the Fiesta’s brakes are very good and that will help me make up time. I hope the niggling problems are a thing of the past and we can look forward to a clean run”, said the young Cape Town-based driver.
“The Toyotas have serious horsepower and speed so I expect them to be the biggest threat. Volkswagen is strong as a unit and they have strength in depth but any of the championship leaders and a few others can be on-song on the day so we’ll have to wait and see”, was Jon’s assessment of his rivals.
The Toyota Dealer Cape rally is headquartered at Killarney race track, which is the venue for the podium celebrations. The event starts from the Toyota dealership in Tableview at 13h00 on Friday, 23 September, while Saturday’s action gets underway at 08h00. The rally is due to end at 16h00.