Ford Performance Dominates First Round Of SA Rally Championship
- Cronje and Houghton claim overall victory and seven of the 11 stages with dominant performance in their Class S2000 Ford Fiesta
- Winning margin of over 44.6 sec after 179 km of special stage action
SCOTTBURGH, SOUTH AFRICA, 27 February 2015 – Hot and humid conditions set the tone for day two of the Tour Natal Rally, and the Ford Performance team of Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton were equally on fire, claiming a dominant victory on the opening round of the South African National Rally Championship that finished in Scottburgh today.
Going into day two with a margin of 23.8 sec over reigning champions Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee (Toyota Yaris), the Ford crew started at the front of the field and had to sweep the road for the new set of slippery stages.
Despite this distinct disadvantage and a light drizzle at the start of the second leg, Cronje and Houghton continued their unassailable form, winning the 16.5 km first run through the tight Montevideo stage adjacent to the Scottburgh airfield by more than 7 sec over the second-placed Toyota.
They extended the overall advantage to 42 sec after winning the tough 25 km Ellingham stage, dispelling any concerns about sweeping the fast but loose gravel roads through the South Coast’s sugar cane plantations.
With the Class S2000 Fiesta running perfectly and requiring nothing more than standard checks at the service break, they set off on the repeat run through the day’s first two stages. The Ford pair dropped just half a second to Poulter/Coetzee on SS9 and then extended their lead to 47.8 sec after topping the times on SS10.
The Tour Natal’s grand finale featured an action-packed power stage for the third and final run through Montevideo. The running order was reversed for this exhilarating special stage, and featured an elimination ‘couch’ that crews were knocked off as their times were progressively beaten.
Cronje and Houghton settled for second place on this tight and technical final stage, giving them a commanding 44.6 sec overall lead at the end of the rally for a well-deserved victory – the third Tour Natal Rally win in the past four years for the 2012 and 2013 champions.
Poulter and Coetzee won the final stage and finished second overall, followed by Henk Lategan and Barry White (VW Polo).
“It’s a great end to a really tough rally,” an elated Cronje said. “The Tour Natal is always a challenging event in itself, but also because it’s beginning of the season and that comes with all the complexities and uncertainties of getting everything aligned for the start.
“I am delighted for the team, it’s a fantastic way to kick off the season.”
Houghton was equally upbeat. “We worked really hard to prepare everything for this event, and kept things clean through the rally. Everything came together exactly as we hoped it would.”
“It’s such as positive start and hopefully has set the tone for the rest of the season,” Houghton said.
“Mark and Robin managed the risks of today’s first two stages really well, and even managed to increase their lead,” said John Nagel, Ford Motorsport Manager.
“They were in dominant form the whole weekend with an impressive tally of seven stage wins and the overall victory. We couldn’t have asked for a better way to start to the 2015 season as the Ford Performance team.”
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Ford Performance is proud to be associated with the following sponsors and partners for the 2015 South African Rally Championship: Ferodo, OMP, Castrol EDGE, Bandit Signs and Portable Shade.