Mpumalanga - The second edition to the South African National and FIA African Rally Championships got under way in Sabie, Mpumalanga at 10am on Friday 19 April 2013.
The Sasol Rally is one of the most grueling races on the National Rally Calender, and this year things were made worse by rainy and misty conditions.
Day One saw the first two casualties of the rally, Wilro Dippenaar in his Toyota Auris and Zambian entrant, Mohammed Essa in his Subaru Impreza. Both had blown engines and retired on Stage 1.
Visiting British competitors, Matthew Wilson and Chris Patterson in a Ford Fiesta on loan from South African champion Mark Cronje, got off to a good start and led the event after two stages.
The pair made their first appearance in South Africa on a guest basis and not scoring points.
Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton in the Ford Racing Fiesta, lead the local championship pack by 50 seconds from Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee (Castrol Toyota Yaris).
Third, a further 16 seconds in arrears, was the first Sasolracing VW Polo of 18-year-old youngster Henk Lategan, and Barry White.
Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin in another Sasolracing VW Polo were in fifth, behind Johnny Gemmell and Carolyn Swan in another Castrol Toyota Yaris, with the pair leading the Class 2000 Challenge for older model two-litre, four-wheel-drive cars.
Local Dakar-star Giniel de Villiers and navigator Greg Godrich in the newly-launched Imperial Toyota Yaris, hit a rock and damaged a wishbone and steering arm, effectively forcing them to retire on Stage 2.
Team mates Gemmell and Swan, also returned to the service park in Sabie to attend to damage to the front end of their Yaris after going off the road on the same stage.
The ever-popular special stage 6, in Sabie CBD, again attracted plenty of locals, who were treated to some spectacular night-driving on the tarred stage with two chicanes and three hairpin bends.
By the end of Day One, reigning SA Champions Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton in the Ford Racing Fiesta, had taken over the lead from the visiting British pair in the sister car, and enjoyed a 54 second advantage.
The First Stage of Day Two was an all-tarred event called the Spaghetti Junction, where two cars are pitted against each other, in a race against the clock and each other. This stage has proven itself to be the most popular of the rally, where all the action is visible from a single vantage point.
The weather however, worsened overnight and the organisers were forced to cancel Special Stages 13 and 14 for safety reasons.
This effectively ended the rally, with only the last sports ground stage to be negotiated.
By then, the Ford Fiesta pairing of Cronje and Houghton, had built up an unassailable two minute lead, and only had to cross the finish-line to be declared back-to-back winners in this year’s opening events of the National Championship.
It was also the second year in a row this pair walked away with top honours of the Sasol Rally.
The next event on the National Rally calendar is the Toyota Gauteng Dealer Rally, which takes place from 31 May - 1 June 2013
- Adiel Adams