The Ford Performance team of Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton dominated the first day of the Tour Natal Rally, opening round of the 2015 South African Rally Championship.
This is the debut appearance for the new-look outfit, rebranded in the distinctive blue and red colour scheme synonymous with the new Ford Performance brand. And it proved an extremely successful start to the rally for the crew, who won four of the day's six stages - including the first three in succession.
After the start order draw, Cronje and Houghton, who won this event in 2012 and 2013, set off second behind reigning champions Leeroy Poulter and Elvéne Coetzee (Toyota Yaris) in overcast and cool conditions following light overnight rain.
Despite the less-than-ideal starting position on this extremely slippery event, the Fiesta crew were on form right from the outset and comfortably set the fastest times on all three opening stages.
One of the biggest changes for the 2015 season is that the teams will have two opportunities to recce the route ahead of the rally, giving time to refine pace notes for the event, as is done in the World Rally Championship.
"Allowing us to recce the route and produce or refine our own pace notes is a huge change from last year, and makes the stage times faster and more competitive," Cronje says.
"This was particularly beneficial on the Tour Natal, as it's a very tricky event with an extremely slippery surface. Unlike other rallies, there is no room for mistakes on the Tour Natal, because if you go off into the sugar cane the car gets beached and that's usually the end of your rally."
The starting position is extremely important on this event, with the starting order determined by a draw. "The first cars effectively sweep the road and the times get faster the further back you start as the slippery surface is cleared. By day two there is much more grip and everyone is on maximum attack.”
"We are really excited to be competing under the Ford Performance banner this year, and believe that we have a race-winning car and team," Cronje states.
Fury Ford Sandton wish the Ford Rally Team all the best for the season ahead!