THE season-opening Total Rally in KwaZulu-Natal at the weekend was miserable for some and for others a chance to shine in adverse weather conditions on the last day.
The overall winner was Mark Cronje and Robin Houghton in their Ford Fiesta S2000 followed by Jan Habig and Robert Paisley in another Fiesta. Third was Jean Pierre Damseaux and Hilton Affuray in their Toyota Auris S2000 C.
In fourth spot was Leerot Poulter and Elvene Coetzee in their Toyota Yaris S2000.
Fifth overall and second in the S2000 Challenge were inaugural challenge champions Gugu Zulu and Carl Peskin in the first of the factory Volkswagen Sasol racing Polos, 38 seconds behind Poulter and Coetzee.
Rounding out the top six and missing a top-five finish by five seconds were Giniel de Villiers and new co-driver Greg Godrich (S2000 Imperial Toyota Auris), who battled with power steering problems on Saturday and picked up a 40-second penalty for lateness after replacing a high-pressure pump.
Thilo Himmel and the all- new rally Toyota Etios R2 enjoyed a dream debut when the Namibian and his South African co-driver, Armand du Toit, won the two wheel drive category for S1600 cars.
They led the two-day scheduled 16-special stage event at the overnight stop in Durban on Friday, and withstood a strong challenge from first Ashley Haigh-Smith and Craig Parry (Castrol Ford Fiesta R2) and then Guy Botterill and Simon Vacy-Lyle (Yato Tools Toyota RunX) to take the honours at the finish in Durban on Saturday afternoon. The event was reduced to 13 stages as a result of several incidents.
The youngest driver in the event, 16-year-old Richard Leeke Jnr, and Pierre Jordaan, were eighth in an ATS Ford Fiesta R2, in only their second national championship rally together.
Teenager Henk Lategan and Barry White impressed in their debut in the third VW Sasolracing Polo, finishing third on Friday and recovering from contact with a concrete tunnel wall and a brief grass fire to finish 13th in S2000.
Their incident saw the cancellation of stage eight, the first of Saturday's six gravel stages, as officials and bystanders extinguished the blaze caused by the cars hot exhaust setting fire to the dry undergrowth.
The 18-year-old Lategan marked himself as a champion of the future with a spirited fight-back which saw him take the honours from his more illustrious rivals on stage 12 on his way to 23rd overall and 13th in S2000.
The next round of the championship is the Sasol Rally in Mpumalanga which takes place on April 19 and 20.