Quick guys tend to be quick in anything with wheels, and so it has proved to be with Mark Cronje. From when he first sat in a kart aged 12 (making him a fairly late starter by modern standards) it was obvious he had what it takes and since then he has been a winner in circuit racing, off-road, and rallying.
Today, his CV includes five championships; including the 125 Promo karting championship in 2000, the World Rotax Max Karting Championship which he won in 2002 in front of his Zwartkops home crowd, and the 2012 South African Rally Championship in a Super 2000 Ford Fiesta. He narrowly missed out on the 2011 rally title in controversial circumstances when a round of the series was declared null and void, and also lost out on a Class D crown in off-road racing, losing by a single point after a debatable ruling.
Cronje started his racing career in 1990 and joined the Toyota Development Team in 1997, winning the CAR Rookie of the Year award which earned him a driving course at the famous Jim Russell Racing School in the UK. In 1999, he moved to Class D in a Toyota Tazz, and a year later was up to class B. He was introduced to off-road racing with the Castrol Toyota squad in 2003, and along with veteran co-driver Chris Birkin, certainly made his mark as the Gauteng pairing surpassed all expectations by comfortably winning Class E in Mark’s debut year, completing all eight events.
They moved to class D for 2004 (a year in which he also had his first ‘taste’ of rallying thanks to a course at the John Haugland Winter Rally School in Norway), and graduated to the new Super Production Class for the 2006 season. They were consistently at the top of the class in terms of pace during 2007 and 2008.
By then Mark was becoming a force in a rally car too, comfortably blasting his way to the Class A6 national rally championship victory in his debut year in 2006, and then repeating the feat the following year by taking the Class A7 title – then the top two-wheel drive category – with three rounds remaining. He moved to the premier S2000 category for 2008, partnered with respected co-driver Robert Paisley. It wasn’t long before Mark had got to grips with four-wheel-drive rallying and he took his first win in only his fifth outing in an S2000 car when he won the Volkswagen Rally.
He continued his climb up the ladder in 2009, taking another win as well as two podiums to finish fifth in the championship, behind a brace of vastly more experienced rivals.
But in 2010 the car was off the pace, and the best result was a third place on the opening round. Three-quarters of the way through the year Mark fell out with team management regarding the way forward and suddenly found himself without a drive…and for a nano-second wondered whether his motorsport career had stalled. But by the end of the year a deal had been put together to purchase a car from M-Sport, and he moved to an S2000 Ford Fiesta as a privateer in 2011, teaming up with veteran off-road navigator Robin Houghton.
Since then they haven’t looked back, rewriting the history books and proving in 2012 (by winning four of the eight events) that a professionally-run privateer team can take on and regularly beat the factories. Their efforts have been rewarded with support from Ford Racing as a Dealer Team entry for 2013, enjoying a dream debut as part of the blue oval with victory on the Total KZN Rally on March 8/9 and following that up with a hard-fought win in extremely tricky conditions on the Sasol Rally.
Star sign: Sagittarius
Marital status/partner’s name: Married to Kirsten.
Date of birth: 1977/12/19
Strengths as a competitor: Determination – I never give up.
Weaknesses as a competitor: Maybe the same as my strength…I never know when to call it a day!
Claim to fame: Winning the Rotax Max Karting Word Championship in 2002 and the National Rally Championship in 2012.
Favourite food: Definitely a good steak, braaivleis-style. And pancakes!
Favourite drink: Jack and Coke Zero.
Favourite music: U2
Hobbies: Mountain biking and wakeboarding.
Education: Princess Primary and Princess High School. Twelve years spent dreaming about becoming a racing driver!
Born and bred: Johannesburg, grew up on the West Rand.
First motorsport event: The Randburg Street race where he finished fourth.
Favourite motorsport event and why: That karting World Championship in 2002 – winning in front of a home crowd at Zwartkops was amazing.
Favourite competition machine and why: The Fiesta S2000 rally car, without a doubt. It doesn’t have a weakness and its traction is amazing – a proper competition car in every respect.
Motorsport role models: Serge Damseaux – he’s quiet and unassuming but is very driven. I’m also a big Schumacher fan and his passion and commitment after so many years at the top, and with little still to prove, is impressive.
Goals for 2013: To win the National Rally Championship again and to compete in more overseas events.
Day Job: Owner of an Easylife Kitchens franchise, a specialist cabinetry company.