The defending Sasol GTC Champion Michael Stephen (Engen Audi GTC) became the fourth different winner in the 2018 season while Daniel Rowe (Volkswagen Motorsport Jetta GTC) raced to his second triumph in as many months as the country’s premier touring car series delighted Zwartkops Raceway fans last Saturday.
The championship standings have closed up with the top three contenders separated by only six points after six races. While Stephen raced to his first win of the season, log leader and Audi team-mate, Simon Moss, shadowed his every move in the first heat, ending 1.1 seconds adrift at the chequered flag. Gennaro Bonafede (Sasol BMW GTC) rounded out the podium in the first race.
The second race, from an inverted grid, which can also be dubbed as a very entertaining race, saw Daniel Rowe streak away from the field to take his second consecutive win, followed by Bonafede and Stephen.
Qualifying saw the top eight GTC contenders covered by a scant seven tenths of a second, while Stephen’s pole time of 1:01:889 is the fastest-ever GTC lap at Zwartkops Raceway. Moss was 0.015 seconds away from the number one grid slot, followed by Bonafede, Robert Wolk (Sasol BMW GTC), Michael van Rooyen (RCS BMW GTC), the VW Jetta twins of Mathew Hodges and Daniel Rowe with Johan Fourie (EPS Couriers BMW GTC) rounding out the top class after encountering brake issues.
When the lights turned green, the two black Audis raced in close formation with Bonafede snapping at their heels. Wolk was run wide by Van Rooyen on the opening lap which allowed Hodges into fourth spot. Wolk finished ahead of Rowe, followed by Van Rooyen and Fourie. Rowe suffered from impaired handling after Van Rooyen hit his Jetta’s left rear corner, dropping him down the order.
As the race entered its final laps, Fourie battled at the rear of the field with gearbox challenges, whilst Rowe deployed a strategic motorsport tactic to guarantee a pole position for the second race.
Rowe stormed into the lead at the start of race two and was never headed while Van Rooyen led the chasing high-speed train of GTC racing cars. Wolk made a great start and was into third place but was tapped by Moss and Bonafede, a move that dropped the Sasol BMW to sixth place. Stephen made his winning intention known in the early stage of the race and quickly gained a third place by lap three from his back-of-the-grid starting position.
Moss meanwhile, had gear selection issues and arrived too fast at turn five far, ran wide and dropped to the back of the pack. He recovered to finish fourth, once again behind his team-mate. Wolk crossed the line in fifth place followed by Van Rooyen.
Keagan Masters (Volkswagen Motorsport Golf GTi) claimed pole position, 0.3 seconds ahead of Bradley Liebenberg (Ferodo MINI JCW) and Dayne Angel (Autohaus Angel Honda Civic Type-R).
Charl Smalberger (UniChip Volkswagen Golf GTi), Trevor Bland (Universal Healthcare VW Golf GTi), Adrian Wood (Kyocera VW Golf GTi) and newcomer Bob Neill (Delmon Mining Ford Focus ST).
Liebenberg made a great start and led Masters off the starting line. Masters fought back and on lap three the pair raced side-by-side as they raced hard for podium honours. The MINI driver got ahead once more and took the chequered flag with a 0.6 second advantage. Smalberger completed the podium, followed by Devin Robertson (Champion MINI JCW) – who missed qualifying as his car was repaired following a huge crash in Friday’s free practise session. Trevor Bland was fifth, followed by Wood and Angel after some robust racing.
Masters put in a competitive drive to race from the back of the field to the front after being embroiled in some fierce racing which was underway throughout the pack. He and Liebenberg had a notable tussle, passing and re-passing each other to the delight of the crowd.
Robertson, running in second place behind race leader Angel, had to give best to Masters who clawed his way into the lead. Angel dropped to fourth after his Honda started overheating taking the pressure off Robertson and allowing Liebenberg onto the final step of the podium. Bland brought his car home ahead of Wood and Smalberger.
The Sasol GTC Championship travels to East London for the fourth round of the series on 16th June.
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Pictures: David Ledbitter