The annual Sasol Raceday at Zwartkops Raceway on Saturday 26November will see the running of the fifth and penultimate round of the Sasol Global Touring Car (GTC) Championship. In the three-and-a-half months since the new, high tech purpose-built GTC cars first rolled onto the tarmac at the same circuit in early August, a great deal has changed in the pecking order at the front of the field.
The GTC Championship made whirlwind visits to Aldo Scribante in Port Elizabeth and Killarney in Cape Town, leaving an indelible impression on thousands of spectators after some breathtaking racing at the two coastal circuits. The series gained Johan Fourie in time for the Eastern Cape outing, while Michael Van Rooyen made his debut at Kyalami last month.
Initially, it appeared Michael Stephen and his Engen Audi A3 GTC was unbeatable after he swept to six consecutive victories and opened up a healthy championship lead. Killarney proved a tipping point when Gennaro Bonafede planted his BMW GTC race car on pole position and swept to his maiden win. The Sasol GTC Racing Team driver continued his new-found form at Kyalami and dominated the event, taking pole position and victory in both races.
The fifth round of the championship should see another round of wheel-to-wheel racing between these two hard chargers but Simon Moss, in the second Engen Audi cannot be discounted as he has claimed three fastest laps, one pole position and three runner-up placings to rank third in the championship standings.
Youth has prevailed over experience in the Volkswagen Jetta GTC racing camp, for Mathew Hodges has emerged as the quicker of the two drivers with three podium results to his credit. His team-mate, Graeme Nathan, a seven-time SA saloon racing champion has spent most of the year getting to grips with the rear wheel drive GTC car following a career of front-wheel drive racing cars, but has visited the podium twice so far.
The meat in the Volkswagen sandwich is former production car champion Johan Fourie in his EPS Couriers BMW GTC race car. Fourie hit the ground running and swept to two second place finishes in Port Elizabeth, but a double non-finish last time out showed that the GTC cars have teeth and do bite back.
Hennie Groenewald has endured the bad luck and the development role in the Sasol GTC Racing Team, and his results show a single podium against the 2015 production car champion’s name. He is hungry for a strong result and Zwartkops could prove a turning point in his season.
Michael van Rooyen, affectionately called the “Rustenburg Rocket” made his debut at Kyalami with a fourth BMW GTC. Having received his car at the start of race week, he did well to bring his new machine home to a solid fourth in race two. With a month to bed in the car, much more can be expected from Van Rooyen.
Daniel Rowe is on the brink of winning the inaugural GTC Production class championship for front-wheel drive, two-litre cars after dominating in his Volkswagen Motorsport Golf GTI, racking up an impressive eight victories from 10 starts and accumulating a virtually unassailable lead of 235 points with 290 still available, including bonus points for pole position and setting the fastest race lap.
The fight for second in the championship is the closest in the Sasol GTC Championship, where Shaun Duminy (Ford Focus ST) is just six points ahead of Mandla Mdakane in the second factory VW Golf GTI. 65 points further back, and aiming for the championship podium is Charl Smalberger in his VW Genuine parts Golf GTI. – Alex Anderson (Pics: Dave Ledbitter)