The Sasol GTC Championship delivered a never-ending supply of action and spectacle from qualifying on Friday to the end of the second race on Saturday afternoon. The fifth and penultimate round if the season, hosted at the Zwartkops Raceday under the Sasol Raceday banner, provided a pair of thrilling races and the first Sasol GTC Champion of the year, Daniel Rowe walking off with the GTC Production title after a near perfect season.
Qualifying was held on a wet track on Friday afternoon and the pecking order was quickly established as the champion-designate Michael Stephen (Engen Audi GTC) stormed to pole position by a massive 1.3 seconds over Johan Fourie (EPS Couriers BMW GTC) in second place, this in a series that has seen the top six usually qualifying within the same second.
Simon Moss, in the second Engen Audi was third on the grid, followed by Hennie Groenewald and Gennaro Bonafede, the Sasol GTC Racing Team drivers a little disappointed following their free practice performance that saw Groenewald top the timesheets in each of the three sessions.
Michael van Rooyen took sixth in his RSC BMW GTC followed by Graeme Nathan (Volkswagen Jetta GTC) who didn’t enjoy the car on a wet track. Mathew Hodges spun the second Jetta on his first lap and didn’t set a time, relegating him to the back of the grid.
Race one, under sunny and hot conditions, saw Stephen move into a commanding lead which was never challenged. Behind him, Moss pushed Fourie off the track on the opening lap, dropping the Capetonian to the back of the field. Groenewald was quick to take advantage and moved into second place, which he held to the end.
Bonafede challenged Moss for third place but tagged the Audi when Moss closed the door on him. The resulting spin brought out the safety car and promoted Bonafede up to third. Hodges made great progress from the back of the grid and slotted into fourth place by flag fall while Nathan limped around with low voltage after an alternator failed.
Michael van Rooyen retired his RSC BMW GTC on the opening lap, the result of a faulty map sensor, leaving him without a throttle.
Race two started on a dry track but ever darkening rain clouds. In a repeat of the first race, no one had an answer to Michael Stephen’s pace and he quickly opened up a five second lead in the first five laps. Bonafede, from third on the grid got past Fourie, followed by Groenewald, as the EPS BMW went from second to fifth in one lap, suffering with a down on power motor. Moss was next up, followed by Hodges and Nathan.
The heavens opened on lap six, turning the track into a slippery piece of tarmac as the cars were shod with slick racing rubber. The first to fall foul of the ever changing conditions was race leader Stephen, who spun into retirement at turn seven. Simultaneously, Moss retired the second Audi when the oil pump belt broke.
Bonafede and Groenewald backed off dramatically, easing their BMW GTC cars around the track in formation at the head of the field. The action continued as Nathan tried to pass Fourie but ended up spinning into Hodges, leaving Fourie a lucky third when the race was red-flagged after lap nine.
In GTC Production, Daniel Rowe duly clinched the championship after winning the first race of the day in his Volkswagen Motorsport Golf GTI. He was followed home by class newcomer Devon Piazza Musso (Kalex VW Golf GTI, Mandla Mdakane in the second factory Golf and Charl Smalberger (VW Genuine parts Golf GTI).
In race two, Rowe again ‘rained’ supreme, leading home Mdakane, Smalberger and Piazza Musso.
”The racing today provided a perfect setting to a Sasol Raceday filled with excitement and participation by everyone that attended this most significant of race days in Sasol’s annual calendar. Our premier motorsport sponsorship, the Sasol Global Touring Car Championship kept everyone in suspense throughout the two races”, said Christopher Kabosha – head of Marketing and Public Affairs Sasol Energy.
The final round of the Sasol GTC Championship takes place this Saturday 3 December at the East London Grand prix circuit. – Alex Anderson (Pics: Dave Ledbitter)