Close racing was at the order of the day during the first round of the very popular Engen Volkswagen Cup that kicked off at Cape Town’s Killarney International Raceway this weekend. A full field of no less than 22 title hopefuls lined up on the starting grid in what proved to be one of the weekend’s highlights on the racing programme, and after the final checkered flag was waved, it was Shaun La Réservée who claimed the first overall victory of the season.
It all got underway with an action-packed qualifying session on Friday, which saw a number of fast drivers as well as up and coming ones top the timesheets. You want to be in the top 6 when the checkered flag drops to indicate the end of the first qualifying session and 6th is exactly where Tasmin Pepper found herself. She was joined in the top 6 by a few established names such as Clinton Bezuidenhout, Juan Gerber, Jeffrey Kruger and Shaun La Réservée. But topping the timesheets was none other than Devin Robertson.
But that was only the first part of the qualifying puzzle. The top 6 then entered the Superpole qualifying session which saw each driver do a warm-up lap followed by a single flying lap to determine the final starting positions. This time it was Gerber who set the pace, ahead of Robertson and La Réservée.
Engen Volkswagen Cup owes its success to close racing, and if the first qualifying session of the year was anything to go by, we are all in for a treat as the first 15 drivers were all covered by just 1 single second. Right in the middle of this mix was 2016 Volkswagen Driver Search winner Jonathan Mogotsi, who put his Volkswagen Motorsport Polo in a solid 11th position overall in his first ever qualifying session.
“We are very pleased with the way that Engen Volkswagen Cup is developing,” says Mike Rowe, head of Volkswagen Motorsport. “And there is no reason why it shouldn’t continue to develop and produce future motor racing champions as it has done for more than 20 years.”
But it’s what happens after the lights go green that really counts, and when the lights did turn green to signal the start of Race 1, a whole pride of Polos rubbed paint as all 22 cars aimed for the same space that is only big enough to safely host a few. But that is the nature of Volkswagen Cup Racing.
The man who put his Polo on pole was quickly overhauled by both Devin Robertson and Shaun La Réservée with Clinton Bezuidenhout, Jeffrey Kruger and Tasmin Pepper all in hot pursuit. And that was how it ended after 8 laps were completed with a delighted Robertson taking the first victory of the season by the narrowest of margins. The difference between his Polo and the one driven by La Réservée when they crossed the finish was a mere 0.188 seconds.
And yet, the action was far from over as race two was contested over no less than 12 full laps. And it was race one winner Robertson who led the field across the line and down into the first corner, but this was where La Réservée made his move to take over the lead.
Robertson then went on to brake a little late, allowing almost half the field to move past him as he left the circuit for a few seconds. He would eventually fight back to finish 8th. But at the front, La Réservée was leading the pack around the 3.2 kilometre track lap after lap.
They say that when he smells the front he very rarely let’s go of it, and this proved true in race two of the Engen Volkswagen Cup. La Réservée held on to cross the finish first, just over half a second ahead of Clinton Bezuidenhout. Tasmin Pepper showed that it won’t take her long to return to winning form after she crossed the line in third position ahead of Juan Gerber.
And after not finishing race 1, Benjamin Habig showed his mettle with a great fightback during race two which saw him claw his way up the leaderboard and into 5th.
In the end, the organisers tally up the times and the quickest person over both races takes home the gold. When the calculations were made. It was the name of La Réservée that topped the standings to claim the first overall victory of 2017. Consistency by Clinton Bezuidenhout allowed him to slide into second position with Juan Gerber and Tasmin Pepper taking 3rd and 4th respectively.
Devin Robertson would have been disappointed with his 5th overall after winning the first heat while the first of the Oates brothers Justin finished in 6th, just 2 tenths of a second ahead of Jeffrey Kruger with Darren completing the Oates sandwich in 8th. In a field as strong as this one, a top 10 position is an achievement, especially in your debut race, but this is exactly what Volkswagen Motorsport driver Jonathan Mogotsi achieved by finishing 9th overall.
“We were very pleased with Jonathan’s consistent performance in his first ever race weekend,” continued Rowe. “And to make it even better for our team, his teammate Kuda Vazhure finished right on his heels to round out the top 10 in a field of 22 cars.”
But the man of the moment was none other than KZN driver Shaun La Réservée. He is the current Masters champion, but here in Cape Town he made his intentions very clear for 2017. “We are going for the overall title and it couldn’t have started any better than with a victory today,” said La Réservée.
Just as well, because the championship points leader will miss the next round at Kyalami on 22 April and needed all the points that he could get. “I am getting married on that day, and we can’t move the date so I’m happy with today’s result.” It will probably also be helpful for La Réservée that rival Tasmin Pepper will also not be at Kyalami. “I’m getting married to her cousin so she will also be at the wedding,” he smiled.
With or without them, the next round will indeed be contested on the new tarmac of the famous Midrand circuit on 21 and 22 April. – VW Motorsport