The Sasol GTC Championship visited the East London Grand Prix circuit this weekend for the final round of the series. Once again, action was frenetic around the dauntingly fast 3.9 km track nestled next to the Indian Ocean. The day proved a fitting end to the inaugural GTC series with action throughout the field in both ten lap races.
Champion-elect Michael Stephen duly drove his Engen Audi A3 GTC to a troubled fifth and ninth place respectively in the day’s two races, earning the points required to claim the overall title and was rewarded with a well deserved R200 000 cheque as the 2016 Sasol GTC Championship winner. This championship incentive will be remembered as one of the biggest in South African motorsport history.
The weekend didn’t get off to a good start for Stephen, suffering a blown engine in Free Practice one on Friday morning. A loan unit from their sister company Volkswagen was secured for the Audi, and he went out and claimed a dominant pole position, ahead of his team-mate Simon Moss.
The Sasol GTC Racing Team locked out row two with Gennaro Bonafede shading Hennie Groenewald, followed by the two Volkswagen Jetta GTCs of Mathew Hodges and Graeme Nathan.
Under clear but windy conditions, race one provided the first surprise when Simon Moss stormed into the lead, increasing his margin, lap after lap. Stephen appeared to be helping Moss attain third in the overall championship standings by holding back Moss’ rivals. By the end of lap two, Groenewald passed Stephen followed by Hodges a lap later. Stephan was in trouble…
Stephen spun trying to avoid ramming the VW ahead allowing Bonafede and Nathan to race past the spinning Audi. Hodges out-braked Groenewald at the final corner going into the final lap while further up the road, Moss’ engine broke with four corners remaining. Lady Luck favoured Hodges who fended off Groenewald to claim his and Volkswagen’s first Sasol GTC championship victory.
Nathan crossed the line in third place followed by Bonafede and the recovered Stephen.
Race two, minus Moss who was sidelined for the rest of the day, saw Stephen bolt into the lead while the field settled in behind him. Going into Potter’s Pass, Nathan nudged Hodges who spun to the back of the field. Bonafede and Groenewald followed through, with Nathan and the GTC-Production car field in tow.
By lap seven, the only Audi in the race was missing with Bonafede now leading Groenewald and Nathan. Stephen had an electrical issue that saw the engine cut out every time he changed gears and he quickly dropped to the tail of the field. Nathan brought his Jetta home in third place again, followed by Hodges.
The Sasol Turbofuels™ Plus-backed Groenewald and Bonafede earned another one-two on the day’s overall standings, followed by Hodges, Nathan and Stephen.
In the GTC Production Class, Charl Smalberger took the first victory in his VW Golf GTi, ahead of the 2016 class champion Daniel Rowe in his VW Motorsport-entered Golf GTi. They were followed by Devon Piazza Musso (Kalex VW Golf GTi) and Mandla Mdakane in the second factory Golf.
Rowe re-asserted his authority in this class by taking his 11th victory of the season in race two. Smalberger and Piazza Musso completed the GTC-P podium. – Alex Anderson (Pics: Dave Ledbitter)