Randburg, South Africa ÔÇô The inaugural Sasol Global Touring Car (GTC) Championship flagged off in style, thrilling the massive crowd of motorsport fans who packed into the Zwartkops Raceway under clear, sunny skies, fans who have waited patiently for the new era in South African motorsport to roll onto the track.
Michael Stephen, the multiple Production Car Champion, will go down in history as the first winner of a GTC race, taking his Engen Extreme Audi A3 GTC to a pair of victories, starting from pole position in each heat.
It didn’t take long for the action to start when Simon Moss, in the second Engen Audi A3, spun out in Turn 1 during qualifying, parking his pristine machine in the barriers. After the red-flagged session restarted, the top four qualifiers were within a second of each other, with Mathew Hodges setting the second-fastest time in his Volkswagen Motorsport Jetta GTC, followed by the Sasol GTC BMWs of Gennaro Bonafede and Hennie Groenewald.
Graeme Nathan qualified his VW Jetta GTC 5th with Simon Moss bringing up the rear of the grid. The Terry Moss-run Audi team put in a huge effort to straighten the badly bent car and to their credit got it race ready.
The first race saw Stephen bolt into the lead, leaving his rivals staring at the bootlid of the black Audi. Hodges hung on gamely in 2nd place, falling away a tad as Bonafede kept him honest. Behind the leading trio, Groenewald dropped back with a misfire, allowing Nathan to close and pass the Sasol driver. Mid-race, Nathan spun in Turn 6, allowing Groenewald back into 4th place.
As the race wore on, Nathan again hunted Groenewald down, taking his position as the race neared its end. Moss circulated slowly at rear of the field, passed by several of the front-wheel drive GTC Production Car competitors.
The Sasol GTC Team withdrew Groenewald’s car from Race 2 as the team ran out of time trying to rectify the misfire that plagued him in Race 1.
Race 2 saw Stephen, again from pole position, make another great start and led the field from lights to flag. Nathan slotted his Jetta GTC into second place, followed by Bonafede and Hodges. Positions remained static for the most part, until Bonafede, on the final lap, dropped a wheel onto the dirt in Turn 6, which promptly put the BMW into an elegant pirouette. Hodges flashed past into 3rd place, but pitted before the chequered flag fell, allowing Bonafede to reclaim his 3rd place.
The front-wheel drive GTC Production class provided a pair of exciting races: Shaun Duminy (Ford Focus ST) held off a race-long effort to unseat his lead by the Volkswagen Motorsport Golf GTi twins, Daniel Rowe and Mandla Mdakane, who raced nose-toÔÇôtail throughout.
Race 2 saw a reversal of fortunes as Rowe triumphed ahead of Duminy and Charl Smalberger (VW Genuine parts Golf GTi).
Series co-founder Vic Maharaj said: “Mission accomplished. GTC positions circuit racing as a premier class and is appealing to spectators who loved the look and sound of the cars. The GTC pit area was swamped with people all day as they wanted a closer look at the future of circuit racing. The important components were mechanically reliable and the series is already a hit with the public and drivers”.
Head of Marketing & Public Affairs for Sasol Energy, which is the GTC series sponsors, Christopher Kabosha said: the management and staff of Sasol Energy would like to thank all the participating teams, corporate sponsors and the GTC management for the excellent team work and investment made in getting the 2016 Sasol GTC series off to a resounding successful start”.
The 2nd round of the Sasol GTC Championship takes place at the Aldo Scribante circuit in Port Elizabeth on 10th September.