Reigning champion Michael Stephen has put a horrid start to his title defense season behind as he pushed through to claim victory at Round 2 of the 2017 Sasol GTC Championship held at the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit in Midrand, South Africa (April 21-22).
Having failed to finish the opening races in Cape Town last month, the Engen Xteme / Terry Moss Racing driver opened his championship points haul with a win in race two on Saturday afternoon, his first race victory since the penultimate round last year.
With thousands of fans attending the Kyalami Motorsport Festival, South Africa’s premier circuit racing series delivered thrilling edge-of-your-seat racing with Stephen wasting no time putting on a show as he dominated the times early. Setting the fastest time in qualifying of 1m50.765sec in his Audi A3 GTC racecar, the Port Elizabeth driver’s time was a full two seconds faster than his 2016 qualifying time at the same circuit; this was thanks in part to the new softer compound Dunlop Sport Maxx tyres that were introduced for all GTC cars to run on for the weekend and for the remainder of the season.
Joining Stephen on the front row of the grid for race one was current championship leader Gennaro Bonafede (#32), who was in solid form in his Sasol-backed BMW 2 Series GTC. Starting from third – and making three different manufacturers in the top three places – was Volkswagen Motorsport’s Mathew Hodges (#57) in his VW Jetta GTC, while the rest of the GTC grid all qualifyed within two seconds of frontrunner Stephen.
GTC2 saw 17-year-old Volkswagen works driver Keegan Masters (#18) continue his dominant form, claiming his first GTC2 pole with a 2m00.727sec lap time around the world-famous former Grand Prix circuit located in Midrand, Johannesburg. His teammate Mandla Mdakane (#44) took third in qualifying, whilst Trevor Bland (#5) – who is currently second in the GTC2 championship – took second to ensure Volkswagen locked out the top three places.
RACE ONE SUMMARY
Stephen dominated the majority of race one in his Audi GTC with Bonafede pressuring close behind, until an electrical problem on Lap 8 put him out of the race. Bonafede capitalised and took his third straight win of the season in his Sasol BMW GTC.
Hard charging Simon Moss (#38), who was determined to continue his strong start to the 2017 season in his Engen Xtreme-backed Terry Moss Racing Audi GTC, finished second while Capetonian Johan Fourie finished third in his EPS Couriers-backed BMW GTC.
Less than a second behind Fourie were the two Volkswagen Jettas of Hodges and Daniel Rowe (#11), with Sasol GTC Racing Team’s Robert Wolk (#41) a distant sixth place. RSC Racing Team’s Michael van Rooyen (#95) was blighted by a propshaft failure in his Rustenburg Steel BMW 2 Series GTC, but post-race upgraded to the new propshaft unit being used by the other teams and benefitted from starting from the front of the grid for race two, which was the first reverse grid format of the season.
In the GTC2 class, youngster Keegan Masters dominated with an impressive win nearly four seconds in front of teammate Mandla Mdakane in their Volkswagen Golfs, once again displaying his prodigious talent. Hot on Mdakane’s heels was the ever threatening Trevor Bland (TB Racing VW Golf), who was closely followed home in fourth and fifth place by the Signature Motorsport MINI John Cooper Works cars of Brad Liebenberg (#12) and Chris Shorter (#33), and GTC2 favourite Charl Smalberger (#15) sixth in his VW Golf.
RACE TWO SUMMARY
New for the championship, GTC introduced a reverse grid system for the first time in Race 2 as a test format to ensure that the category continuously delivers a good show for race fans. With the afternoon race producing innumerable overtaking moves, close battles and exciting door-to-door racing, the format proved successful on debut with Johannesburg race fans shouting their support for the entire nine laps.
Van Rooyen led from the start in his standout green and yellow liveried BMW GTC and held his own for the first lap, but was reeled in and overtaken by the hard charging Stephen who stayed out the front for the rest of the race.
Positions continued to change lap by lap, with Hodges, Wolk, Fourie and Moss all racing up the front and fighting for podium places. Unfortunately, Fourie suffered suspension failure at high speed, crashing into the wall at the Esses. While Wolk and Moss both spun individually out of Cheetah corner, forcing them to fight hard to recover lost positions. Wolk eventually retired with an overheating engine, but Moss went on to finish third overall behind Hodges who finished second.
Notably absent at the front of the field was race one winner Bonafede who had work extra hard after starting rear of grid. The Sasol BMW driver fought through to second place by the end of the race, before a last lap spin saw him relegated to fourth.
In the end, Stephen’s Audi crossed the line over seven seconds ahead of Volkswagen’s Mathew Hodges, with Moss finishing an impressive third place after starting sixth. Moss, son of legendary steerer Terry Moss, took driver of the day honours thanks to his supreme driving skills after claiming the most championship points of the weekend.
Not to be outdone, GTC2 put on a superb show of their own with Mdakane claiming a dominant win over Smalberger and Masters, with the VW Golfs again dominating proceedings. The win was also Mdakane’s first victory in the GTC era.
With more development work due before the next round for the John Cooper Works MINIs, Polo Cup graduates Chris Shorter and Brad Liebenberg take confidence from finishing their second event in their newly-built racecars, and will again be wanting to break Volkswagen’s dominance next time out.
Round 3 of the Sasol GTC Championship will be held at the East London Grand Prix Circuit on the May 20.