The Aldo Scribante Circuit in Port Elizabeth hosts the next battleground for the Sasol GTC Championship teams as South Africa’s premier touring car category reaches the halfway mark of the 2017 Championship this weekend, July 14-15.
Sasol GTC Racing Team’s Gennaro Bonafede leads the field by 59, with defending champion Michael Stephen sitting in second and ready to capitalise on his hometown advantage. The Engen Xtreme Team driver, based in Port Elizabeth, has more laps under his belt around the 2.48km long circuit than most, and is widely regarded as being almost unbeatable on home turf.
Bonafede, driving the #32 Sasol BMW GTC car, will be out to prove he can beat the hometown hero, while Stephen, in the #1 Engen Xtreme Audi GTC will want to put on a winning show for his legions of fans.
With both drivers having each scored four race victories apiece in 2017, the battle lines will be drawn when the lights turn green come Saturday morning, Volkswagen National Race Day.
Added to the potent mix, the Volkswagen factory team based down the road from the Port Elizabeth in Uitenhage also has a point to prove, with Mathew Hodges and Daniel Rowe both wanting to show the competitiveness of the Volkswagen Jetta GTC racing cars. Hodges (#57) has visited the podium twice this year while Rowe (#11) – the reigning GTC2 champion – will be aiming for his first top-three finish since moving into the main GTC class.
Not to be outdone by his team leader, Engen Xtreme’s Simon Moss in the second #38 Audi GTC has been knocking on the door of victory lane this season, having scored five podium finishes so far. Sitting third in the rankings, just 35 points behind his championship-winning team leader Stephen, the local fan support could potentially be the impetus the 25-year-old needs to make it to the top step of the podium.
Johan Fourie (#14 EPS Couriers BMW GTC) came agonisingly close to his maiden GTC win last time out and will once again be in the thick of the action, as will Robert Wolk in the second Sasol BMW GTC who is determined to make amends for a tough first half of the season.
MVR Racing’s Michael van Rooyen – driving what has become affectionately known as the #97 Rustenburg Rocket – has also endured a tough season to date, beset with small technical issues that have kept him away from the sharp end of the field, but the RSC BMW GTC driver will have a point to prove as he looks to maximize his chances at the coastal circuit.
The front-wheel drive class has been the domain of Keagan Masters and his factory backed Volkswagen Golf GTi, building up a healthy 326 points to date. However, his lead has most recently come under threat from Brad Liebenberg in the #12 Ferodo MINI John Cooper Works, who has impressively won three of the last four races despite the Signature Motorsport team being in its first season of Sasol GTC2 racing.
Trevor Bland (#5 VW Golf GTi) and Charl Smalberger (#15 Indy Oil / iCorp VW Golf GTi) have been consistent all year and find themselves in third and fourth places in the title chase, separated by 62 points. Meanwhile Chris Shorter (#33 Champion MINI JCW) is just four points behind Smalberger and after his podium performance last time out, is in a solid position to snatch fourth on the points ladder from Smalberger should he put a wheel offtrack.
Mandla Mdakane, in the second factory Golf GTi, is a further 19 points adrift. Having won his first race victory at Kyalami in April, the Johannesberg driver has dropped off the pace in the last few outings, claiming only 44 points in the most recent four races.
Iain Stevenson (#69 Comsol VW Golf GTi) is still learning the GTC2 ropes having spent much of his career in regional saloon car categories, however is narrowing the gap to the leading pack, while Dayne Angel (Honda Civic Type R) is expected to make the trip from his home in Cape Town to add variety to the field.
Round 5 of the Sasol GTC Championship will be held at Aldo Scribante Circuit in Port Elizabeth on the Eastern Cape, with Friday July 14 seeing practice and the all-important qualifying being run, before Volkswagen National Race Day on Saturday July 15 will host a fan grid walk before the two main races; race one being 10-laps and race two being a 15-lap reverse grid race. Tickets for Saturday can be purchased for R80 at the gate.