Cape Town, South Africa. Round seven of the Sasol GTC Championship saw the two main title chasers share the spoils as Michael Stephen (Engen Audi GTC) and Gennaro Bonafede (Sasol BMW GTC) raced bumper-to-bumper to claim a race win each at Killarney International Raceway, Cape Town.
Bonafede, having clinched pole position by a scant 0.036 seconds ahead of Stephen, powered to a race-one victory with another narrow margin of 0.149 seconds. Race two, off an inverted grid, produced spectacular competition as Stephen and Bonafede carved their way through the pack with the black Audi ahead of the white BMW after 15 laps of frenetic racing.
Bonafede claimed the bonus points for setting the fastest lap in each race, allowing him to claw back eight points from his rival in the championship chase; an important feat considering his loss of the championship lead at the last event at Zwartkops Raceway
Qualifying on Friday afternoon pointed to the close racing to come with the entire field covered by eight tenths of a second. Robert Wolk (Sasol BMW GTC) qualified third, followed 0.001 seconds later by the second Audi of Simon Moss. Johan Fourie (EPS BMW GTC), Daniel Rowe (Volkswagen Jetta GTC) and Michael van Rooyen (RSC BMW GTC) rounded out the Sasol GTC grid.
Behind Bonafede and Stephen in the opening race, Wolk held off a train of cars until the midpoint when Rowe edged ahead as the BMW’s tyres started to lose grip. On the final lap, Rowe ran wide at the final turn, Wolk slipped up the inside line, only for Rowe to cut back and run into the BMW. With nowhere to go, Wolk collided with the side of the spinning Volkswagen Jetta. Wolk was fortunate to complete the race in fourth place, followed by Van Rooyen in his BMW, and Mathew Hodges in the second factory VW Jetta GTC. Fourie had a difficult race, ending seventh ahead of Rowe.
Race two’s reverse grid 15-lap affair saw the Volkswagen Motorsport Jettas lead the pack during the opening laps, followed by Michael van Rooyen who crashed out at the fast Damps Dip bend on lap three. This let Wolk into third with Stephen and Bonafede in hot pursuit.
By lap six, the championship rivals were into the lead and racing hard while Moss fought his way back from last, after he was shuffled to the back of the pack on the opening lap. The Volkswagens slipped back, with Rowe and Hodges involved in a fierce inter-team battle that had the crowd on their feet as they fought over fourth place. Hodges took the position from Rowe.
Fourie’s weekend went from bad to worse, retiring his car with an incurable misfire, while Wolk was forced out after a piece of debris got caught in the front of his car, blocking both the brake duct and radiator, causing overheating issues.
In GTC2, Trevor Bland scored his maiden GTC2 victory after being a class frontrunner all year.
Smalberger (iCorp Volkswagen Golf GTi) scorched around the 3.2km Killarney Raceway circuit to claim his first GTC2 pole position of the season, which now adds to his 2016 pole position at East London.
Bland (TB Racing VW Golf GTi) took second spot in qualifying ahead of the class championship leader Keagan Masters (VW Motorsport Golf GTi). Chris Shorter (Champion MINI John Cooper Works), Mandla Mdakane (VW Motorsport Golf GTi) and Brad Liebenberg (Ferodo MINI John Cooper Works) rounded out the top six.
The opening race showed thrilling yet respectful competition between Bland, Smalberger and Masters, who continually swapped positions by the lap until lap four, when Bland grabbed the lead and stayed there until race end in spite of severe pressure from Smalberger.
Masters had a brake issue and dropped to the back of the pack before retiring three laps from the end, while Mdakane moved ahead of Liebenberg’s MINI, taking a well deserved podium finish.
Masters returned with a vengeance in race two, leading from lights to flag ahead of Shorter’s Champion MINI. Smalberger and Bland were third and fourth respectively. Mdakane and Iain Stevenson (Comsol VW Golf GTi) collided which saw the factory Golf retire with terminal damage, while Stevenson circulated to finish sixth behind Liebenberg’s MINI.
With two rounds to go in 2017, the penultimate round of the Sasol GTC Championship takes place at Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit from November 3-4. Michael Stephen leads the points ahead of Gennaro Bonafede and Simon Moss, in which these three are now the only drivers with a mathematical chance at the 2017 Sasol GTC title.
Championship positions: (subject to MSA confirmation)
1. Michael Stephen 535
2. Gennaro Bonafede 492
3. Simon Moss 403
4. Johan Fourie 264
5. Mathew Hodges 244
6. Robert Wolk 168
7. Daniel Rowe 162
8. Michael van Rooyen 98
1. Keagan Masters 524
2. Trevor Bland 380
3. Charl Smalberger 361
4. Chris Shorter 338
5. Brad Liebenberg 287
6. Mandla Mdakane 244
7. Iain Stevenson 103
8. Bryn High 70
[Issued by Sasol]