Pretoria, South Africa. Michael Stephen claimed his second consecutive Sasol GTC Championship at the final round at Zwartkops Raceway on Saturday, as his Engen Xtreme teammate Simon Moss broke through for his first wins of the season.
Under leaden skies and pouring rain, Stephen scored his third pole position of the season but challenging conditions saw him drive a risk-free first race to eventually finish in fifth place which was enough to score enough points over his title-rival Gennaro Bonafede (Sasol BMW GTC) for the championship win.
A double-delight for the Audi team, Moss had struggled all year to greet the chequered flag first all year, but pushed through with confidence in the trying conditions to seal his first Sasol GTC victory in the first 10-lap race and he repeated that result in race two from the back of the inverted grid. A masterful drive on a wet track saw Moss set both fastest race laps and nearly depose Bonafede from second place in the final championship standings. In the end, there was just three points between Bonafede and Moss on the final points standings of the year.
Third place in both races went to the “Rustenburg Rocket” racer Michael van Rooyen after qualifying his RSC BMW GTC in an impressive fourth place, in his best weekend of the season. However an overboost issue saw him relegated to the back of the grid for race one. Driving an exceptional pair of races, his two third-place results on Saturday meant that every GTC competitor in 2017 has stood on the podium during the course of the nine-round, eighteen race premier race series.
Johan Fourie, a race winner at Kyalami earlier in November, brought his EPS Couriers BMW GTC home in second place in the opening race but set-up changes for race two saw the BMW struggle, battling with grip on the still-wet circuit later in the afternoon.
The factory Volkswagen Jetta team showed great pace at Zwartkops with Daniel Rowe banking his best-ever qualifying position on the front row, while teammate Mathew Hodges overcame a poor qualifying session to finish fourth and fifth in the two GTC races. Rowe, meanwhile, went off the track in race one, ending a disappointed seventh but recovered to a strong fourth place finish in the second race.
The Sasol GTC Racing Team did not the end the year as they had hoped, with Bonafede languishing in sixth place after giving his all in a no-holds-barred race where he had to take several risks in his championship quest. In race two, the title rival again ended sixth. The Sasol BMW driven by Robert Wolk battled in the conditions with a misted window in the first race and went off track, while in race two, having started from the front row of the grid, he went off at turn five with cold brakes and circulated at the rear of the field.
GTC2 provided another spectacular pair of races, with race one won by Chris Shorter in his Champion MINI John Cooper Works, followed by his MINI teammate Brad Liebenberg in the Ferodo-backed MINI JCW. Shorter sealed second place overall in class in what was the MINI’s first season of competition.
Newly crowned GTC2 champion Keagan Masters (Volkswagen Advanced Driving Golf GTi) ended the first race in third position but came through the pack to claim his eighth victory of the year, followed by Liebenberg and Shorter. Trevor Bland (TB Racing VW Golf GTi) who held second place on the championship points was in the wars in the brat-pack race and was involved in a race-ending incident in race two, leaving him third in the final standings, a fine effort from the privateer.
At the glittering Sasol GTC Awards ceremony later in the evening Mohammed Carrim, Sasol Energy Vice-President Marketing and Sales said: “We are very proud to end this year on high with the Sasol GTC Championship Awards ceremony. We congratulate Michael Stephen and his team on their victory. As a sponsor we thank all the GTC teams for their endurance and contribution to another successful season. I am happy to confirm that our Sasol GTC Championship sponsorship. which is appropriately referred to as a “laboratory-on-wheels” sponsorship – is delivering in terms of our ability to conduct research on the performance of our products while the Championship as a whole provides us with a fantastic platform to showcase our products.”
[Issued by Sasol]