Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Michael Stephen and Daniel Rowe, both Port Elizabeth residents, won the two Sasol GTC Championship races held at the Aldo Scribante Raceway on Saturday, with Stephen taking the championship lead for the first time this year.
Having started the season on the back foot at Kyalami after his monster crash, the defending champion now sits eight points ahead of his arch-rival Gennaro Bonafede (Sasol BMW GTC) who struggled with setup and the wet conditions all weekend while only picking up a handful of championship points.
Steady rain made the going treacherous on the newly laid tarmac surface, with incidents aplenty to entertain the thousands of spectators who braved the icy conditions. Friday’s free practice sessions were also wet, leaving the up-country teams on the back foot as they struggled to find the ideal set-up for race day.
Michael Stephen (Engen Audi GTC) stormed to pole position in Saturday’s qualifying session, in spite of suffering from a slipping clutch. The Terry Moss Racing team changed the unit in two hours, allowing Stephen to take up his grid slot. Teammate Simon Moss placed the sister Audi GTC on the front row of the grid, ahead of Michael Van Rooyen (RCS BMW GTC), Johan Fourie (EPS Couriers BMW GTC), Daniel Rowe (Volkswagen Jetta GTC), Gennaro Bonafede and Robert Wolk (Sasol BMW GTCs) while Mathew Hodges rounded out the grid in his VW Jetta GTC.
Stephen and Moss raced into the distance, leaving the pack in their wake, duly finishing in a one-two team formation, in spite of Moss spinning down to fifth place during the race. The battle behind the Audis was one of attrition as most of the drivers spun off the track as they fought for the final step of the podium. Bonafede held third place initially but spun onto the grass while trying to overtake Fourie, finding a lack of grip on his chosen racing line. Fourie had earlier put two wheels on the grass while fighting with van Rooyen, dropping to sixth before racing back onto the podium.
Hodges had a fast start and rocketed into fourth place while Bonafede recovered from his off-track excursion to cross the line in fifth place. Wolk battled with handling issues throughout the race, ending a distant sixth. Rowe struggled for race pace and had a spin while van Rooyen spun to the back of the field after locking a wheel on the wet road.
The second race, from an inverted grid, kept the drenched spectators on the edge of the seats. Rowe, from second on the starting grid, took the lead going through turn one but he was soon under attack. Hodges closed on his teammate’s bumper, while Moss stormed through the field to split the Volkswagen twins by lap three. Hodges tagged Moss into a spin which dropped the Audi driver to fourth, but the respite was short-lived and Moss was soon back in the lead battle. The PE driver, however, outbraked himself and dropped to fourth once more, before catching the leaders for the third time.
Moss applied maximum pressure to Rowe and took the lead. As the two young drivers raced side-by-side they touched going through the Sweep, resulting in Moss going wide and dropping to third. Further back, Fourie had his hands full with Stephen trying to pass him; going into turn one, Stephen edged Fourie to the outside of the corner and the pair touched, leaving Stephen’s Audi broadside in front of Fourie. The Cape Town BMW driver then caught Hodges and a close battle raged; Fourie touched Hodges who lost two places in the incident.
Van Rooyen managed to salvage fifth place after bumping Bonafede into a spin for a second time, dropping the title challenger to last place.
Robert Wolk was also in the wars. He was third during the opening laps but was hit by Hodges going into turn one. After initially holding the slide, Wolk spun going into turn two. He held off Stephen over the final laps to take sixth place while Stephen ended in seventh place after spinning for a second time under braking.
Keagan Masters (Volkswagen Motorsport Golf GTi) claimed pole position by a credible 0.6 seconds from Charl Smalberger (UniChip VW Golf GTi), Brad Liebenberg (Ferodo MINI John Cooper Works), Trevor Bland (Universal healthcare VW Golf GTi), Devin Robertson (Champion MINI John Cooper Works), Adrian Wood (Kyocera VW Golf GTi), Dayne Angel (Angel Autohaus Honda Civic Type R) and Bob Neill (Delmon Mining Ford Focus ST).
In the first race, Smalberger made a brilliant start to take the lead, followed by Liebenberg, Bland and Robertson. Smalberger, under pressure from Liebenberg, skated off the track which allowed the two MINIs into the lead. A race long duel between the MINIs raged, with positions swapped by the lap until Robertson got ahead and held on to take the flag for his second win of the year.
Behind Liebenberg, Smalberger regained the track and ended third, followed by Bland, Angel and a struggling Masters. Wood ended seventh after being knocked off the track while being lapped by van Rooyen.
Wood made an excellent start in race two and held the lead for half the race but ran wide under pressure from the chasing pack, dropping to fourth position at the end of the race. Liebenberg, who scorched through the field after passing a train of three cars going into the hairpin, took the lead after passing Masters, who in turn had Robertson’s MINI large in his rear-view mirrors.
Masters held off the Champion MINI, who ended second and third respectively, followed by Wood, Bland and Angel. Smalberger crashed after hitting a puddle while trying to pass Masters and was classified last.
The sixth round of the Sasol GTC Championship, including Sasol Race Day, takes place at Zwartkops Raceway in Pretoria on August 18, 2018.
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GTC: Stephen. 194, Bonafede. 184, Moss. 184, Rowe. 154, Van Rooyen. 148, Fourie. 143, Wolk. 139, Hodges. 108
GTC2: Masters. 209, Liebenberg. 198, Robertson. 193, Bland. 180, Wood. 134, Smalberger. 132, Angel. 126, Neill – 48
[ISSUED BY SASOL]