The Sasol GTC Racing Team topped the overall results sheets after two exciting Sasol GTC Championship races at the East London Grand Prix circuit which hosted the final round of the series. Gennaro Bonafede took his fifth race win of the year, while Hennie Groenewald raced to two second place finishes to take the overall honours on the day.
Practice got underway on Friday with Groenewald setting the second fastest lap time in each of the four sessions. In qualifying, Bonafede put in a lap that gave him third on the grid, while Groenewald ended up in fourth spot on the grid. The second best qualifying lap time establishes the grid for race two, so Bonafede was fourth and Groenewald fifth.
The first race started in hot and blustery conditions. Groenewald made a good start and was challenging Michael Stephen (Audi) but he had to back off as going side-by-side through Potter’s Pass, the single fastest corner in the country is not regarded as a good move. On lap two, Mathew Hodges (VW Jetta) tried to pass Groenewald by putting two wheels on the grass on the long straight. The inevitable nudge came, and Hodges dropped back down the order.
Three laps later, Hodges caught up with the Sasol GTC car and under braking into the last corner, he slipped past. Had Groenewald held his position he would have passed the chequered flag in first place, for the race leader Simon Moss (Audi) retired with a broken engine half way around the final lap. “I was battling with grip levels and traction out of the corners as the race went on and couldn’t do much to defend my position from Hodges”, Groenewald related. “I really enjoyed a competitive race and it was great entertainment for the spectators to watch. We have made a significant step in showcasing the true potential and technology of GTC racing”.
Bonafede, already secure in second place in the overall GTC Championship standings, opted to try a totally different set-up on his BMW GTC car. He lost out in the slower infield complex of corners and was all but last until Michael Stephen spun out, letting him into fourth place. “At least we learned what doesn’t work”, said Bonafede. The team put the car back into qualifying specification for race two, with a few minor adjustments.
Michael Stephen rocketed into the lead of race two but it was short-lived as he encountered electrical problems. The two Jettas tangled with each other and by mid-race, Bonafede found himself in the lead followed by Groenewald, delivering their second consecutive one-two result in the space of eight days. Bonafede said: “When Michael had issues on lap seven, I was able to cruise home to my fifth win of the year and win the last race of the season. I’m very happy for the team”.
Groenewald said of his second race: “I made a poor start but gained a few places when the Volkswagen boys took each other out. I was about 1½ seconds behind the leaders so I put in a series of qualifying type laps to catch up but when Michael fell back I backed off and slotted in behind Gennaro to the end”.
Team Manager Vic Maharaj was happy with his team’s performance: “There was a regulation change which aided our competitors and our drivers had to once again dig deep to match our rivals at the most power-hungry circuit in the country. We ended the year with a pair of fast, reliable cars and the results came to us. It’s been a great debut year for the Sasol GTC Racing Team and next year we will be gunning for the championship honours”.
[Issued by Sasol]
The Sasol GTC Championship visited the East London Grand Prix circuit this weekend for the final round of the series. Once again, action was frenetic around the dauntingly fast 3.9 km track nestled next to the Indian Ocean. The day proved a fitting end to the inaugural GTC series with action throughout the field in both ten lap races.
Champion-elect Michael Stephen duly drove his Engen Audi A3 GTC to a troubled fifth and ninth place respectively in the day’s two races, earning the points required to claim the overall title and was rewarded with a well deserved R200 000 cheque as the 2016 Sasol GTC Championship winner. This championship incentive will be remembered as one of the biggest in South African motorsport history.
The weekend didn’t get off to a good start for Stephen, suffering a blown engine in Free Practice one on Friday morning. A loan unit from their sister company Volkswagen was secured for the Audi, and he went out and claimed a dominant pole position, ahead of his team-mate Simon Moss.
The Sasol GTC Racing Team locked out row two with Gennaro Bonafede shading Hennie Groenewald, followed by the two Volkswagen Jetta GTCs of Mathew Hodges and Graeme Nathan.
Under clear but windy conditions, race one provided the first surprise when Simon Moss stormed into the lead, increasing his margin, lap after lap. Stephen appeared to be helping Moss attain third in the overall championship standings by holding back Moss’ rivals. By the end of lap two, Groenewald passed Stephen followed by Hodges a lap later. Stephan was in trouble…
Stephen spun trying to avoid ramming the VW ahead allowing Bonafede and Nathan to race past the spinning Audi. Hodges out-braked Groenewald at the final corner going into the final lap while further up the road, Moss’ engine broke with four corners remaining. Lady Luck favoured Hodges who fended off Groenewald to claim his and Volkswagen’s first Sasol GTC championship victory.
Nathan crossed the line in third place followed by Bonafede and the recovered Stephen.
Race two, minus Moss who was sidelined for the rest of the day, saw Stephen bolt into the lead while the field settled in behind him. Going into Potter’s Pass, Nathan nudged Hodges who spun to the back of the field. Bonafede and Groenewald followed through, with Nathan and the GTC-Production car field in tow.
By lap seven, the only Audi in the race was missing with Bonafede now leading Groenewald and Nathan. Stephen had an electrical issue that saw the engine cut out every time he changed gears and he quickly dropped to the tail of the field. Nathan brought his Jetta home in third place again, followed by Hodges.
The Sasol Turbofuels™ Plus-backed Groenewald and Bonafede earned another one-two on the day’s overall standings, followed by Hodges, Nathan and Stephen.
In the GTC Production Class, Charl Smalberger took the first victory in his VW Golf GTi, ahead of the 2016 class champion Daniel Rowe in his VW Motorsport-entered Golf GTi. They were followed by Devon Piazza Musso (Kalex VW Golf GTi) and Mandla Mdakane in the second factory Golf.
Rowe re-asserted his authority in this class by taking his 11th victory of the season in race two. Smalberger and Piazza Musso completed the GTC-P podium.
Reflecting on the first season of the Sasol GTC Championship, Dean Somerset, Manager: Marketing, Sponsorship and CSI of Sasol Energy said: “We celebrated a year of high tech racing which is synonymous with Sasol’s product offering and encapsulated in our DNA.
The series shows the potential to grow in stature and maintain its status as the premier circuit racing championship. I commend the teams, associate sponsors and GTC management for their efforts in staging the first Sasol GTC Championship season”.
[Issued by Sasol]
Fresh from the high of claiming the Sasol GTC Racing Team’s first one-two result at the Sasol Raceday last Saturday, Gennaro Bonafede and Hennie Groenewald head into the final round of the inaugural Sasol GTC Championship looking for another strong set of results.
The East London Grand prix circuit plays host to the GTC Championship on 3rd December and both drivers are relishing the prospect of racing their BMW GTC cars at the fastest track in the country.
With Bonafede anchored in second place in the current overall championship standings following a strong set of results from mid-season including his maiden pole and victory in Cape Town in September. He followed that up with a dominant display at Kyalami a month later and continued at Zwartkops last week. His tally stands at four victories and six additional podium results.
“Practice will be crucial to find the ideal set-up for the track. The long straights and tight complex section invariably results in a compromise though. I love the track because it’s very fast and flowing. The race fans are in for a treat as they have never seen anything like GTC cars in the country before. And it’s great to end the season on the beach! said Bonafede of his last outing of the year.
Hennie Groenewald gave a huge sigh of relief after his Zwartkops outing. The multiple former champion has struggled to come to terms with his BMW while the team has also used his car for many of the development testing and not everything has worked as expected.
After his best outing of the season which saw Groenewald claim just a single podium finish before the Sasol Raceday, he is re-energized and raring to get to East London. We should be able to take our result from Zwartkops and transfer it to the East London track. I would like to build on this and fight for a win before the year is out. The team and I have made some positive gains and the car didn’t miss a beat”.
Team Manager Vic Maharaj has his work cut out for him to turn the cars around in time to head to the Eastern Cape. “I would like to unlock a little more pace and find some more performance from our package. There are time constraints as we get going on Wednesday. The track has the highest top speed in the country while mastering the infield complex of corners has the single biggest impact on lap times. If we have another clean weekend, the results will come”.
Race fans can expect the fire-spitting GTC cars to deliver top drawer entertainment, hopefully headed by the Sasol GTC Racing Team. Fans are welcome to visit the team’s pit area and chat the drivers and collect an autograph during the day.
[Issued by Sasol]
The Sasol Global Touring Car (GTC) Championship will crown its inaugural champion at the sixth and final round in East London on Saturday, 3rd December.
The fastest circuit in the country will really test the GTC cars to their maximum at the famous former Grand Prix track which features fearsome corners like Potter’s Pass and Rifle Range while track safety is the same as it was in the very early 1960s.
Michael Stephen is the champion-elect following a string of seven victories from eight starts, adding his eighth win of the year at Zwartkops Raceway last weekend. With a substantial 144 point lead over second-placed Gennaro Bonafede, Stephen can stroke his Engen Audi GTC car home without hanging it on the ragged edge.
Bonafede dialled in his Sasol GTC racing car to his liking in Cape Town, taking his maiden pole position and victory at the Killarney track, starting a rich run of success which sees him firmly anchored in second spot on the title leaderboard with four victories against his name, as well as six additional podium finishes. Another win is a very real possibility but there are another seven drivers in the series all wanting the top step of the podium, so the racing will be fierce.
33 points separates third to sixth on the champion log and any of the four drivers can claim the last championship podium this weekend. Mathew Hodges had his best run at Zwartkops last weekend since the opening round in August, the factory Volkswagen Motorsport Jetta GTC driver moving into third place on the log, displacing Simon Moss (Engen Audi GTC) in the process. Just 15 points separate these two hard-charging drivers with over 100 points available on the day. Luck and reliability will determine this race-within-a-race as both youngsters are very quick.
Six points further back is Johan Fourie in his EPS Couriers BMW GTC car. The former production car champion joined the series at round two and was immediately on the pace, claiming a strong second place podium in his debut race. He has claimed another three podiums since then and will be a dark horse for a surprise result.
Hennie Groenewald is a further 12 points adrift after enjoying his best outing yet in the new GTC class last time out, finishing the Sasol Raceday last week with two second places to his credit. The BMW GTC racing driver would love to end the year with a maiden win and given his pace at Zwartkops last week, this could be his weekend.
Graeme Nathan (Volkswagen Jetta GTC) is languishing in seventh place in the championship standings. With a career which boasts seven saloon car championships in front-wheel drive cars, he has battled a bit to make the transition to the rear-wheel drive GTC cars, enduring more than his fair share of incidents and accidents during his steep learning curve.
Rounding out the GTC entry is Michael van Rooyen in his Rustenburg Steel Construction BMW GTC, who joined the series at round four in October. His new car has experienced a series of teething troubles and runs with plain white bodywork, preferring to unveil his livery ahead of the 2017 season.
GTC Production, the class for front-wheel drive cars has already crowned its champion. Daniel Rowe (Volkswagen Motorsport Golf GTi) has dominated the class with ten victories from 12 starts, adding a second and third place finish when he didn’t win. Mandla Mdakane, in the second factory-backed Golf GTi is in second place, followed by Shaun Duminy who is not expected to make the trip to the Eastern Cape, preferring to concentrate his resources on building his new GTC race car for next year.
Charl Smalberger (VW Genuine Parts Golf GTi) and newcomer Devon Piazza Musso (Kalex Golf GTi), who made a strong debut in the series last week, drive their hearts out looking for that elusive maiden victory.
East London race fans are in for treat as GTC has learnt a great deal since it debuted in August with the cars becoming faster and more reliable with each race.
[Issued by Sasol]