The Bridgestone Production Car brigade travelled to the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit in Midrand on Saturday 3 March for Round 2 of the championship.
With great pace in testing at the famous Midrand circuit three weeks ago, BMW Motorsport?s three identically prepared Castrol BMW 330i race cars were expecting to dominate on all fronts. But even though a series of unfortunate events resulted in a bare minimum points haul for the team, the cars are clearly at the sharp end of the pack in terms of outright speed.
"We're here to win," explained BMW Motorsport team manger Danie Human. "But unfortunately that wasn't possible due to a string of technical maladies. However our driver's set some of the quickest lap times of the weekend - a clear indication that we will be back out front winning sooner rather than later."
Former three-time Production Car title winner Anthony Taylor was looking to get his championship campaign back on track after a tough weekend in Durban at the last round. But a number of mishaps meant a fifth place finish in Race 1 was all he had to show at the end of Saturday.
Taylor qualified in second position for the day's first heat and looked set for a mammoth battle with Nissan rival and pole-sitter Leeroy Poulter. Sadly it was not to be. As the cars lined up in the pit lane to set off on their installation lap Murphy's race gremlins struck.
"I had a really good warm-up session in the morning, setting the quickest lap time of the weekend. I felt optimistic about our chances in the race, but as the pitlane opened I experienced a problem with the throttle," he explained. "The electronics were playing up and it took a few minutes for my technicians to sort it out, by which time it was too late for us to take up our spot on the grid."
Taylor was forced to start from the back of the field. He made light work of the traffic and quickly worked his way into the thick of the class A pack, eventually finishing in fifth place.
Teammate Etienne van der Linde looked the strongest of the BMWs when the race got underway. "I had a good start and was quickly challenging eventual winner Poulter for the lead. I was all over the back of the Nissan but ended up the victim of another driver's over-ambitious manouevre when Johan Fourie (Audi) dived past Michael Stephen (Audi) and collected my right rear corner in the AA kink," commented Van der Linde who recovered to finish in an eventual twelfth place.
Clint Weston also had more than his fair share of difficulties to overcome during the course of the weekend. "We had to change the engine once on Thursday and once on Friday," explained Weston. "When we eventually got the vehicle running my biggest challenge was getting to grips with the car.
"With all the engine changes I didn't have much seat time, and on top of that I had to start from the back of the grid in both heats. Technically we had no further problems and I was able to finish in tenth place."
A long second race provided no further respite for the Castrol BMW drivers. "Unfortunately I only qualified in seventh place for the second heat," explains Taylor. "The telemetry showed I was on a pole lap in qualifying but I hit some oil on my flyer just two corners from the end of the lap ruining my chances."
With the race taking place over eighteen laps it was likely that Taylor would've been able to fight his way through the field in a car that's shown the best consistent pace over full race distance in the past two seasons. However, mechanical failure put paid to his chances.
"I initially struggled with power steering difficulties but this developed into an electrical shutdown and ended my day," concluded a disappointed Taylor.
Etienne van der Linde once again got off to a good start and was all set for the win, with a comfortable lead over the Nissan Junior Team 350Z of Reghard Roets - who went on to win the second heat - when disaster struck. "We knew we had the pace and had a big advantage over Roets but I had to retire the car prematurely with an engine problem."
This left Clint Weston as the only remaining Castrol BMW pilot at the end of the day's second heat. "The car ran well in the second heat, however I was forced to pit following a right front puncture. Luckily I was able to complete the race." Weston finished in an eventual eighth place.
"Things certainly didn't go our way this weekend," continued Human. "However if we look past the various difficulties we had it's apparent we are on the pace and in most instances setting it.
"We have a lot of reliabilty work to do ahead of the next race however we are confident that we will be back and fighting fit at Killarney on 31 March."