The third round of the 2007 Bridgestone SA Production Car championship at Killarney in the Western Cape on Saturday sees Sasol Nissan's Leeroy Poulter defending his class A and overall championship as well as a healthy lead in both of this year;s competition.
Poulter in Nissan 350Z #A1 survived two hectic race meetings, around the streets of Durban in February and at Kyalami on March 3, which saw several fancied runners under perform or fall foul of the officials as a result of over robust driving.
While the former kart and production car champion enjoys a 20-point lead in class A over nearest rival Shaun Watson-Smith (Audi A4 quattro) and a 17-point advantage in the overall title race over Graham Nathan (class T VW Golf GTi), team-mates Gary Formato (7th in class A) and Tschops Sipuka (9th in class) have some work to do.
Formato in 350Z #A22 enjoyed a hard-earned third place in the opening race of the season in Durban, but, like Sipuka (#A23), has not yet found the ideal set-up for his car.
With penalty weight added to the successful cars at the start of each race meeting (as opposed to at the start of each race like last season), Poulter will be carrying maximum weight throughout the Cape Town meeting, while his chief rivals will be enjoying a weight advantage. For Formato and Sipuka this is an opportunity to close the gap on their team-mate.
But Poulter will be looking to repeat the results he enjoyed at the equivalent race meeting last March, when he and the 3,5-litre V6 Sasol Nissan 350Z were unstoppable, racking up two successive wins and bonus points for pole position in each race. They also posted the fastest lap in each race and left behind a new Killarney lap record for a class A production car.
"I always enjoy racing in Cape Town and I like the Killarney layout," said Poulter. "But the extra weight might be too much. The BMWs in particular will be running very light following their uncharacteristically bad start to the season. We have seen that they are very fast and they will pose a real danger on Saturday."
Backing the official factory team at Killarney will be the privately-run Lee-Philips-managed SAM Nissan Dealer Team (previously known as the Nissan Junior Team), with Reghard Roets in the Bosal 350Z and Marco da Cunha in the DCM/Tubular Technical car. Both have shown in the opening rounds of the championship that the team has found some extra power and speed and they will be well in the hunt for points this weekend.
Roets, in particular, looked ominous in the Durban street race that preceded the A1GP in February and might well have challenged for a race win had he not suffered ABS problems resulting from a crash in qualifying when he was forced to avoid Weston's BMW as it limped back to the pits after hitting the wall.
However he came good at Kyalami in round two, giving the Nissan Dealer Team its first victory of the year in a thrilling 18-lap race two. In a race of attrition in which Sipuka, Formato and Poulter brought their factory 350Zs home in fourth, fifth and sixth places respectively, Marco da Cunha saw a potential fourth place disappear when a tyre went flat.