GAINING TRACTION: The GTC series just completed its second round in Port Elizabeth and will be coming to Cape Town later in September 2016. Image: Supplied
Port Elizabeth - Michael Stephen knows the Aldo Scribante racetrack better than the back of his own hand and it showed; he set the fastest times in every practice session and qualifying for round two of the Sasol GTC Championship, held at Port Elizabeth’s Aldo Scribante Race track (September 10).
While Mother Nature did her best to disrupt proceedings when she threw large quantities of water at the Eastern Cape city, accompanied by strong winds, the #12 Engen Xtreme Audi A3 GTC sailed on its merry way, clinching all three race wins and the overall number one spot on the day.
Hennie Groenewald and Gennaro Bonafede claimed second and third overall, the Sasol BMW M2 GTC twins consistent throughout the three race programme, if not blisteringly quick, and sometimes fortunate to gain from the mistakes of others.
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A new entrant to the Sasol GTC Championship, in the form of Johan Fourie, and his EPS Courier Services BMW M2 GTC, slotted into second place on the grid, in spite of having his car for only a week, and not having raced since 2014.
The Volkswagen Jetta pair of Graeme Nathan and Matthew Hodges were at the back, disappointed, with a large contingent of Volkswagen fans and staff and whose factory is up the road. Hodges had a broken prop-shaft and ran just one lap and thus started stone last.
Morning warm up, in soaking wet conditions, was the first time anyone had driven a GTC car in the wet and drivers were full of praise for the grip levels offered by the Dunlop wet-weather tyres.
Tight at the front
Race one saw Stephen take an immediate lead, followed by Simon Moss in the second Engen Audi. Fourie and Bonafede had a great battle for third place, followed by Groenewald, Hodges (VW Jetta GTC) and Nathan (VW Jetta GTC). Moss put a wheel onto a painted white line on the short back straight and spun down to the back of the field, making his way back to fifth by flag fall.
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Race two, held in dry but windy conditions, was another Stephen rout, with Moss making it a hometown one-two in a straightforward race. Hodges picked off his rivals to claim a strong third spot from last on the grid, ahead of a struggling Bonafede and Groenewald. The Sasol BMW team made some radical set-up changes after race one to try and cure a handling issue, but they missed the boat and went backwards in their pace.
Nathan spun to the back of the field at the final corner, ending sixth, while Fourie was forced to retire with a loose fuel tank.
The heavens opened with a vengeance minutes before the final Sasol GTC race got underway, delayed to allow Fourie’s team time to complete repairs to the fuel tank, which had split open.
Through thick spray, Stephen carefully picked his way around the circuit, hounded by his team mate Moss. Fourie took up station behind the black Audi A3s, with Bonafede hounding the newcomer. Groenewald held off Hodges and Nathan. On lap three, Moss parked his Audi with a suspected broken wheel bearing, while Bonafede thought about jumping Fourie for position, but clipped a wet kerb and that spat him off the track.
Fourie was up into second, Groenewald third, with Nathan in fourth. Bonafede fought back and passed Hodges on the last lap to end fifth.
Stephen said: “I’m really happy with three wins at my home track. It is the best car I have ever driven in the rain. It’s a good way to keep the championship going at this early stage."
Nathan said: "It was a hard weekend. We didn’t get the car hooked up for the circuit or the conditions."
The third round of the Sasol GTC Championship takes places at Killarney Raceway in Cape Town on September 24.