READY TO FIGHT: Johan Fourie dbattle his EPS BMW in the GTC Championship. The new season starts March 25. Image: David Ledbitter
Johannesburg - The Sasol Global Touring Car (GTC) Championship starts its second season later in March with a grid of at least 16 cars, visiting Cape Town for the first of two occasions this season.
Christopher Kabosha, senior manager: Marketing and public affairs at Sasol Energy, said: "I am happy to confirm that our Sasol GTC Championship sponsorship – which is appropriately referred to as a ‘laboratory-on-wheels’ sponsorship - is already delivering for us in terms of our ability to conduct research on the performance of our products while the Championship as a whole provides us with a fantastic platform to showcase our products.”
9 rounds in 2017
The Championship, launched in 2016, is the new premier circuit racing category in South African motorsport and is endorsed by Motorsport South Africa (MSA). Sasol is the naming rights sponsor, fuel supplier and broadcast sponsor of the GTC Championship.
With nine rounds and two races per event, 18 races are scheduled between March 25 and November 25, the GTC championship will bring high-octane racing action to thousands of spectators around the country. The five teams in the top GTC class have been hard at work rebuilding their machinery, shaving weight and improving their race package to go even faster this season based on the knowledge gained last year.
Heading the entry list is the defending champion Michael Stephen, joined once more by Simon Moss in their Engen Xtreme Audi A3 GTCs. The Terry Moss-run team has been burning the midnight oil to maintain their advantage, which was eroded as the inaugural season wore on.
Stephen won the first six races in a row, building an unassailable points lead as his rivals got to grips with the new formula. He will not have that luxury this year and a much closer championship fight will emerge as the other teams have settled into the GTC era. Simon Moss has been quick but suffered the bulk of the TMR team’s reliability issues. He came within a lap of his maiden victory at the final race of the 2016 season and will be a contender for victory once again.
Championship-runner up, Gennaro Bonafede has his sights set firmly on this year’s championship having racked up five victories from eight races at the tail end of 2016. With a fully competitive Sasol GTC Racing Team car and his aggressive driving style, Bonafede is a real title contender.
Replacing the retired Hennie Groenewald in the second BMW GTC racing car is 31-year old Robert Wolk. The Johannesburg-based businessman has won nine single-seater championships in his 22-year long career, bringing a wealth of racing experience to the Sasol team.
Mathew Hodges and Volkswagen won their maiden race in the final heat of 2016; the Jetta GTC has been debugged and set competitive times in pre-season testing which bodes well for the team. Daniel Rowe, the defending GTC Production champion has been promoted into the second Jetta GTC, giving Volkswagen an exciting new driving talent to further boost their progress up the order.
Johan Fourie returns for a full season in his EPS Couriers-backed BMW GTC racing car. He has amassed a great deal of saloon car racing experience over the years and scored four GTC podiums last year. An accomplished racer, Fourie is likely to be a thorn in the side of the factory teams. He is joined by fellow BMW GTC racer Michael van Rooyen who joined the season at round four. The Rustenburg Steel Construction (RSC) team spent a great deal of time testing their car ahead of the season opener and will join Fourie in the privateer battle as they take on the manufacturer teams, setting the scene for some exciting racing in the months ahead.
GTC2, for production-based front-wheel drive cars has seen some exciting developments during the closed season. GTC2 champions Volkswagen has built two new Golf GTis for Mandla Mdakane – who ended runner up in the standings last year – and newcomer, 17-year-old Keagan Masters. Masters raced to great effect in the Polo Cup last season, earning his spot in the Volkswagen Advanced Driving-branded team.
2016’s cars have been sold to Trevor Bland and Charl Smalberger, two very capable drivers who will hound the works cars all the way. Devon Piazza Musso (Kalex VW Golf 6 GTi) and Ian Stevenson (Comsol VW Golf 6 GTi) add depth to the GTC2 class.
The big off-season news is the return of Mini to local circuit racing. Signature Motorsport is building two John Cooper Works cars for Polo Cup graduates Chris Shorter in Champion colours while Bradley Liebenberg flies the Ferodo flag. The cars are expected to debut in Cape Town in spite of the late arrival of the donor cars from Europe.
GTC co-founder Gary Formato says: “We are pushing hard to produce spectacular racing. The cars have been debugged and the guys are comfortable with the GTC cars. They should be three to four seconds per lap quicker this year than when we started at round one last year. We will have a consistent field of 16 cars on the grid. I can confirm one privateer is building a GTC car and there will be a new Honda in GTC2 early in the season.”
“We are going out of our way to attract more privateers to the series and swell the grids even further. I hope to have 24 cars on the grid for year three,” added Formato.
With 720km of hard racing in prospect, the Sasol GTC Championship is ready to thrill and delight motorsport fans around the country.