LOCAL RACING SERIES: Wheels24 reader Reynard Gelderbloem shares his views on the Sasol Global Touring Car series. Image: Reynard Gelderblom
'GTC still a work-in-progress… but progress nonetheless', Wheels24 reader Reynard Gelderbloem shares his views on the new Sasol Global Touring Car series.
There are two things that you know you can expect from a Cape Town round of the Extreme Festival: Number 1 is the absolute spectacle that the series organisers and venue management work hard to deliver in a region which isn’t at the centre of the local motorsport scene – despite some misguided perceptions by those from said region.
Warriors taking stabs
The second is the general negative feedback from keyboard warriors on Facebook afterwards. Heritage day 2016 lived up to both counts – spectacular racing at the Killarney International Raceway and even before the trucks were loaded, the warriors started taking their stabs at the new Sasol Global Touring Car series.
Let’s go back a few years. Back in 2013 we first learned about a planned GTC V8 formula. Initially it was going to be similar to the very successful Australian V8 Supercar series, but soon the organisers realised that they had to change the format in order to provide a competitive championship. So the power got scaled down, a few other changes were necessitated and wham bam we were ready for the 2016 championship… or were we?
As with every new formula there were some teething problems. Debut at Round 1 of the Extreme Festival became Round 2, then Round 3 and then finally we were given a date: Round 4 on June 16. Unfortunately, not all the cars were ready and after the media launch of series, the inaugural round got pushed back again. Finally, we were good to go with a mini championship and a very compressed calendar. Seven weeks later and we’ve seen three championship rounds already – most established championships will only run rounds in three months.
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Now although there were some general complaints during the opening two rounds, it appears as if every motorsport expert decided that September 24 would be judgement day for Sasol GTC. All of a sudden comparisons were being made to the popular 2.0-litre touring car format which was a global success during the mid-nineties, out-dated modified car championships which only really had success locally – and even a Cape Town regional space frame chassis, equal power unit series.
Work in progress
Now despite some very talented drivers in this latter class this hardly has the makings of a world class series. Of course then came the complaints that the cars aren’t fast enough; the fields are too small, and of it being procession driving. Interestingly enough, one of the championship shareholders posted a very good reply – in fact he acknowledged that they know that there are still a lot that needs to be corrected. Poor guy – he certainly got blasted!
Now let’s take the regional class comparison out of the equation immediately because that is like comparing garden-grown apples with lazy-aged fillet steaks. I’ll also discount the national modified championship. As exciting as it was, it really only consisted of powerful stock cars which could turn both ways. That leaves us with SatCar – despite us having to jump 23 years into the past to run this comparison, I’m happy to do it because at least we’re now comparing two championships that are globally recognised and being competed in (in some format or the other).
Comparing apples with apples
SatCar also started their inaugural season well-into the 1993 calendar. For most of the first season they had two competitive cars for Opel and BMW each. Nissan and Toyota managed to get at least one car onto the grid – sometimes two. VW was a no-show for most of the season. Still that was five manufacturers involved in a time where every manufacturer in South Africa had some motorsport involvement. Sasol GTC are fielding two Audis, three BMWs and two VWs already per round – that’s three brands having some representation (Yes I know they’re not full factory cars) in a time when we only really have two manufacturers still involved in local motorsport.
SatCar had a more steady second season after they survived 1993 in which a whole lot of critics also wrote them off in favour of the modified class. 1994 saw the rise of the privateers and more consistent campaigns from all manufacturers, but it was only in 1995 when Audi and Ford came to the party that the series gained popularity. Another boost to that series was driver swops – Paul Radisich, Julian Baily, Chris Baird and a very young and still single Sabine Schmidt came to compete over here – local champion Mike Briggs went to compete in England. But a season later Ford became the first manufacturer to pull out after an unsuccessful campaign with the Mondeo (unlike in Europe). Three years later the entire formula was a thing of the past. Despite this championship always having been one of my personal favourites, you could hardly call their eight-year-run one of the great success stories of motorsport.
The boys behind-the-scenes at Sasol GTC however learned from this and from the outset wanted to establish a formula which will grow and be sustainable for longer. 20 Odd years of economic decline has also made it a lot more difficult to get manufacturer buy-in or the attention from sponsors – yet both are challenges that Sasol GTC took on wholeheartedly. In fact, ditching the V8 idea was something that was done for the very purpose of making it more attractive, affordable and sustainable. Yes, Sasol GTC still has a long way to go with lots to smooth over – and they’ll be first ones to tell you that as well. In fact, something which we all can commend them on is the level of transparency from those heading up the show.
But after all, I suppose it’s a very easy task to have a field of 30, fast and powerful cars prepped and ready for a competitive championship with loads of overtaking and strategy in every race with sponsors and manufacturers trying to outbid each other to get their names on board… well for the 'keyboard warriors' anyway.
Rest assured though should Sasol GTC not want to make use of your services to accomplish this, you’re welcome to go and knock on the door of those boys at Formula 1 as well… I hear they’re having similar troubles.
In all seriousness we really have to ask ourselves one question: Did Sasol GTC fail to live up to anything and is the writing really already on the wall, or did it just not live up to our own expectations of an overnight, successful, premier motorsport class in South Africa?
From my point of view Sasol GTC is certainly looking to still be on par with writing their success story – the kind of success story that South African motorsport richly deserves.