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David vs. Goliath battle looms at Big Zed

2014-08-26 07:32

OH NO YOU DON'T: Graeme Nathan holds off Lee Thompson during a race in the Bridgestone Production Cars series. Image: Paul Bedford


In the blue and white corner, weighing in at 122kg and standing 1.98m tall in his socks… Graeme Nathan. And in the red and green corner and weighing 72kg and standing just 1.67m… Mandla Mdakane.

In boxing parlance it’s a mismatch but fortunately (for Mdakane) this isn’t a boxing match. This is Bridgestone Production Cars and your height, weight and reach matter not one a lot. What matters is your car, your experience and your racecraft.

But even then, Nathan has the upper hand: he's won Class T four times, is the most experienced driver in the class with hundreds of starts in turbocharged Golf GTI's (and a Seat before that) and is arguably the driver with more race ‘nous’ than any other in the series, never mind the class.


These facts seem not to have entered Mandla’s young head. In the previous two events the two have clashed repeatedly, Nathan in the VW Golf getting the upper hand in one instance, the youngster in the Mini winning the other (though he was deemed to have transgressed and was subsequently excluded).

So will Round 6 of the Bridgestone Production Car championship at Zwartkops Raceway on August 30 also be third round of the Nathan/Mdakane fight? Gary Formato, second in the Ford Racing Focus ST, must be hoping so and anything that reduces Nathan’s points haul will help his cause...

The battle for honours in Class A is hotting up, too. Former champion Johan Fourie has hit a rich vein of form and has never driven better. This has moved his BMW 335i to the front of the field, withteam mate Gavin Cronje playing the perfect co-star by keeping the opposition at bay.

Importantly, the opposition includes Michael Stephen. With three championships on the trot the reigning champion has nothing to prove, but that doesn’t make being an also-ran any easier. He’ll want to win at Zwartkops, or at the very worst reverse the trend of a growing gap between his Audi S4 and Fourie.

And, unlike Fourie who has the vastly experienced Cronje as wing man, Stephen’s partner Simon Moss still has a lot to learn at this level (though lacks little in the way of raw speed).

In Class A that leaves the Audis, keener than ever to do well. Nothing like a little pressure...


So far it is lanky Gennaro Bonafede who has carried the flag and is third in class, overshadowing his vastly more experienced team mate Hennie Groenewald who has had more than his fair share of ill-fortune. Gennaro looks like the real deal, both on and off the track, and gets an A+ when it comes to promoting himself – an essential part of the modern race-driver’s arsenal. Being able to back this up with solid pace helps, of course.

Events in Class T have been overshadowed by Nathandla-gate but at Phakisa the series controllers took wide-ranging steps to ensure technical compliance. This included draining all cars of fuel before each race and replacing the tanks’ contents with a Sasol control fuel – from sealed drums.

And for good measure, the leading Mini, Ford and VW had their engines sealed and were subsequently stripped. All were checked in terms of bore, stroke and compression ratio versus their homologation documents, and found to be within tolerances.

So, with the playing field as level as it can be, battle lines are drawn. Can Nathan handle mounting pressure for the rest of the season or will his luck run out? One way or another, he’s had some fortunate rolls of the dice, but he’s also driven his heart out each time he’s been behind the wheel. In Class A, can Fourie continue to forge ahead, or will Audi bounce back?

Drivers hoping for a change of fortune include Shaun Duminy in the second Ford Focus ST, whose season just hasn’t ignited, Chevrolet Cruze driver Michael van Rooyen who is fast but inconsistent, and Mini team leader Lee Thompson, who will be wondering if he’ll be for ever a bridesmaid.

And in Class A Groenewald must think his only luck is bad luck and Stephen must be wondering whether his days of seeing the chequered flag first are numbered. Fact is, though, that whether talking A or T, this is the cream of SA’s saloon-car racers; in the finest cars (and if anyone would like to argue that, take advantage of a pit walkabout to examine them close up).

That they provide the best four-wheeled racing in the country is no coincidence.   

Class A points:
1  Johan Fourie  - 136
2  Michael Stephen - 116
3  Gennaro Bonafede - 92

Class T points
1  Graeme Nathan - 124
2  Gary Formato - 93
3  Michael van Rooyen - 90
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