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Gamer grabs prize Volkswagen race drive

Remember this name — Jonathan Mogotsi has won the inaugural Volkswagen Driver Search following an intensive 3-month program that culminated in a shootout with finalist rival Ryan Rhode in a pair of Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TSI DSGs in Saturday’s Zwartkops Superhatch races. While the more experienced Rhode beat Mogotsi in those races, the judges opted to hand Jonathan the competition’s 2017 Engen Volkswagen Polo Cup drive.

“This has been a most difficult process,” Motorsport South Africa Sporting Services Manager Wayne Riddell confessed. “We started with a pile of 50 entries and it was hard enough to choose 16 candidates from those. “Then, while it was clear that there was always a top echelon emerging, it was even more difficult to choose eight from those 16 and a really tough task to cut those down to four and then two as the cream rose to the top.

“But today’s final selection was the most challenging of all — we have seen Jonathan and Ryan growing through every step and we now have two racing drivers in every respect. “We are sure that the runner-up will now find a top drive too — we have had interest in the services of whichever driver did not make it, but there can only be one winner and that is Jonathan Mogotsi — well done — make the best of this opportunity!”

“While it was a dream come true for us to make it happen, the Volkswagen Driver Search has been an emotional rollercoaster through which all the contestants have shone,” Driver Search convener Steve Harding admitted. “Now we have a winner, but we will do it again next year — the Volkswagen Driver Search will be a regular annual event, so congratulations to our first winner — we are confident that Jonathan Mogotsi will fly the flag most high.”

“We are delighted with the results of the Driver Search,” Volkswagen Motorsport Manager Mike Rowe confirmed. “The depth of talent we have dealt with over the past few months is truly impressive, but now we have a winner and we look forward to seeing Jonathan Mogotsi develop through the Volkswagen Motorsport ranks; starting with his rookie season in the Engen Volkswagen Polo Cup in 2017.”
Rhode and Mogotsi were among the 16 hopefuls selected to the Driver Search, which strived to find the cream of South Africa’s crop of previously disadvantaged drivers, starting with an Academy module at the Gerotek Test Facility outside Pretoria in September. That process groomed the candidates in every aspect a racer will require in their careers; from fitness to the basics of driving, marketing themselves and the commercial aspects; but also selected a top eight, who returned to Gerotek for a further Academy module in October. 

The top four candidates chosen from that module — Rishay Moodley, Ayrton Good, Mogotsi and Rhode then went through to an on-track shootout at Red Star Raceway, where Rhode and Mogotsi qualified for the final phase, the first half of which was to compete together in last Saturday’s Port Elizabeth 3-hour. The two rookies did the program and themselves proud there, as they delivered a legendary performance to take a giant killing sixth overall and win Index of Performance in the little Polo they shared with Polo Cup regular Kuda Vuzhare.  

Saturday’s Zwartkops races once again saw Rhode and Mogotsi delivering masterful performances and while Rhode won both races and the two seemed impossible to split on the face of it, it was Mogotsi’s exceptional performance versus his relatively total lack of real race experience that earned him the nod of the just as rawly talented and rapid Rhode, who used his superior experience to great effect to beat Mogotsi in the Zwartkops races.

“It was a massively great opportunity and I can only thank Volkswagen and Motorsport South Africa for this incredible experience,” Runner-up Rhode conceded. “I think Volkswagen is happy with its choice and I’m grateful for the chance to have come so far. “I have absolutely enjoyed every moment of the program and feel even more motivated to show what I can really do. “Congratulations to Jonathan and Volkswagen.”

Winner Mogotsi learned his racecraft in gaming and has won several racing game competitions and came very close to winning an international competition that would have seen him competing in world GT3 races. Undaunted, the Johannesburg business analyst never gave up on his dream of becoming a real race driver and when the Volkswagen Driver Search was announced, he was among the first to apply.

Jonathan’s hunger and dedication soon gained the attention of the judges, who were impressed by his natural ability and ruthless competitiveness, in spite of a relative lack of experience. Mogotsi comfortably progressed through to the top four shootout, where he was quickest of all by a tiny margin to Rhode and the two went on to impress mightily in the Port Elizabeth 3-hour.

But Rhode took the gap on the start of Zwartkops’ first race to open up a small lead over his rival and although Mogotsi closed the gap down, he could not get close enough to take advantage. Then Jonathan was caught up behind a slower car that was faster than his car in a straight line, but slower in the corners and Rhode was gone by the time he was able to pass his roadblock in race 2.

“I had thought I’d blown it today — Ryan beat me in both races!” Jonathan explained. “But it seems the judges believe that I did enough — this is a huge moment — now it’s going to be a terrible four months wait for my first race in Polo Cup — bring it on!

“I really hope that Ryan can find his way into Polo Cup too next year — we have enjoyed a brilliant fight and it would be great to carry this rivalry forward, but now I need to concentrate at the job at hand and to return Volkswagen’s investment in me - it’s an opportunity I am going to take with both hands and I intend delivering everything they expect of me.

“I would also like to extend a very special thanks to Volkswagen, the Driver Search and everyone involved for an incredible opportunity — this is just the beginning — let’s make it happen…”