It’s all eyes on Bonafede in East London
South Africa’s premier Sasol Global Touring Car Championship heads to the Border Region town of East London this weekend 20 May for its annual date at the legendary Grand Prix Circuit. The series is keen to deliver another scintillating round following a cracking previous race at Kyalami.
“We had a brilliant race at Kyalami last time out,” Sasol GTC Series Director Gary Formato explained. “There was dramatic action throughout the field and we had two different race winners in Gennaro and Michael, while Mathew sneaked the overall win for the day and GTC2 provided thrills throughout.
“Our reverse grid race also added great interest delivering some doorhandle to doorhandle thrills and we trust that East London should produce more great racing. “If the last races there are anything to go by, the Sasol GTC Championship is in for a great weekend at the Border.”
Last Time Out…
Sasol GTC thrilled a sizable crowd with fantastic racing at the previous round at Kyalami racetrack last time out, where form man Gennaro Bonafede’s Sasol BMW and reigning champion Michael Stephen’s Engen Audi shared the race wins and the consistent Mathew Hodges’ Volkswagen sneaked the overall victory for the day partly thanks to a novel reverse-grid start in the second race.
Kyalami saw pole man Stephen (Engen Xtreme Audi A3 GTC) initially led Bonafede (Sasol BMW GTC) and Hodges (Volkswagen Jetta GTC) before the Audi suffered a misfire to fall prey to the pursuing field and leave Bonafede to win from Simon Moss (Engen Xtreme Audi A3 GTC) and Johan Fourie (EPS Couriers BMW GTC), with Hodges, Rowe and Wolk leading the hobbled Stephen to the chequered flag in sixth.
Despite racing without all his Audi’s faculties working, Stephen soon overcame reverse grid second race pole man Michael van Rooyen’s EPS BMW to take the lead on lap two, before driving away from an epic race behind. Sasol BMW number two Robert Wolk initially held onto second while Bonafede scythed through the field, passing Hodges, Fourie and Rowe on successive laps among the squabbling mid pack.
The race developed dramatically toward the finish when Rowe stopped, Fourie ended up in the wall after a wheel failure; Wolk had a dramatic spin with Moss spinning in avoidance and Bonafede slid out of second too, to leave Stephen to finally get his championship charge on track as he led Hodges, Moss and Bonafede home.
Kyalami’s GTC2 races were also entertaining. Volkswagen Motorsport Golf GTI hotshot Keagan Masters took a strong first race win from teammate Mandla Mdakane, who held TB Racing Golf GTI driver Trever Bland off for second. Charl Smalberger (iCorp VW Parts Golf GTI) initially led Mini duo Chris Shorter and Bradley Liebenberg off the reversed second race, but Mdakane fought back to win from Smallberger and Masters, who came from the back to pip Bland for third.
Sasol GTC Championship Points
1. Gennaro Bonafede (Sasol BMW GTC) - 192
2. Simon Moss (Engen Audi A3 GTC) - 151
3. Johan Fourie ( EPS BMW GTC) - 85
4. Mathew Hodges (VW Motorsport Jetta GTC) - 79
5. Michael Stephen (Engen Audi A3 GTC) - 71
6. Daniel Rowe (VW Motorsport Jetta GTC) - 24
7. Robert Wolk (Sasol BMW GTC) - 18
8. Michael van Rooyen (RSC BMW GTC) - 18
1. Keagan Masters (VW Motorsport Golf GTI) - 200
2. Trevor Bland (TB Racing VW Golf GTI) - 134
3. Charl Smalberger (iCorp/VW Parts Golf GTI) - 103
4. Mandla Mdkane (VW Motorsport Golf GTI ) - 94
5. Christopher Shorter (Champion Mini JCW) - 48
6. Bradley Liebenberg (Ferodo Mini JCW) - 27
7. Iain Stevenson (Comsol VW Golf GTI) - 4
8. Devon Piazza-Musso (Kalex VW Golf GTI) - 0 -
Racing at Legendary East London
Sasol GTC now returns to the historic East London Grand Prix Circuit for the third round of the 2017 championship with a grid of eight GTC cars and nine GTC2s. The classic circuit still runs on regular public roads and remains SA’s fastest racetrack with its long flat out run down through the imposing Potters Pass and Rifle Range bends and into the beachside Cocobana corner, before heading back along through a twisty section along the coast road.
East London hosted the first South African Grand Prix, won by American Whitney Straight’s Maserati in 1934 before later pre-war SA Grand Prix attracted the world’s finest racers the likes of legendary Auto Union’s Silver Arrows. Racing returned to the Border in 1960, with the ’64, ’65 and 1966 SA Grands Prix fought out by the likes of Jim Clark, Graham Hill, John Surtees and Jack Brabham driving Coopers, Lotus, BRM and Ferraris counting toward the world championship.
50 years down the line, the East London Grand Prix Circuit still plays host to top SA National motorsport and Saturday 20 May’s Sasol GTC races should add more history to an incredible legend in yet another great day’s racing at the idyllic track.
Sasol GTC last visited the East London Grand Prix Circuit for its inaugural championship finale at the end of 2016, where a troubled Michael Stephen clinched the title for Audi. Teammate Moss stormed into an early lead only to be thwarted by an engine issue a few corners from home to leave Hodges to fend off BMW driver Hennie Groenewald for his and Volkswagen’s first Sasol GTC win.
Stephen initially led a busy pack in race 2, but an electrical issue allowed Bonafede, Groenewald and VW racer Graham Nathan through to the podium, but Michael brought it home fifth to clinch the championship and claim the R200 000 cheque as the 2016 Sasol GTC Championship winner — one of the biggest purses in South African motorsport history.
The retiring Groenewald made it a winning swansong as he beat Sasol BMW teammate Bonafede and Hodges to the overall win, while Charl Smalberger took the GTC2 win ahead of new class champion Daniel Rowe’s VW Motorsport Golf GTi and Devon Piazza Musso’s Kalex VW Golf GTi. Rowe then turned the tables on Smalberger in race 2.
Who’s racing Sasol GTC in East London?
Championship leader Gennaro Bonafede (#32 Sasol BMW GTC) heads to East London keen to add to his three race wins out of four starts so far in 2017. Jozi driver Bonafede won the first two races at Killarney and took the first race at Kyalami and will want to expand on his handy 41-point title advantage. Gennaro’s Sasol BMW teammate Robert Wolk has endured a bit of a baptism of fire on his return to top flight racing and he’ll be looking for a good points haul from his #41 BMW GTC.
Engen Extreme Audi #38 driver Simon Moss has enjoyed a solid season so far to sit a rather lonely second in the championship chase and the Port Elizabeth youngster will be keen on a home province victory. Simon however first has to beat his teammate to do that and it goes without saying that Port Elizabeth’s defending Sasol GTC champion Michael Stephen will be out to make good after a tough start to the season.
Michael’s #1 Engen Extreme Audi has had more than its fair share of issues so far this season, but when its run right, his A3 has won and Stephen will be more than keen on a problem free weekend for his Terry Moss Racing-run machine. Stephen sits well down in fifth in the championship race and the Port Elizabeth mechanical engineer has one mission in mind and that’s to make sure he turns his season around — starting in East London.
Factory Volkswagen GTC pilot Matthew Hodges was the overall winner at Kyalami last time out and the Johannesburg driver is keen to keep propelling his number 57 Jetta up the championship standings from his current fourth position, two places clear of teammate, reigning GTC2 champion and top class rookie Daniel Rowe, who has shown great promise in the #11 Jetta so far. Daniel is another Port Elizabeth driver keen to add a few podium positions to his championship score.
One driver punching above his championship weight is multiple SA race champion Johan Fourie, who has muscled his privateer #14 EPS Couriers BMW GTC into third in the championship race off a positive season so far. Michael van Rooyen was happy to bounce back off a dreadful season start to leave Kyalami on a positive foot and he’s looking forward to the prospect of further progress at East London in his #95 Rustenburg Steel Construction BMW GTC.
GTC2 Growing Strong
The Sasol GTC2 championship catering for standard-based turbocharged 2-litre hot hatches heads to East London with the prospect of a new brand joining the fray alongside Mini and Volkswagen and another returning. Cape lad Dayne Angel and his team are working around the clock to ready his #4 Autohaus Angel Honda Civic Type R for an East London debut and should the car make the trip, it will certainly be as significant interest to the class.
Other big news in GTC2 is the arrival of another Cape driver, multiple SA race and hot rod champion Kosie Weyers in his #7 NSI/Goodwood Used/Belfreeze Chevrolet Cruze. A fearsome competitor, Weyers’ presence will add a certain element of excitement to a most appealing class.
Weyers and Angel will have their work cut out amongst a strong grid of Volkswagen Golf GTIs though, not least of all 17-year-old championship leader, factory driver, Keagan Masters, who has won three out of the four races so for with his #18 Volkswagen Motorsport Golf GTI to take a handy 66 point lead to East London. Masters will further be buoyed by his great debut in the Audi Sport TT Cup in Hockenheim, Germany two weeks ago. Teammate, #44 Mandla Mdkane will meanwhile want to pick up on his recent winning ways to move himself up from fourth in the championship race.
It is however Trevor Bland who currently poses Masters’ biggest competition — the #5 TB Racing Volkswagen Golf GTi driver currently sits second in the championship ahead of Charl Smallberger and Mdakane and all of them will be mindful that Masters will likely miss at least one race that clashes with the TT Cup later in the year and they will want to be close enough to Keegan to take full advantage of his absence…
#15 iCorp Volkswagen Parts GTI driver Charl Smalberger has scored consistent points in spite of a challenging season so far from a technical point of view and he travels to East London knowing that he won there last year, while Comsol driver Ian Stevenson will want to improve his lot following a troubled start to the season in his #69 Golf GTI.
Last but not least, Signature Racing will be itching to continue its progress toward the front of the GTC2 grid with its Mini Cooper JCW entries. Engen Volkswagen Cup champion Chris Shorter (#33 Champion Mini) and fellow Polo graduate Bradley Liebenberg (#12 Ferodo Mini) and the team have been burning the midnight oil and their presence would be welcomed up front — what chance of that in East London?
Sasol GTC’s East London Weekend at a Glance
Friday 19 May
09h00 - Free Practice 1 - 20 minutes
11h50 - Free Practice 2 - 20 minutes
14h15 - Free Practice 3 - 30 minutes
17h10 - Qualifying - 20 minutes
Saturday 20 May
10h00 - Warm Up - 10 minutes
12h00 - Race 1 - 10 laps
15h30 - Race 2 - 10 laps
The Sasol GTC Championship has been the source of furious debate at the trackside and on social media, where many have questioned aspects of the fledgling series. GTC has taken careful note of the criticism, much of which the series admits may very well hold water, but the series is working flat out behind the scenes to bring about positive change going forward.
“Yes, we have made some mistakes along the way and we have to own up to that, but we have learned from our mistakes and we plan to make good,” GTC Managing Director Mick Formato admitted. “We have acted on several of those aspects including our TV show as well as certain promotional and marketing shortfalls and we have some most exciting ideas going forward, which we hope to share with fans soon.
“It is also critical to consider the needs of our existing partners including series sponsor Sasol and our founding carmakers, Audi, BMW and Volkswagen before we make any major changes. We are preparing to take some major steps soon that will not only help guarantee to the further growth of our grid, but which will also add a little more spice and variety to GTC racing.”
About the Sasol GTC Championship
A revolutionary, affordable and professional racing series, the Sasol GTC Championship represents a revival in South African Circuit Racing. Affordable, yet serious, the Sasol GTC Championship caters for a growing field of world-class race cars designed to thrill race fans and tempt consumers.
Based loosely on Australian Supercar racing and to an extent the BTCC, GTC cars carry the same body as their street kin wrapped around a purpose-built race chassis and running gear but powered by an engine from the maker’s range, or a GTC-supplied mill. The GTC ethos of racing cars with common specification tyres, suspension and many other components ensures that costs are kept to a minimum, while at the same time equalising performance between competing cars.
GTC2 caters for near-standard turbo 2-litre powered hot hatchbacks as a breeding ground of future South African race stars. Now in its second season.
Follow the Sasol GTC Championship
The 2017 Sasol GTC Calendar
25 Mar - Killarney Raceway, Cape Town
22 Apr - Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit, Johannesburg
20 May - East London Grand Prix Circuit
17 Jun - Zwartkops Raceway, Pretoria
15 Jul - Aldo Scribante, Port Elizabeth
06 Aug - Zwartkops Raceway, Pretoria
09 Sep - Killarney Raceway, Cape Town
04 Nov - Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit, Johannesburg
25 Nov - Zwartkops Raceway, Pretoria