Stephen leaves PE unbeaten in Sasol GTC series
Five races into Sasol GTC and Michael Stephen not only remains unbeaten in the new series, but he has also led every lap of the five races so far. The Engen Audi home hero continued his dominant form throughout the Port Elizabeth race weekend at Aldo Scribante, setting pole position and going on to win all three races, to add to his pole and two wins at the Zwartkops series opener a month prior.
Stephen opened his Port Elizabeth account and thrilled his home fans as he drove his Engen Extreme Audi A3 GTC to a dominant pole position around the twisty Scribante track in a lap of 1minute 6.739 seconds. There was a surprise in second as series debutant Johan Fourie slotted his EPS Courier Services BMW 228i GTC onto the front row alongside Stephen in a time of 1 min 06.914 sec.
Simon Moss qualified third in the second Engen Audi, 0.186 seconds off his pole sitting teammate, ahead of Sasol BMW duo Gennaro Bonafede and Hennie Groenewald. The factory Volkswagen Jetta GTCs endured a difficult qualifying, with Matthew Hodges sixth ahead of teammate Graeme Nathan.
Daniel Rowe was quickest of the GTC Production cars, slotting his Volkswagen Motorsport Golf GTI into 8th overall with a lap of 1 min 08.991 sec ahead of teammate Mandla Mdakane, Shaun Duminy in the SMD Racing Ford Focus and Charl Smallberger’s Nathans/VW Genuine Parts Golf GTI.
Stephen then strolled to a dominant lights to flag victory over Fourie’s EPS Courier Services BMW in the first race, after Simon Moss spun the second Audi out of second. Moss had earlier made the only significant move of the race to get ahead of Fourie, but his spin later in the race let Fourie into second.
Moss’s slip also saw Sasol BMW duo Gennaro Bonafede and Hennie Groenewald promoted to third and fourth ahead of the recovering Moss, after Groenwald had earlier tussled with Matthew Hodges’ Volkswagen Jetta GTC. Graeme Nathan held a watching brief in seventh in the other Jetta.
The GTC Production class on the other hand witnessed a keen battle between Daniel Rowe’s Golf GTI and Shaun Duminy in the Ford Focus, with the two split by 0.7 seconds in the death. The second VW of Mandla Mdakane ended third.
Stephen continued on his winning ways in the second heat, this time leading teammate Simon Moss home by 1.7 seconds with the drive of the race coming from Matthew Hodges, who hustled his Volkswagen up from seventh on the grid to third in the 10 lap race. Sasol BMW duo Bonafede and Groenewald ended up in fourth and fifth again, while Nathan ended sixth after Fourie’s EPS BMW retired on the 8th lap
Charl Smallberger turned the GTC Production class on its head when he won the second heat from Duminy and Volkswagen Motorsport duo Rowe and Mdakane.
It was more of the same as Stephen kept an eye on his rear view mirrors to control the third race from the front. First Michael’s Audi teammate Simon Moss filled those mirrors, but he stopped to let Johan Fourie into second. Fourie did all he could to catch the flying Audi and indeed closed the gap, but Johan could not get within half a second of Stephen.
Hennie Groenewald ended third in the Sasol BMW, five seconds adrift of Stephen’s winning Audi, and a second clear of Graeme Nathan’s VW Jetta in fourth, with Gennaro Bonafede slipping back to fifth after running a strong third in the other Sasol BMW earlier in the race. Matthew Hodges was sixth in the second Volkswagen Jetta.
“It was a fantastic day for the team,” says Stephen. “I qualified on pole and won all three races. I can’t ask for much more. The conditions proved challenging and this was the first time any of us have been out in the wet. We had to compromise in the end, preparing for a dry race and then competing in the wet. We got the wet weather tyres on but didn’t have time to do the rest of the setup – it was still enough to keep our opponents at bay
VW Motorsport Golf GTI duo Rowe and Mdakane led Smallberger’s Golf and Duminy’s Ford Focus home in GTC Production.
“A good qualifying session and then a tough first race,” says Rowe. “The Volkswagen Golf GTI was really good in the corners, helping at those times when I lacked a bit of speed. In race three I just put my head down and went – the wet conditions actually helped us with better handling against our competitors.”
The next GTC race is at Killarney in Cape Town Saturday 24 September .
Sasol GTC Port Elizabeth Results
Race 1: 1. Michael Stephen (Audi), 2. Johan Fourie (BMW), 3. Gennaro Bonafede (BMW), 4. Hennie Groenewald (BMW), 5. Simon Moss (Audi), 6. Matthew Hodges (Volkswagen). GTC Production: 1. Daniel Rowe (Volkswagen), 2. Shaun Duminy (Ford ), 3. Mandla Mdakane (Volkswagen P)
Race 2: 1. Stephen, 2. Moss, 3. Hodges, 4. Bonafede, 5. Groenewald, 6. Graeme Nathan (Volkswagen). GTC Production: 1, Charl Smalberger (Volkswagen), 2 Duminy, 3 Rowe
Race 3: 1. Stephen, 2. Fourie, 3. Groenewald, 4. Nathan, 5. Bonafede, 6. Hodges. GTC Production: 1. Rowe, 2. Mdakane, 3. Smalberger
This race report was written by Michele Lupini at www.motorsportmedia.co.za