Killarney – The battle lines are drawn, and Western Cape race fans can expect a day of intense, no-holds-barred action when the Bridgestone Production Cars head down Killarney’ s pit-straight to get their penultimate round underway on October 5.
There’s more than a little tension in the air after a bruising encounter at Zwatkops in Round Seven on August 31, and with a number of on- and off-track issues the paddock isn’t a particularly happy place right now.
A first race, first-lap incident destroyed the Ford Focus ST of Shaun Duminy and half a lap later a second incident severely damaged the Chevrolet Cruze of Michael van Rooyen and the Castrol MINI Cooper S of Gavin Cronje – and triggered a yawn-inducing delay to the programme.
When the sun finally settled on the Pretoria circuit late that afternoon it was Graeme Nathan who was back out front in class T, notching up a trio of runner-up finishes despite brake issues on the Indyoil-sponsored Golf GTI which caused a couple of scary moments for the production car veteran.
In class A Michael Stephen had extended his lead thanks to yet another consistent performance at the wheel of the Engen S4 – a result that went against the run of play with the black Audi actually one of the slowest cars on the track in terms of outright pace.
The two of them – already reigning champions in their respective classes, trek to the Cape (Stephen from PE and Nathan from Jozi) intent on consolidating their positions. In Stephen’s case a little relief comes in the form of a turbo intake restrictor size increased by 1 mm, which will apply to all four Audi S4s in the series and hopefully level the playing field once again on a high-speed circuit where the BMWs traditionally have an advantage.
The change to the Audi S4, says series supremo Dick Sorensen, will give them a small power increase at the very top of the rev range and should ensure an extremely close contest. Gennaro Bonafede (Ferodo), Melville Priest (Ohlins/Mueller) and Tjchops Sipuka (Engen) must all now fancy themselves for a podium at the very least, and maybe an overall race win.
The Afrox/Pirtek team face a bit of a dilemma however and they may need to make a call after qualifying as to which BMW pilot tries to chase down Stephen and deny him a third successive championship. Etienne van der Linde trails by 37 points and Johan Fourie by a further 15, but is an acknowledged Killarney specialist and has the ability to dominate completely at his home track. Alternatively, the team principals may decide it is every man for himself.
The car to watch could be theSasolracing Subaru of Hennie Groenewald however, who showed a return to form at Phakisa in early August and then a few weeks later confirmed it with a win in the feature race at Zwartkops. While it is too late in the season to influence his championship much, his pace adds a fresh new dimension and he could be an unintentional ‘spoiler’ as others start to take a more strategic view.
The big Zwartkops rolly-polly won’t keep Duminy out of the class T fray, and he’ll be behind the wheel of his previous generation Focus ST – a car which just won’t say die and go to the great racing car scrapyard in the sky. No doubt he’ll still be smarting from the Zwartkops incident and if he ends up close to Cronje on the track then there are sure to be fireworks.
Cronje will want to stay out of trouble, and with only seven points separating him and Nathan, Lee Thompson in the second Cooper S will certainly ride shotgun. Nathan also has a wingman in the form of Jacques “The Stiglet” Joubert in a second Indyoil GTi, and no doubt there will be some strategic options being considered in that camp too.
Eighteen World Class Production Cars are expected to be on track for the first practice session at Killarney on Friday morning, including the Rightair Golf5 GTi of newcomer Ryan Cooper, who gave a very good account of himself on his Zwartkops debut.
Adding variety is the Big Boss Renault Megane of Devin Robertson, whose year has been a series of stop-starts which doesn’t seem to have dampened the youngsters enthusiasm. Gary Formato’s season has been the same in some respects but he’s developing some momentum in the Focus ST Ecoboost, and will fancy his podium chances. Niyaaz Modack will give the locals something to cheer about, and he’ll be hoping for steady and consistent drives in his earlier 5 cylinder Focus ST.