Port Elizabeth – A month ago at Cape Town’s Killarney circuit, Michael Stephen showed why he’s a triple champion: he bounced back after a lacklustre opening round at Zwartkops to move into the championship lead and must be going to the third round of the SA Production Car championship at his home circuit, Aldo Scribante, this weekend with his tail up and his Audi S4 revving.
The same applies to Class T doyen Graeme Nathan, who showed his fighting spirit once again at Killarney and heads from the Western to the Eastern Cape with a reasonable buffer. The Volkswagen Golf GTi driver is 11 points ahead of the Chevrolet Cruze of Michael van Rooyen, who is finally looking like a consistent frontrunner.
If only the same could be said for Ford and Mini – both teams have denied themselves points-scoring opportunities due to reliability issues. Lee Thompson’s Cooper S was on track for back-to-back wins but failed the post-race weigh-in (by just two kilograms!) and was excluded.
The problem was traced to an engine management malfunction fuelling issue, which caused the car to consume way more fuel than it should have.
Of more concern will be their ongoing issues with gearbox durability.
This has made Ryan Rhode’s move into production cars a frustrating one.
And If Ford team leader Gary Formato didn’t have bad luck he’d have no luck at all; misfires plagued his weekend, and he wasn’t able to add to his Zwartkops points.
That left Shaun Duminy to fly the Ford flag, which he certainly did in both races at the wheel of his Focus ST, his robust driving style adding value for the spectators.
With 35 points on offer for the day in Port Elizabeth, the standings can shift suddenly and dramatically at this early stage of the championship – meanwhile, the top three in each class ahead of Round 3 at the 2.48km Aldo Scribante circuit are:
Michael Stephen (Audi S4) – 51 points
Gennaro Bonafede (Audi S4) – 44
Johan Fourie (BMW 335i) – 42
Graeme Nathan (Volkswagen Golf GTI) – 54
Michael van Rooyen (Chevrolet Cruze) – 43
Lee Thompson (Mini Cooper JCW) – 29
The field of Polo Vivo race cars has had five weeks to straighten panels, knock dents out and replace side mirrors since their second championship round at Killarney – and with the season shaping up to be a hotly contested one, it is likely the racers will leave the Port Elizabeth round with more work to do on their cars.
Port Elizabeth driver Daniel Rowe is leading the series by 12 points – but, with two rounds and four races already completed, there have already been four different race winners.
Mathew Hodges won the opening race – the first time a Masters competitor has won a race overall. Rowe won the second race and in the Cape the victories went to Dewald Brummer and Tasmin Pepper.
Hodges’ race victory at that first event keeps him in the lead of the Masters category for racers older than 27 by just two points from fellow class rookie Trevor Bland.
Scribante poses a challenge because its layout makes overtaking difficult; with a full grid getting past other cars during the races poses great risks.
The recipe for success here is a good qualifying position to get near the front of the field, and good luck for the grid position draw for the top six starting positions in each race.
The fastest six drivers during the qualifying session are entered into this draw which dictates their starting position for each of the races – which means there’s a one in three chance that the top qualifier will start from the third row of the grid.
Port Elizabeth race fans can expect a battle at the front of the field with Nicholas van Weely leading the charge and defending champion Robert Wolk working hard to close the gap. Just four points separate the pair, but there’s another factor to contend with: Wesleigh Orr will be back.
He’s not in the frame for the ead at this point but can steal valuable points and make things very difficult for both Van Weely and Wolk.
Scott Temple is the current Formula 1600 Class A leader; he’ll have to fend off the attentions of Keegan Campos, while in class B the fight is between Rick Morris and Ian Schofield.
Open-wheel racing poses some real challenges as racers have to balance taking advantage of opportunities on track with the risk of getting too close – no mudguards means there’s no protection if wheels touch.
Scribante is a short, narrow circuit, making it difficult for racers to stay clear of each other, and overtaking manoeuvres are risky on the PE circuit, but racers won’t be backing off, with only one round to go before mid-season.
Fast qualifying times will help to reduce the risk for the frontrunners, but this will encourage racers trying to make up some track positions to grab any opportunities that present themselves. Expect fireworks.