Michael Stephen clinched his third consecutive Sasol GTC Championship with sheer excellence at Zwartkops Raceway on Saturday by powering his Engen Audi GTC to a pair of dominant victories.
Simon Moss, in the second Engen Audi GTC secured the runner-up championship position with a strong second and fourth place result in the two 12-lap races.
Gennaro Bonafede (Sasol BMW GTC) ended his year in third place after crashing out of the final race of the year.
The Engen Audi team produced another one-two lockout at the front of the grid after official qualifying, with the two Sasol BMW GTCs of Bonafede and Robert Wolk occupying the second row. The top three championship contenders were separated by 0.163 seconds.
Mathew Hodges (Volkswagen Motorsport Jetta GTC) drove the 2.4km track 0.084 seconds quicker than Johan Fourie (EPS Couriers BMW GTC) with Daniel Rowe (Volkswagen Motorsport Jetta GTC) filling out the last grid slot.
Heading into the 2018 finale, Stephen needed four points to wrap up the championship. He sprinted into the lead of race 1, followed by Moss, Bonafede and Wolk. The two Jetta’s followed the leading quartet, led by Hodges in fifth and Rowe in sixth. Fourie suffered an intermittent misfire which caused him to pit, dropping him to seventh at the chequered flag.
The second race, from an inverted grid, saw Fourie line up on pole, followed by Rowe, Hodges, Wolk, Bonafede, Moss and Stephen.
On the opening lap, Bonafede was making a play for third when he was hit by the fast starting Moss. The Audi tagged the BMW into a spin, with Bonafede ending his season in the wall at Turn Five. The race was red-flagged.
At the re-start, Fourie launched his BMW into the lead, followed by Hodges, Moss, Stephen, Rowe and Wolk. A game of high-speed musical chairs followed, with positions changing several times a lap. Stephen went from fifth to third on lap two and took second position from Rowe a lap later. The newly-crowned champion quickly reeled in the leading BMW driver, taking the lead on lap seven.
Behind the leading pair, a crowd entertaining battle raged between Rowe, Wolk and Moss; on the last lap, Wolk tried to pass Rowe on the outside line going into Turn Six. As Wolk aimed for the apex, the two cars touched, sending Wolk into the gravel trap and ending his race. Rowe held on to third, followed by Moss and Hodges.
Champion-elect Keagan Masters, requiring four points to secure back-to-back titles, dominated qualifying in his Volkswagen Motorsport Golf GTi. He clinched pole position by a healthy 0.483 seconds ahead of his only rival, Devin Robertson (Champion MINI John Cooper Works).
Charl Smalberger (Q20 VW Golf GTi), Brad Liebenberg (Ferodo MINI John Cooper Works), Trevor Bland (Universal Healthcare VW Golf GTi) and Adrian Wood (Kyocera VW Golf GTi) rounded out the top six.
In the first race, Robertson made an electrifying start to take an immediate lead from Masters. By lap three, Masters’ tyres were up to temperature and he took the lead, followed by Robertson and Smalberger. Liebenberg held off Bland and Wood, with Paul Hill (Kalex VW Golf GTi) and Bob Neill (Delmon Mining Ford Focus ST) rounding out the field.
Wood started race two from pole position and after the re-start, heading into Turn Two, was hit hard by Liebenberg, which caused a severe vibration in the Golf. Wood focussed on the task at hand, controlling the pace from the front to clinch his first GTC2 win of his career. Bland ended second on the road, enough to give him third in the overall championship standings. At the post-race technical inspection, he was penalised by 20 seconds for over boosting, elevating Masters into second, followed by Liebenberg, Smalberger, Robertson, Hill and Neill. Bland’s penalty dropped him to sixth in the final classification and fourth in the final championship standings.
Reflecting on the 2018 season of the Sasol GTC Championship, Christopher Kabosha, Senior Manager: Marketing and Corporate Affairs, said: “We celebrated a year of high performance racing which is synonymous with Sasol’s product offering and encapsulated in our DNA.
The series showed growth on- and off the race track the past three seasons and maintained its status as the premier circuit racing championship in South Africa. I commend the teams, associate sponsors and GTC management for their efforts in staging another successful Sasol GTC Championship season”.
Stephen - 381, Moss – 339, Bonafede – 319, Fourie – 275, Rowe – 269, Van Rooyen – 234, Wolk – 221, Hodges – 202
Masters – 386, Robertson – 340, Liebenberg – 305, Bland – 295, Wood – 294, Smalberger – 258, Angel – 137, Neill – 126, Hill – 108
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