Global Touring Car battle thrills Gqeberha Festival

Championship leader Saood Variawa and title rival Robert Wolk kept the 2023 Global Touring Car title battle wide open as both took a race win apiece at a tightly contested fifth round at the Gqeberha Extreme Festival at Aldo Scribante raceway on Saturday.

Variawa put his Toyota Gazoo Racing Corolla hatch GTC on pole position in a red-flagged qualifying session that saw archrival Wolk line up second in his Chemical Logistics WCT Engineering Toyota Corolla sedan GTC. Julian van der Watt returned from his Kyalami crash to slot his brand new Investchem WCT Engineering BMW 128ti M Sport GTC into third on the grid.

Julian shared row 2 with Michael van Rooyen’s second Gazoo Corolla hatch GTC. Andrew Rackstraw’s Sparco RDSA LTR Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI GTC, Josh Le Roux in the Vitro Frameless Glass Master Stairs Audi S3 GTC and Nathi Msimanga Toyota Gazoo Racing Corolla sedan GTC were all troubled by issues in Friday practice, but their cars were ready for qualifying and they filled the rest of the grid in that order.

Although the first race went down without a single overtake, the action was close throughout. Saood Variawa led Robert Wolk, Julian van der Watt, Michael van Rooyen Andrew Rackstraw, Josh Le Roux and Nathi Msimanga home in a line. The biggest drama was when Msimanga slammed into the back of Le Roux in his attempt to get by at the hairpin at mid distance, a move that compromised both their races. There was extra excitement as the leaders lapped the SupaCup pack, but the order remained the same to the flag.

The reverse grid race saw Le Roux initially leading Rackstraw, van der Watt, Wolk, Variawa and van Rooyen. But the two most recent Investchem Formula 1600 champions’ race-leading performances came to an abrupt halt when they clattered together in the final corner of that first lap. That left Rackstraw out and under observation for the next round, and Le Roux circulating a few laps adrift once he had re-joined.

Wolk and Variawa were ahead of van der Watt by the time the leaders took each other out, to gift them the lead fight. Van Rooyen put one over the BMW driver for third a lap later, after which the order remained as it was to the flag despite van Rooyen’s side skirt digging onto a kerb and ripping id and a fender off the car. Variawa took the day overall by dint of his race 1 winning margin being greater than Wolk’s in race 2, with van Rooyen and van der Watt next up from Msimanga .

Leaders Variawa and Wolk now continue their Global Touring Cars championship battle to round 5 at the East London Grand Prix Circuit‘s Extreme Festival on Saturday 22 July.