Zwartkops, Pretoria - Hennie Groenewald is back where he belongs: on the top step of the podium. That was the emphatic message from the affable motorsportsman after stamping his authority on the first race of the Bridgestone Super Production Car championship.
He led home a Sasolracing Audi one-two in a 10-lap sprint at a slightly damp Zwartkops Raceway on March 1, leaving BMW and the Engen Audis fighting for the scraps, with Johan Fourie in the ADF 335i getting third place after powering past the Audi S4 of reigning champion Michael Stephen on the third lap.
Gavin Cronje and Simon Moss duked it out for the last slot in class A, an altercation between the two changing the order to put Audi ahead of BMW.
Class T was an emphatic win for Graeme Nathan, the VW Genuine Parts Golf6 GTI well ahead of Michael van Rooyen at the flag, the possibility of a Castrol MINI challenge for the runner-up position never really gathering momentum as Lee Thompson ran out of laps in which to catch the Williams Hunt Chevrolet Cruze.
A nightmare start to the season for young Ryan Rhode continued and what looked like being a promising fourth place the second Castrol MINI evaporated when the left front wheel studs sheared exiting Turn Two, fortunately without incident.
It wasn't a good start for the Dealer Team Fords either: the lead Focus of Gary Formato was an early retirement when a driveshaft failed, though Duminy was happy to take fourth place place after sneaking past the misfiring Rightair Golf6 GTI of Ryan Cooper.
Charl Smalberger in the Sabertek Golf5 GTI but in a steady performance to finish sixth.
A steady drizzle which eventually left the track drenched and windscreens foggy set the scene for a 17-lap feature race, and also resulted in an incident-filled event.
Charl Smalberger in the Sabertek Golf5 GTi didn't make it past the first corner, getting tagged and losing control, then hitting the tyre barrier on the inside of the corner - which flipped the car into a double-roll, and brought out the red flag.
The event was restarted after a long delay to clean up the debris, the polesitter - Gavin Cronje in the ADF BMW 335i - pitting immediately with an overheating engine, which effectively gave the front row to the Engen Audis.
Moss led briefly but his vastly more experienced team-mate Michael Stephen soon took over, and quickly opened a gap to the chasing pack. Moss wasn't able to delay Gennaro Bonafede for long and the Sasolracing Audi steamed past, followed soon after by the similar car of Hennie Groenewald.
And that was how it stayed for the duration, Stephen controlling the game from the front, keeping it neat and tidy (slow in fast out as he put it) to come home a second ahead of Bonafede - driving with a maturity which belied his years - with Groenewald and Moss chipping in to make it an Audi one-two-three-four.
It was a disastrous day for the BMWs and as well as Cronje's troubles, Johan Fourie was forced to pit with a foggy windscreen, eventually soldiering to the finish two laps down while Cronje was only credited with nine laps and was declared a non-finisher.
Class T was a more exciting affair, and the Castrol MINI Cooper S of Lee Thompson methodically hunted down the Dealer Team Ford Focus of Gary Formato, finding a way past at half-distance and slowly pulling away.
Probably the drive of the day went to Ryan Cooper in the Rightair Golf6 GTI, who used his experience as a motorcycle racer to manage the conditions, eventually changing gear at just 4000 rpm to maintain traction. Sadly, a clash with Williams Hunt Chevrolet Cruze of Michael van Rooyen put paid to his ambitions.
However, the bad luck award has to go to Lee Thompson, whose MINI experienced a brake hose failure in the closing stages, tumbling him down to sixth place.
The upside for the Ford Dealer Team was a comfortable win for Formato, racing with a driveshaft borrowed from a spectator's Focus ST…
AND THE OVERALL WINNER IS..
Overall victory for the day went to Bonafede- richly deserved after two well-paced drives - and in class T it was Graeme Nathan from Michael van Rooyen - less than four-hundredths of a second separating them!
As far as points go, Nathan also has a single point advantage over Van Rooyen while in A it is Bonafede who leads Stephen by one point with Groenewald a further two points adrift. But it is early days, and with a further seven rounds to go, a lot can and no doubt will change.