Port Elizabeth - Local hero Michael Stephen knows the Aldo Scribante racetrack like the back of his hand and it showed at Round 2 of the Sasol GTC series, run in the Windy City at the weekend.
He set the fastest times in each practice and qualifying session and, while Mother Nature did her best to disrupt proceedings by throwing large quantities of water at the area, the No.12 Engen Audi A3 GTC sailed on, clinching all three race wins and the overall top spot for the day.
The Sasol BMW M2 GTCs of Hennie Groenewald and Gennaro Bonafede claimed second and third overall; they were consistent throughout the three-race programme, if not blisteringly quick, and sometimes fortunate to benefit from the mistakes of others.
A new entrant to the series, Johan Fourie in the EPS Courier Services BMW M2 GTC, slotted into second on the grid, despite having had his car for only a week, and not having raced since 2014.
The Volkswagen Jetta pair of Graeme Nathan and Matthew Hodges had to start at the back of the grid, to the disappointment of a large contingent of Volkswagen fans and staff, whose plant is in nearby Uitenhage - particularly after Hodges broke his car's prop-shaft after just one qualifying lap and had to start stone last.
Morning warm up, in streaming wet conditions, was the first time anyone had driven a GTC car in the wet and drivers were full of praise for the grip offered by the Dunlop wet-weather tyres.
Race 1 saw Stephen take an immediate lead, followed by Simon Moss in the second Engen Audi. Fourie and Bonafede had a great battle for third, followed by Groenewald, Hodges and Nathan - until Moss put a wheel on to a painted white line on the short back straight and spun down to the back of the field, eventually fighting back to fifth by the end.
Race 2, run in dry but windy conditions, was another Stephen rout, with Moss making it a hometown 1-2 in a straightforward race. Hodges picked off his rivals to claim a strong third from last on the grid, ahead of a struggling Bonafede and Groenewald. The BMW crew had made some radical set-up changes after Race 1 in an attempt to cure a handling issue, but went the wrong way and made matters worse.
Nathan spun to the back of the field at the final corner, finishing sixth, while Fourie was forced to retire with a loose fuel tank.
The heavens opened with a vengeance minutes before the final GTC race got underway, delayed to allow Fourie's team time to complete repairs to the fuel tank, which had split open.
Leading from pole, Stephen carefully picked his way around the circuit through thick spray, with team-mate Moss in close attendance. Fourie took up station behind the black Audi A3s just ahead of Bonafede, while Groenewald held off Hodges and Nathan.
Moss parked his Audi on lap three with a suspected broken wheel-bearing, while Bonafede lined up a pass on Fourie for second, only to clip a wet kerb and get spat off the circuit. , but clipped a wet kerb and that spat him off the track.
That confirmed Fourie's second place, with Groenewald third an Nathan fourth, while Bonafede got back on the circuit, and fought back to pass Hodges on the final lap for fifth.
In the Sasol GTC Production Car class, Daniel Rowe qualified his works Volkswagen Golf GTI nearly a second faster than team-mate Mandla Mdakane's sister car, closely followed by Shaun Duminy (Ford Focus ST) and Charl Smalberger (VW Genuine Parts Golf GTi).
Rowe and Duminy got into frenetic dice in Race 1, swopping places several times, with Mdakane and Smalberger chasing them home to finish third and fourth respectively.
More at home in the dry, Smalberger stormed into the lead at the start of Race 2 and was never headed, while Duminy and Rowe carried on as before, banging door-handles until the Focus' door got ripped off, to hang limply in parc ferme after the race.
The final race was again a Rowe benefit, this time shadowed by Mdakane who put in a strong drive in difficult conditions, while Smalberger finished third ahead of Duminy.
Rowe took the overall honours for the day, ahead of Smalberger, Mdakane and Duminy.
Round three of the GTC series will be run at Killarney in Cape Town - Fourie's home circuit - on 24 September.
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