Production Car feud for Zwartkops

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IOL mot pic aug26 Prod-Car Preview Nathan . The works Minis have been all over multiple champion Graeme Nathan and his Golf GTI like a rash all season. Picture: Paul Bedford

Pretoria - In the blue and white corner, weighing in at 122 kilograms and standing 1.98 metres in his socks: Graeme Nathan. And in the red and green corner, weighing 72 kilos and standing just 1.65 metres: Mandla Mdakane.

In boxing parlance it's a mismatch but fortunately (for Mdakane), this isn't a boxing match. This is national championship Production Car racing and your height, weight and reach matter not one jot. What matters is your car, your experience, and your racecraft.

But even on that basis, Nathan has the upper hand: he has won Class T four times, is the most experienced driver in the class with hundreds of starts in turbocharged Golfs GTIs (and a Seat before that) and is arguably the driver with more race 'savvy' than any other in the series, never mind the class.

However, these facts seem not to have entered Mdakane's young head.

The two have clashed repeatedly in the previous two meetings, Nathan and his Golf getting the upper hand in one instance, the youngster in the works Mini winning the other - although he was deemed to have transgressed and was subsequently excluded.

So, will the sixth round of the SA Production Car championship at Zwartkops on 30 August also be Round 3 of the Nathan/Mdakane fight?

IOL mot pic aug26 Prod-Car Preview Fourie Johan Fourie has hit a rich vein of form and has never driven better, moving his BMW 335i to the front of the field. Picture: Paul Bedford

Gary Formato, currently second in class in the Ford Racing Focus ST, must be hoping so; anything that reduces Nathan's points haul will help his cause.

BIG BANGERS

The Class A battle is hotting up too. Former champion Johan Fourie has hit a rich vein of form and has never driven better, moving his BMW 335i to the front of the field with team-mate Gavin Cronje playing the perfect co-starring role by keeping the opposition at bay.

Importantly, the opposition includes Michael Stephen. With three titles on the trot the reigning champion has nothing to prove, but that doesn't make being an also-ran any easier.

He'll want to win at Zwartkops, or at the very least reverse the growing gap between his Audi S4 and Fourie.

And, unlike Fourie who has the vastly experienced Cronje as wingman, Stephen's partner Simon Moss still has a lot to learn at this level - though lacks little in the way of raw speed.

That leaves only the 'official' Audis, keener than ever to do well at a meeting backed by their fuel sponsor. Nothing like a little pressure…

Thus far, lanky Gennaro Bonafede, has carried the flag and is third in class, overshadowing his vastly more experienced team-mate Hennie Groenewald, who has had more than his fair share of ill-fortune this season.

Gennaro looks like the real deal, both on and off the track, and gets an A+ when it comes to promoting himself - an essential part of the modern race driver's arsenal. Being able to back this up with solid pace helps of course…

CLASS T DRAMA

Events in the 'blower' category have been overshadowed by Nathandla-gate, but at Phakisa the series controllers took wide-ranging steps to ensure technical compliance. This included draining each car of fuel prior to each race and replacing the tanks' contents with control fuel - from sealed drums.

And for good measure, the leading Mini, Ford and Volkswagen had their engines sealed, and were subsequently stripped. Each was checked in terms of bore, stroke and compression ratio versus its homologation documents, and found to be within tolerances.

So, with the playing field as level as it can be, the lines are drawn.

Can Nathan handle mounting pressure for the remainder of the season, or will his luck run out? One way or another, he's had some fortunate rolls of the dice, but he's also driven his heart out each time he's got behind the wheel.

In class A, can Fourie continue to forge ahead, or will Audi bounce back?

Drivers hoping for a change of fortune include Shaun Duminy in the second Ford Focus ST, whose season just hasn't ignited, Chevrolet Cruze driver Michael van Rooyen whose is fast but inconsistent, and Mini team leader Lee Thompson, who must be wondering if he'll be forever a bridesmaid.

And in class A Groenewald must think his only luck is bad luck, while Stephen must be wondering whether his days of seeing the chequered flag first are numbered.

These are the cream of South Africa's tin-top racers, in superbly prepared cars; and if you doubt that, take advantage of a pit walkabout to get up close and see for yourself. It's no coincidence they provide the best four-wheel racing in the country.



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