Phakisa, Free State - Johan Fourie and his BMW 335i have extended their lead in the SA Production Car championship, scoring the motorsport equivalent of a perfect 10 at Phakisa Freeway near Welkom on August 2.
In Class T there were very different finishing orders in the two races, the 12-lap feature highlighted by a very robust confrontation between Golf GTI racer Graeme Nathan and newcomer Mandla Mdakane in a Mini - respectively the most and least experienced drivers in the class…
Fourie kicked off with a scorcher of a lap to set the fastest time in the qualifying session for Round 5 of the series, his time of 1m43.352 almost three-quarters of a second quicker than team-mate Gavin Cronje. Gennaro Bonafede in an Audi S4 was the best of the Four-Ring Fellowship, with team-mate Hennie Groenewald alongside in fourth. Groenewald had a frustrating Friday setting up a newly re-bodied car to his liking and was still not completely happy with the handling.
The third row was occupied by privateer S4s with reigning champion and new dad Michael Stephen ahead of Simon Moss, still coming to terms with a new car/circuit combination.
In Class T Nathan just edged out Lee Thompson's Mini and Gary Formato's Ford Focus ST for pole, a result which suggests the control of the class' performance parameters is working very well - a quarter of a second separated the three on a 4,2km circuit. Michael van Rooyen's Chevrolet Cruze made it four brands on the first two rows of the grid.
When the lights went out to get proceedings underway (from a rolling start) Fourie disappeared into the distance, leaving Cronje to fend off a very determined Bonafede. It was to no avail in the end with Cronje making it a BMW one-two.
The no-holds-barred dice between the two chargers was a highlight of the race, as Groenewald got into the frame, turning it into an Audi procession, with Stephen and Moss also closing in towards the end.
In the second race, run over a 12 lap distance with the starting order determined by the reverse of the championship standings, Groenewald looked to have come good.
He defended his pole position vigorously with a tight line into the first turn, after which he rapidly extended his lead - at one point to six seconds - while Moss held off the BMW pair. Moss managed to undo all his hard work, however with a lurid and off-road excursion at the end of the main straight, which let not only the BMWs through, but everybody else too.
At three-quarter distance the eternally unlucky Groenewald slowed with fuel pressure problems, gifting BMW another one-two and Fourie another maximum points haul. Groenewald's lack of luck and Moss' mistake promoted Stephen to third in the feature race.
Nathan's Class T pole position for the sprint race became second position soon after the start, as Formato snuck past the Golf GTI and into the lead on the opening lap, and made a beeline for the chequered flag. A gap to third place had opened up during the usual first-lap fracas, and with the cars so evenly matched Thompson had a lonely race to the final podium position.
Behind him Shaun Duminy in the second Focus ST continued to experience the braking issues that frustrated him on Friday, but managed to hold off the Golf GTI of Charl Smalberger. Next up was Mdakane, doing well in only his second race meeting at the Free State circuit and also his second proper outing in the turbocharged car.
Tail end Charlie was Van Rooyen; his Chevrolet dropped to the back of the field after an off-track excursion at the start of lap two, and he was unable to get back into contention due to a minor misfire.
A post-race check found that Duminy's Focus was overboosting, and he was excluded from the results.
Race 2 had all the makings of a thriller, and so it proved to be. Mdakane was on pole and made a clean getaway, while a train of cars formed up behind Smalberger, who started second. Thompson took his chances to rapidly work his way through the field and then made an easy pass on his team-mate for the lead.
Mdakane defended his position aggressively from Formato and then even more so from Nathan. The two carried on where they left off in East London a few weeks back, trading blows and positions all the way around the Free State circuit, with the youngster clearly not intimidated by his vastly more experienced rival.
The matter was only resolved on the last corner of the last lap, the two entering the pit straight side by side, with Nathan on the inside. More paint was exchanged, and in the sprint to the line Nathan nosed ahead by a car length to take the final podium.
The Parc Ferme atmosphere was icy, and while angry looks were exchanged, that was where it ended. Which is probably just as well, as Nathan stands head and shoulders above the diminutive Mdakane….
When the dust had settled (and there was plenty of it in the Free State air) Fourie hadn't had quite the perfect day, and it was Groenewald who was credited with the bonus point for fastest lap in the feature race - cold comfort when it should've been a morale-boosting win. The outcome sees the BMW pilot extend his lead over Stephen to 20 points, while in Class T the trio of cars chasing Nathan has bunched up with Formato now in second place and Van Rooyen demoted to third.
Duvall Maritz was an early casualty when he hit the barrier during Friday practice, ending his race weekend early. On race day, the first race saw Andrea Bate involved in an incident with Christopher Shorter - who then was involved in an incident with Mathew Hodges that saw them both sidelined for the rest of the race.
Championship leader Daniel Rowe led the field from start to finish, with Dewald Brummer climbing from a fourth-place start to take second. Sheldon van der Linde also came up the leaderboard from fifth to finish third.
The second race saw Michael Gibson claim his first pole position start, having qualified in the top six and taking the top spot in the lucky draw.
The front row of the grid is a pressure cooker for the inexperienced and it was no surprise when the series' predators pounced and Gibson was slowly forced down the order. For championship leader Rowe, race two saw him forced off the track and he crashed through a barrier in lap eight of the 10 lap race.
This left the race open to Van der Linde and Brummer for first and second with Masters racer Trevor Bland taking third and Gibson fourth.
Overall results put Van der Linde at the top of the table with Brummer second and Bland third. Rowe remains the series leader, but Van der Linde now trails by just five points with Brummer third, 15 points back. Bland is now the leading Masters competitor with Hodges slipping back to second and Juan Gerber still third.
Matt Shorter was awarded Driver of the Day in his series debut - on his 15th birthday - finishing seventh for the day and beating older brother Christopher in the process.
The open-wheelers took advantage of the long Phakisa Freeway circuit to produce some high-speed racing as Round 5 of the season saw Robert Wolk return to form, top of the qualifying sheets and also taking the Race 1 win. Wolk appeared to have successully shaken off the issues that plagued him in East London and set a cracking pace in the Free State.
Second in the first race was Werner Scholtz ahead of Jason Campos.
Not to be outdone, series leader Nicholas van Weely took charge in Race 2 to claim the win and keep the top spot on the championship log by 12 points - with Wolk taking second ahead of Campos.
Scott Temple took charge in Class A with two race wins, extending his championship lead over Keegan Campos - who wasn’t making it easy, however, staying close on Temple's heels in both races to claim second in each, and ensure Temple's lead did not become too great.
Bevan Williams held his ground to round out the top three in each race; the overall results were thus the same with Temple at the top, followed by Campos and Williams.
The battle for third was a tense affair with Wlliams trading positions in each race with Graham Hepburn. Unfortunately for Hepburn, going off the track at the same place in each race forced him down the finishing order.
Class B proved a bit lonely for Rick Morris whose usual sparring partner, Ian Schofield, was forced to miss the race meeting due to illness. Morris was uncontested in each of the races with Allen Meyer and rookie Timothy Gillespie - on his first visit to Phakisa - taking a second and a third apiece.