It was a case of leaving the best to last and those hardened motorsport enthusiasts who braved a very chilly last day of winter and stayed for the 15-lap finale of Round Seven of Bridgestone Production Cars at Zwartkops Raceway on August 31 certainly got their money's worth.
It was a hard-fought contest in both classes A and T, and proved the old adage that it isn't over until the fat lady sings…
While a revitalised Hennie Groenewald made it a dream day for meeting sponsor Sasol - deftly working his way to the front of class A in the Sasolracing Subaru WRX STI - Etienne van der Linde's chances of making a serious dent in Michael Stephens' championship lead went up in smoke on the last lap of the day.
The story in class T was different but had a similar conclusion, and Graeme Nathan in the Indyoil Golf6 GTI has moved ahead by some nine points after being level pegging with Gavin Cronje when they arrived back in Gauteng.
In Van der Linde's case a broken left front wheel on the Afrox/Pirtek BMW 335i - possibly from an over-zealous use of the kerbs in a corner - caused a loss of tyre pressure and saw him slip from second to sixth in just a few corners. His misfortune promoted Gennaro Bonafede (Ferodo Audi S4) to second place and moving Stephen in the similar Engen-sponsored version up to third, so despite all the signs to the contrary earlier in the day, Stephen left Zwartkops with his championship lead extended…
Cronje's Castrol Mini Cooper S was excluded from Race One for being underweight at the finish (already having been penalised three positions on the starting grid for a tyre irregularity in qualifying), and while he won the feature race - driving Lee Thompson's car, the engine of his own having failed in the closing stages of Race Two - Nathan minimised the damage by taking the runner-up position as the race distance and hot pace took its toll on the other class T runnners.
HOW TO WIN A TITLE
Stephen's progress during the day once again demonstrated the art of winning a championship: he took a third a fourth and a fifth, his best result coming in the feature race, which always scores double points. Nathan survived reoccurring braking issues to come away with three second places on the day, with different class winners on each occasion.
It also looked like Devin Robertson in the perennially unreliable Big Boss Renault Megane would finally upset the class T applecart - something which he had threatened to do all weekend - until a tyre delaminated and forced him to slow. A similar fate befell Jacques Joubert too, who, rather than continuing and risking a blow-out, pitted for a fresh tyre on the right front corner of his Indyoil Golf GTI.
Gary Formato couldn't replicate the pace he showed in the second sprint - which he won - but still finished with a third in the feature to maintain the momentum which the Ford Racing Focus ST Ecoboost seems to be developing.
As predicted, Zwartkops proved to be a turning point, and it seems (particularly in class A) that the reigning champions are getting an easier than expected title defence. This is thanks in no small part to excellent driving by seasoned campaigners, but has been aided by the errors made by the opposition - both on and off the track.
Full results are available on the TJ Timing website: www.tjtiming.co.za, with updated points standings on www.spcc.co.za