Super Series action heads to PhakisaComment on this story
Welkom, Free State - Round 5 of the Super Series on Saturday 2 August will bring the drivers back - for the first time this year - to the only circuit in Africa designed exclusively for Grand Prix motorcycle racing.
Its complex and challenging layout rewards smooth, focused driving rather than point-and-squirt power play, making it a favourite with four-wheeled competitors as well.
After a reversal of fortunes at the East London Grand Prix circuit four weeks ago, BMW 335i pilot Johan Fourie is leading the championship with 102 points from Audi's defending champion Michael Stephen (100 points) after accumulating three wins (including both East London races) and six podiums from the eight races and four rounds to date.
For Stephen, Phakisa will be all about staying close to the championship leader; with 30 points available on race day, a two-point gap is little more than a strategic difference between the championship leader and the defending champion.
NARROWING THE GAP
Works Audi driver Gennaro Bonafede is third, with a reasonably comfortable buffer separating him from the racers behind him, giving him an opportunity to focus ahead and concentrate on the top contenders. A strong run at Phakisa will allow Bonafede to narrow the gap to Fourie and Stephen.
Fourie's team-mate Gavin Cronje, competing in his first season in the top class after finishing second in last year's Class T championship in a Mini John Cooper Works, is fourth in the standings with 57 points after a win and three podiums, including second place in both races four weeks ago.
Simon Moss will go to the Free State hoping to improve on his East London result, one of his best race weekends since his production car debut this year. Moss is just four points shy of fourth place in the championship.
Stephen's team mate Hennie Groenewald, on the other hand, will be keen to get to grips with his new Audi S4 and make up some lost ground in the championship after a short-lived outing at East London that saw him out of the race weekend in the first lap of race one.
Ford Focus ST driver Gary Formato will be out with a point to prove after being excluded at East London for a technical infringement, as will defending Class T champion and current points leader Graeme Nathan, whose VW Golf GTI started a bush fire when he was punted out of the running in East London.
And their targets will be the suddenly on-form Minis of Lee Thompson and rookie Mandla Mdakane. In East London, where the Minis were not expected to challenge for top honours, Thompson was first past the chequered flag in Race 1, but failed to start Race 2 after a side-shaft sheared on the warm-up lap.
After four rounds Thompson is fourth in the Class T standings with 54 points, 43 behind Nathan.
Mdakane will be making only his second appearance for the Mini team after an impressive Class T debut at East London circuit four weeks ago. The 20-year-old Crawford College student from Johannesburg showed remarkable pace around the daunting high-speed Buffalo Bay circuit and will be hoping to carry this through to the more technical and twisting Free State circuit.
Qualifying for Saturday's two races will take place at 10am. Race 1 will be a sprint over eight laps at 1.15pm, followed by a 12-lap feature race at 3.15pm.