Super Series hits hi-speed GP circuitComment on this story
East London - The South African Production Car championship arrives at the East London Grand Prix Circuit for Round 4 of the series this Saturday (5 July) after a two month break - but for some it has been a period of intense research and development, rather than a rest.
The series last visited the country's oldest and fastest circuit in September 2011 so this will be a re-learning process for most driver/car combinations - and, in fact, he first time that the BMW F30s will race here.
As per the 2014 rules, the cars' performance parameters were reviewed after the third race - but so close has been the racing so far that Class A remains unchanged. Class T, however, has been revised after extensive analysis of overall performance in the interests of closer competition and improved reliability.
The size of the intake restrictor has been reduced by a millimetre across the board and there are small downward boost revisions for the Ford Focus ST and Mini Cooper S. The cars are now down to about 230kW, not far off the 220kW target set by the controllers at the beginning of 2014.
It remains to be seen whether these developments will dramatically alter the status quo.
Especially as the key to Graeme Nathan's record as the most successful driver in the series with four Class T championships and two runner-up slots in six years, is consistency.
From six starts this year he has had two wins, two seconds and two thirds, and takes his VW Golf GTI to the Buffalo City with a 12 point advantage.
Michael van Rooyen in the Chevrolet Cruz has shown good pace and scored consistently so far this season, but Gary Formato is the danger man. After Nathan the Focus pilot is the most successful Class T driver in the series, with two championships (2009 and 2011) to his name. 2013 was the first time in six years that he finished outside the top three, and by his high standards it was a frustrating year as the team battled to develop the new, four-cylinder ST.
But with three wins already he is the 'winningest' driver in the class so far this year, and that bodes well for East London. At the previous meeting he managed a rare full-house, winning both races, scoring three extra points for pole position, and setting the fastest lap in each race to take two bonus points.
Thus far the two 'official' Minis have been fast but fragile; nevertheless, the team is confident that the break has helped to solve gearbox issues which often made life in the pits frenetic for the crew. A mix of experience (Lee Thompson) and youth (in the form of 20-year-old Production Car rookie Mandla Mdakane) could be a good one, too.
In class A, Michael Stephen remains the man to beat.
With three championships in succession (2011, 2012 and 2013) and a trio of championship bronze medals before that, he is a model of consistency. His black Audi S4 is omnipresent, and he is the only driver to have taken more than one win so far this year. His young charger of a team-mate, Simon Moss, couldn't have a better role model.
Best of the rest is Johan Fourie, who has been solid year-to-date and comes off the back of a morale-boosting win in Port Elizabeth. The long, fast straight at East London should suit the BMWs and he must fancy his chances. The Audi A4s of Gennaro Bonafede and Hennie Groenewald have shared the results thus far and are third and fourth respectively in the standings.
After three rounds Port Elizabeth's Daniel Rowe is leading the series by eight points from team-mate Sheldon van der Linde, with Jano van der Westhuizen and Dewald Brummer tied for third, just one point ahead of Tasmin Pepper.
The Masters championship leader is Trevor Bland, who's also seventh overall. Bland leads the Masters by a single point, but is three points behind Mathew Hodges. Bland took the overall top spot for the Masters on the day in Port Elizabeth but their East London clash is shaping up to be a battle royal.
This circuit - described as the spiritual home of single-seater racing in South Africa - is a favourite with the drivers, with some of the highest speeds of the season.
Defending champion Robert Wolk heads the Formula Volkswagen standings with a three point advantage over Nicholas van Weely, who lost the championship lead to Wolk at the previous outing.
With a fast circuit and two determined racers separated by just a few points, Round 4 is shaping up to be a classic.
Wesleigh Orr missed Round 1, but has been producing solid results since - which is going to make things very interesting for the leading drivers as the battle for points becomes more intense.
Orr is fifth behind Jason Campos and Werner Scholtz, with the three separated by four points - making the fight for third place just as intense as the battle for the lead.
Scott Temple the lead class A racer with Keegan Campos breathing down his neck, just four points adrift. At this point Graham Hepburn has a fairly comfortable grip on third place with eight points separating him from Bevan Williams in fourth. lass B sees Rick Morris in the lead, holding off a charge by Ian Schofield.