Super Series kicks off at ZwartkopsComment on this story
The 2014 South African Production Car series kicks off on Saturday 1 March at the tight and twisty Zwartkops Raceway with a number of interesting new car/driver combinations. But no matter who they are, or what they are driving, they'll all have their sights on one target - the all-conquering, all black Audi S4 of three-times series winner and defending champion Michael Stephen.
He'll be backed up by Simon Moss in the second S4, who brings with him a bootful of kart, single-seater and Polo tin-top trophies. Moss the younger is very much a chip off the old block and has the same exuberant, no-holds-barred driving style that made his father so successful in the 1990s. If he can settle in early and learn the ropes from Stephen he could be sensational later in the year.
The big upset in Class A however, Hennie Groenewald's defection from Subaru to Audi, joining the Vic Maharaj squad alongside another second-generation racer, 23-year-old Gennaro Bonafede. It looks like being a perfect mix of youthful dash and immense experience; if the two can work well together they should be formidable.
The two BMW 335i's will also look a little different with 2013 bronze medallist Johan Fourie being joined by Gavin Cronje, who has earned a Class A drive with a hard-driving runner-up finish in Class T in a Mini Cooper S.
The force-fed fandango looks set for a three-way showdown between Ford, Volkswagen and Mini, although defending champion Graeme Nathan has reason to be nervous; 48 hours before race day he still has no major sponsor and he's lost his wingman, teen sensation Jacques 'The Stiglet' Joubert, who's sitting 2014 out while he concentrates on his studies.
Nevertheless, Nathan is not the most successful driver in the history of SA Production Car racing for nothing…
With the Ford Focus ST's not quite delivering on their promise in 2013, the pressure is on Shaun Duminy and Gary Formato. Duminy had a season to forget last year; he snapped an Achilles Tendon in a freak qualifying incident at Aldo Scribante and then comprehensively destroyed his No.43 Focus in a high-speed clash with Gavin Cronje at Zwartkops in August.
He'll be back with a completely new car, and with the lessons learnt from the 2013 model they've been able to shed a few kilos yet still make it stronger. Expect Duminy and Formato to be on the pace from the first lap of practice.
Another driver hoping to get a good return on his investment in 2014 is Michael van Rooyen, whose neatly-presented Chevrolet Cruze never wanted for speed but lacked consistency. No doubt he will come to Zwartkops running a set-up that is kinder to the rubber and easier to drive at the limit.
All the Class T cars will run to a minimum weight limit of 1275kg this year, with maximum turbo boost and intake restrictor size the only variables - and those will be up for review after the third round of the series.
The Mini's will run different gearbox internals - and slightly less power - for 2014, which should make them more consistent finishers; with Cronje's promotion to class A, Lee Thompson will be joined by recent matriculant Ryan Rhode, who last year ran in the VW Challenge, and in the Volkswagen Cup the year before.
A newcomer to the series is local teenager Charl Smalberger, who comes to the party in a Golf 5 GTI. He has plenty of front wheel-drive experience in both VW Challenge and Polo cup racing, and knows Zwartkops like the back of his hand; time will tell if he can make the leap to the big time.
A new, two-race format has been adopted: the first race will be a flat-out, 10-lap sprint, the second, a more tactical affair over 17 laps.
Fast approaching 20 years of mirror-to-mirror action, the series is a school for emerging talent in South African motorsport.
Mike Rowe, head of Volkswagen Motorsport explained: "The Polo Vivo race cars are kept uncomplicated in terms of race technology and that means driver talent is what gets you to the front. There's no relying on horsepower, better grip or superior handling."
Returning to the fray will Port Elizabeth teenager Daniel Rowe, who underlined his rookie year in the VW Cup with a strong finish at Kyalami Two eighth-place finishes earned him fifth overall and the Driver of the Day.
He'll be joined by 14-year-old Sheldon van der Linde of Dainfern, who will make his senior circuit racing debut in a national championship series, following in the footsteps of older brother, Kelvin, VW Cup champion in 2012 and international Scirocco R Cup champion in 2013.
Van der Linde, who turns 15 in May and qualifies for his first National circuit racing licence (the cut-off date is June), is a double former national kart champion (GP Junior in 2008 and Rotax Max Challenge Mini Max in 2010).
Also stepping up to the senior ranks will be Shayur Harpal, who turned 16 on February 26. Like the Van der Linde brothers, the grade 11 student from Dainfern Ridge is a graduate from karting.
In 2013 he contested the Asia Cup series for Formula BMW single-seaters, where he won three out of nine rounds and led the championship until the final round, eventually finishing fifth overall.
But wait, there's more…
Saturday's programme will include races for Sports and GT Cars, Single Seaters, Thunderbikes and a Brunch Run. Entry to the circuit will be R80 for adults, R60 for students, and free for children under 12.