Zwartkops, Pretoria - Round six of the SA Production Car championship at the weekend produced 25 laps of intense racing - and behind-the-scenes drama - that eroded the advantage of the leaders in both classes somewhat.
A well-judged start from pole-man Michael Stephen (Audi S4) gave him a head start from which he never looked back, but behind him a thrilling duel erupted between Gavin Cronje (BMW 335i) and the two 'official' Audi S4s of Gennaro Bonafede and Hennie Groenewald, with Stephen's team-mate Simon Moss and Johan Fourie in the second BMW dicing a little further back.
Bonafede was in determined form, but fell back as his engine lost power after an air intake was crushed when he ran into the back of Cronje, while Moss - proving as hard to overtake as his father Terry was a generation ago - was forced out by an engine problem.
At which point Groenewald took up the cudgels on behalf of the Four Ring Circus and scraped past Cronje, with Fourie closing in on his team-mate, glad to have seen Moss exit the fray. Cronje was slowing with a puncture and and gave way to Fourie, on the same lap as he posted the fastest lap of the race.
By the time the flag came out Stephen was seven seconds ahead, while second on the road became fifth on paper for Groenewald after he was penalised 30 seconds for overtaking under a yellow flag, promoting Fourie to second.
The forced-induction action got underway in the very first turn as defending champion Graeme Nathan (Volkswagen Golf 7 GTI) and Michael van Rooyen (Chevrolet Cruze) briefly occupied the same piece of tarmac, sending Nathan sliding into the kitty litter.
Both works Minis were missing after Lee Thompson wrote off his car in practice on Friday and the gearbox of Mandla Mdakane's developed a serious leak en route to the grid. Van Rooyen thus led the T-pack with the Ford Racing Focus STs of Gary Formato and Shaun Duminy at their heels and a seriously revved-up Nathan in hot pursuit. But the Chev was battling with ongoing braking issues and remarkably, Nathan recovered to regain the lead on the eighth lap, while Formato was back up to second by the flag as Van Rooyen slipped down the order, just managing to hold off Duminy.
Groenewald was in no mood to be denied a home win again and led from lights to flag, while another no-holds-barred dice developed astern as Cronje did his best to hold off Bonafede and Stephen. Slightly further back Moss and Fourie were at it again until Moss outbraked, allowing Fourie - who later complained of poor traction - to try reeling in the leading trio.
Along the way plenty of paint was swopped, with Bonafede extremely unhappy at the way Stephen took third place from him with a controversial outbraking manoeuvre into the left-hander on to the start-finish straight. Stephen's bronze became silver when Cronje suffered an ABS malady and went off the circuit at the hairpin. He eventually stopping to reset the system - which cured the problem - and rejoined to finish last in class; what should've been two runner-up slots had turned into a lean day indeed.
The brat pack wasn't short on action either as Mdakane - gearbox now oil-tight - grabbed an early lead by blitzing Duminy on lap two. That didn't last long, however, as Formato soon took charge, while Duminy did what a wingman is supposed to do - fend off the best efforts of Nathan to pass him.
Once ahead, Nathan set off after his arch-rival - the youngster in the Mini and the veteran in the Golf already have something of a history. He put a clean pass on the Mini hot-shot but then had to slow when the Golf's left front tyre gave up the ghost after 12 hard laps. Mdakane retook the runner-up slot, albeit in a car which was making loud smoke signals by the end.
They finished in that order, well behind Formato - but Nathan was promoted back to second, ahead of Van Rooyen and Duminy, when Mdakane's car was found to have exceeded its maximum allowable boost by some margin and excluded.
Second overall for the day saw talented teen Sheldon van der Linde move to the top of the points log with team-mate Daniel Rowe slipping to second - but with only six points in it, while overall winner for the day Dewald Brummer moved up to tie with Rowe on points, setting up a three-way fight for the title in the final two rounds.
Van der Linde set the pace in qualifying with Brummer and Shaun la Réservée second and third respectively - and they finished the day in the same order. Race one saw Juan Gerber on pole, thanks to the top-six draw, with Brummer and Van der Linde second and third. Ten laps later it was Brummer who came home first with Van der Linde second and Mathew Hodges third.
Hodges had drawn pole for Race 2, ahead of La Réservée and Brummer but an on-form Brummer was not to be denied, taking the flag after 12 hard-fought laps ahead of Van der Linde in second and Tasmin Pepper.
What started as a 12 point difference between the top two Formula VW contenders ended as a four-point gap - with Nicholas Van Weely holding that slender advantage over Robert Wolk, who started Race 1 at the back of the grid thanks to an engine change but quickly worked his way through the field.
He was up to second behind behind Van Weely when his charge was halted by the deployment of the Safety Car after an incident between Werner Scholtz and Jason Campos, but there was just enough of the race left after the Zwartkops marshals had cleared the debris for Wolk to blitz Van Weely and claim victory.
Wolk put in another winning performance in Race 2 to take the double for the day and significantly narrow the gap to the championship leader. Van Weely finished second in each race with Mathew Merton claiming third in Race 1 and Scholtz third in Race 2.
Bevan Williams was handed a win in Race 1 when Keegan Campos was penalised for an incident involving Scott Temple; Graham Hepburn inherited second with Andrew Horne stepping up to third.
Temple recovered well to take the win in Race 2, just ahead of Campos, with Williams third, to end the day second overall, behind Campos, with Horne taking up third. Ian Schofield was first home in Class B, ahead of Rick Morris and Allen Meyer, in both races.