East London – South Africa's premier Sasol Global Touring Car Championship heads to the iconic Grand Prix Circuit for the third round of the series this weekend with all eyes focused on Sasol BMW driver Gennaro Bonafede.
The series leader came under under increasing pressure last time out at Kyalami, as he and defending champion Michael Stephen in the Engen Audi took a win apiece, only to have Mathew Hodges and his works Volkswagen Jetta take the overall honours for the day away from both of them, thanks to the ‘shuffle the pack’ effect of the reversed grid in the second race.
The historic East London Grand Prix Circuit hosted the first South African Grand Prix, won by American Whitney Straight's Maserati in 1934; 1960s SA Grands Prix counted towards the world championship and were fought out by the likes of Jim Clark, Graham Hill, John Surtees and Jack Brabham driving Coopers, Lotus, BRM and Ferraris.
This classic circuit still runs on regular public roads and remains South Africa's fastest racetrack with its long flat-out run down through the imposing Potters Pass and Rifle Range bends and into the beachside Cocobana corner, before heading back along through a twisty section along the coast road.
Eight GTC and nine production-based GTC2 cars will line up here on 20 May, with Bonafede the man everybody wants to beat; with three wins in four starts so far this year, not many have. His new Sasol BMW team-mate Robert Wolk has yet to find his feet in this class, but could deliver a surprise at East London.
Engen Audi youngster Simon Moss is second on points – but to consolidate that position he will first have to deal with his team-mate, reigning GTC title-holder Michael Stephen, at the circuit where Stephen clinched the title in 2016.
Factory Volkswagen Jetta GTC pilot Matthew Hodges would like nothing more than to build on the consistency he delivered at Kyalami, and move up from fourth in the standings; his team-mate, reigning GTC2 champion and top class rookie Daniel Rowe, has shown flashes of brilliance but needs to learn to deliver smooth, quick laps under pressure.
Multiple former national champion, Capetonian Johan Fourie, has been punching above his championship weight, muscling his privateer EPS Couriers BMW GTC into third in the standings, while the only other privateer in the series, Michael van Rooyen, had a dreadful start to his season at Killarney in the Rustenburg Steel Construction BMW GTC but bounced back in the second round at Kyalami and will be looking forward to building up momentum at East London.
The production-based turbocharged two-litre hot hatches will be joined in East London by Capetonians Dayne Angel in the new Autohaus Angel Honda Civic Type R and multiple SA race and hot rod champion Kosie Weyers in his Goodwood Used/Belfreeze Chevrolet Cruze. Weyers in particular is a fearsome competitor; keep an eye on the Cruze.
His target, of course, will be 17-year-old championship leader Keagan Masters, winner of three of four races so far this season, and backed up by works Volkswagen Golf GTI team-mate Mandla Mdkane. But Masters' biggest threat right now is TB Racing Volkswagen Golf GTi driver Trevor Bland, second in the championship ahead of iCorp Volkswagen Parts GTI driver Charl Smallberger, who has scored consistent points in spite of a challenging season so far from a technical point of view, and Mdakane.
Signature Racing's two Mini Cooper JCWs, in the hands of Polo Cup graduates Chris Shorter and Bradley Liebenberg, may be off the pace of the class leaders, but they and the two debutants will provide entertaining and unpredictable racing at the tag end of the field.
Engen Volkswagen Cup
The one-make VW Polo racers will be glad to get down to some serious racing after the musical chairs of the previous meeting, which Killarney winner Shaun La Réserveé missed to get married. La Réserveé was replaced by Lee Thompson who went on to dominate at Kyalami, while Dewald Brummer substituted for Shaun's maid of honour, Tasmin Pepper.
They’ll both be back at East London, hoping to make up the deficit to series leader, veteran Devin Robertson, his young gun Signature Racing team-mate Clinton Bezuidenhout, and Masters driver Juan Gerber. La Réserveé is now an effective fourth in the title chase ahead of Jeffrey Kruger, Pepper, Justin Oates and Jano van der Westhuizen, with top rookie Benjamin Habig and Matt Shorter rounding off the top 10.
Also worth watching will be Volkswagen Motorsport drivers Kuda Vazhure and rookie Driver Search winner Jonathan Mogotsi and 16-year old trio Daniel Duminy, Ethan van Heerden and another promising rookie, Giordano Lupini.
Investchem Formula 1600
Cape Town driver Julian van der Watt has dominated the opening four races of the new wings-and-slicks Investchem Formula 1600 championship so far, but the driver who has finished second every time, Stuart White, has a date clash with his French Formula 4 commitments and will miss the East London races.
That should open the door for the likes of Cameron O' Connor, Dean Venter, Alex Gillespie, Joshua Dolinschek, Mozambican Karl Pitzer and Brad Beningfield to take advantage, along with father and son Ian and Andrew Schofield and lady drivers Paige Lindenberg and Donny Lamola.