South Africa’s premier circuit racing series, the Sasol GTC, got underway in front of packed grandstands at Cape Town’s Killarney International Circuit this weekend. It was a weekend of mixed fortunes for the Volkswagen Motorsport squad who experienced both the highs and lows that the sport can dish out in a single weekend.
Both Mathew Hodges and Daniel Rowe had great pace during all of Friday’s free practise sessions. The nature of GTC racing is such that times are usually very close between South Africa’s top racing drivers and the opening day of the 2017 season was no different. For most of the day less than 2 tenths of a second separated the top 5 or 6 drivers, with Hodges and Rowe right in the middle of the action. Unfortunately, qualifying didn’t go according to plan with Hodges just not quite managing to put together the perfect lap. “You need to get every corner and every braking marker just perfect if you want to qualify in the front. We didn’t, but we know exactly what we need to when the flag drops for race 1,” said Hodges who ended the session with the 5th fastest time.
Daniel Rowe’s first qualifying session in the Sasol GTC series didn’t go according to plan either. “I was happy with my pace throughout practise, but unfortunately the Jetta developed a mysterious misfire during qualifying,” said Rowe who was relegated to the back of the field. “We just have to prove our mettle during both races now.”
There was much better news for the Volkswagen crews in the GTC 2 category of SA’s premier racing formula. Mandla Mdakane initially missed out on pole position by the smallest of margins, but a technical infringement by the original polesetter promoted Mdakane to the front of the grid. Teammate and GTC rookie Keagan Masters locked out the front row for Volkswagen by setting the second fastest time in his Golf 7 GTi.
Raceday dawned bright an early with the usual passionate Killarney crowd in attendance to witness the action, and as is soon becoming the case with GTC racing, they were not disappointed.
The two Volkswagen Jettas of Hodges and Rowe started their campaigns from 5th and 7th on the grid respectively, but both were quick out the blocks. Hodges quickly made up a position as he moved into 4th, but young Rowe put in a sterling performance from 7th on the grid. In fact, he dropped to 8th as they went into the first corner, but less than 2 laps later and after making a few passes stick, he took over 4th position from his teammate. The two continued to have a spectacular fight until the last lap when lady luck decided to get involved. “The car simply cut out, the engine let go and we had to pull off the circuit,” said Rowe.
Hodges crossed the line and claimed the points that come with a 4th place finish despite also noticing a vibration under the Jetta’s bonnet. “We’re happy with the points. You need to make sure you finish the races early in the season in order to be able to fight later,” said Hodges after race 1.
The team was looking forward to the opportunity to improve during race two, but it soon became clear that Daniel Rowe would not play a further part. The damage under the Jetta’s bonnet was too severe. With the hopes of the team resting on his shoulders, Hodges set off on race two and immediately moved into 3rd and a podium position, but in yet another twist of fate, his engine decided to call it a day just two laps from the end. “It’s exactly what we didn’t want. It’s motorsport, but still, it’s very frustrating,” said a disappointed Hodges.
“Everyone knows that speed and talent are not enough and that sometimes you need a bit of luck too. Although we are encouraged by the good pace we’ve shown so early in the season, we didn’t have any luck today,” concluded Mike Rowe.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom in Cape Town. The GTC 2 brigade of Mdakane and Masters put on a great show for the fans as they tussled for victory in both races. Add another Golf in the form of Trevor Bland to the mix and the GTC 2 battle turned into the one to watch. Young Keagan Masters overcame his teammate Mandla Mdakane to take victory in race 1, with Bland’s second position the Golf in the so-called Volkswagen Motorsport sandwich. Race two was much of the same with Masters having to work harder than ever to take the double. Bland again finished on his bumper with Mdakane just inches behind.
It’s very encouraging to see our youngsters climbing the ladder and learning the ropes. Now we just need Lady Luck to join the party and when she does, we’ll be ready,” concluded Rowe.
The second round in the Sasol GTC Series will take place at the iconic Kyalami circuit in Midrand on April 21 and 22.