The Bridgestone Production Car Championship fraternity left the season’s best racing until the last round at Kyalami, putting on three races of edge-of-the-seat racing and Sasolracing’s Hennie Groenewald was in the thick of the action all day, claiming a trio of podium places and second overall in his Subaru WRX STI.
Practice and Qualifying:
The weekend did not get off to a good start for the Sasolracing circuit team with the Subaru exhibiting a tendency to understeer under load during Friday’s three free practice sessions. Notwithstanding, Hennie set the second quickest time in FP2.
SP Racing bolted on a new set of Bridgestone Potenza tyres for qualifying on Saturday morning, offering enough grip to propel the Sasolracing Subaru to 3rd on the grid for the first race, 0.5 seconds off pole.
“The new tyres gave me a bit more grip but I knew we were in trouble” Hennie reported after the 10 minute session.
The team set about changing the front differential as a precaution and after eliminating many possibilities, traced the handling gremlin to the steering rack which was rectified for the race.
From the rolling start, Hennie was quickly past pole-sitter Melvill Priest (Audi) after a strong run out of Turn 4 on the opening lap. He attacked race leader Johan Fourie (BMW) for lap after lap, pulling alongside in the drag up the hill to Turn 9 but realistically had no chance to pass in the short six-lap race.
“Johan defended his position quite vigorously and although I thought I maybe had a chance to pass, he opened up a gap down the Mineshaft to the Bowl”, Hennie related. The Sasolracing car ended just 0.34 seconds behind the winner.
The grid inversion saw Hennie line up in 4th place for the second six lap encounter.
Quick on the attack, Hennie slotted the Subaru into 3rd place on the opening lap, another storming drive catching the opposition off guard. A race-long fight with Melvill Priest followed, with the two racers passing and re-passing each other until the final lap.
Hennie set up a move through the Esses (Turns 17 and 18), holding a tight line through the first Ess before powering around the outside of the Audi through the second Ess, giving him the inside line in the drag up the hill to turn 9.
Hennie held second place to the flag, this time 0.271 seconds behind the winner.
With grid positions determined by the driver’s fastest lap in race 2, Hennie’s lap time was slowed by his battle with Priest, both drivers starting in the back half of the grid, Hennie in 5th place and Priest at the back of the field.
Another strong start saw Hennie pass the newly crowned champion Michael Stephen (Audi) on the opening lap, before taking Johan Fourie (BMW) in Turn 14 at the end of lap 4.
He hunted down the train of cars ahead, comprising Etienne van der Linde (BMW), Gennaro Bonafede (Audi) and Melvill Priest. As the Subaru tucked into the slipstream, the engine temperature rose to around 100°C and the car dropped power out of the slower corners.
Undaunted, Hennie attacked again and on the second last lap passed Priest, who had developed a problem, and was rubbing door panels with Bonafede down the main straight and through turns one and two before slotting through in Turn 4. Michael Stephen, glued to the Subaru’s bumper, followed.
Halfway around the final lap, the Subaru started to misfire as the fuel reached boiling point, causing momentary starvation. This allowed Michael Stephen to attack Hennie down the Mineshaft and unable to use full power out of the tight Bowl corner, Hennie was passed.
“It was one of the best day of racing I’ve had in production car racing”, Hennie said. The battles with the drivers were clean and fair and exciting. I’m happy with 2nd overall for the day”.
Summing up the season Hennie said: “We came into the new year with the new Sasolracing Subaru WRX STI sedan which showed great promise over the first two rounds. We were never the fastest during the year and never had a pole position. After restructuring the team mid-season, things took a turn for the better and we were never out of the top three.”
“The team worked harder during the year than anyone in the pit lane, Kosie especially. He’s been with me the past 10 years, through the Wesbank V8 cycle and into production cars and I want to thank him for his blood, sweat and tears during that time”.
The final word goes to Team Principal Carel Pienaar: “Our season had its highlights and low points. The highlights were our first win in Cape Town back in March and our three very good results in the final four races including first overall at the Sasol Raceday at Zwartkops. We came back strongly after realigning the team”.
“We lost our championship momentum in the first Zwartkops meeting when Gennaro crashed into Hennie, then there was Durban and Richard’s crash and the oil feed issues in Cape Town last month. Worldwide, no other Subaru track racing campaign has been more successful than ours, which is quite an achievement”.
Sasolracing Circuit Team gratefully acknowledges their partners Subaru, Top Class Automotive, Freem Sports Clothing and Shatterprufe windscreens and thanks their loyal fans for their unwavering support through both good times and bad.