Motorsport News

WHAT IS THE SASOL GTC CHAMPIONSHIP?

THE SASOL GTC Championship is South Africa’s premier racing series – basically their equivalent of Australia’s Supercars or Great Britain’s BTCC.

South Africa, despite it’s large motoring and motorsport culture and history, has lacked a major domestic Touring Car series since Super Touring fell by the wayside in the 1990s.

GTC – it stands for Global Touring Cars – was created several years ago by a group of key South African businessmen and competitors to fill the void and give the country an internationally relevant but also unique racing championship.

The goals were ensuring the series retained affordability and close competition, and catered to both manufacturer-supported and privateer teams.

Series founders identified several major international series’ – including Australia’s own Supercars – as benchmarks on which to base their new series.

News emerged last week that not only would Aussie motor racing TV producer / director Filippa Guarna be producing the series’ TV content this year, TheRaceTorque.com‘s Richard Craill would be providing the commentary for their post-produced TV production this year.

They’re just a few of the Aussie touches – that include noted livery and graphic designer Scott Yorston from SS Media – in an interesting series that is set to grow rapidly in coming years.

Here’s the lowdown on this fascinating championship and its second season ahead.

THE CARS:

GTC cars could easily be defined as close cousins to the Australian developed MARC Cars that race at the Bathurst 12 Hour and around the world in long-distance events.

The chassis is very similar and was designed at PACE Innovations, located half way between Brisbane and the Gold Coast in Queensland, though construction of the cars is now handled in South Africa.

Bodywork is based on a range of mid-sized Sedans, with the BMW 2-series, Audi S3 and VW Jetta the mainstays of the series at present.

Motivation comes from a production-based 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine, running through a control six-speed sequential gearbox to the rear wheels. Brakes, suspension and (Dunlop) tyres are control across each car.

Additionally, a front-wheel-drive, production-based category called GTC2 bolster the grids and allow an internal development ladder for drivers as they step up to the big show.

16 cars are looking set for the championship in its second season.

THE CHAMPIONSHIP:

Nine rounds, 18 races and more than 700 competitive kilometers make up the 2017 SASOL GTC Championship, kicking off this weekend (March 25) at Killarney Raceway not far from Cape Town.

Round two will see the series travel to the iconic Kyalami circuit for the first of two visits to the former home of the South African Grand Prix. The iconic circuit was purchased by Porsche recently with a major redevelopment now making it one of the best facilities anywhere.

Round three, in May, will be held at the East London circuit in the coastal Eastern Cape province. East London was the initial home of South Africa’s Grand Prix before it moved to Kyalami, and is a high-speed coastal circuit not unlike Phillip Island.

From there the series heads up to Pretoria and Zwartkops Raceway, not far from Centurion – which, incidentally, is home to one of South African Cricket’s most famous grounds bearing the same name. After that, Port Elizabeth’s Aldo Schribante circuit gets their marquee event  for 2017 when GTC visits mid-year.

The second half of the year sees the championship return to Zwartkops, Killarney and Kyalami before heading back to Zwartkops once again for the season finale’ in late November.

Energy giant SASOL is a 50-year supporter of South African Motorsport and an employer of more than 30,000 people. And yes, SASOL is the same company that sponsored Jordan Grand Prix between 1992-1995, resulting in some of the best Formul1 liveries ever. Google ‘Jordan 194’ if you don’t believe us!

THE CONTENDERS:

LAST year Michael Stephen won the inaugural GTC Africa Championship, thanks in part to his Engen Xtreme / Terry Moss Racing Audi A3 winning the first six-straight races of the season.

The multiple South African national champion was hard to stop in the series’ first season, and will again be joined in the two-car Audi team by Simon Moss – who came within a lap of winning his maiden race last year.

Stephen’s margin was eroded as the year progressed, however, Stephen’s main rival Gennaro Bonafede storming home in his SASOL GTC BMW to take five of the last eight races. Though Stephen’s margin in the championship was too much for the young-gun to overcome last year, the level playing field the new season presents should create an interesting title fight between the pair.

Replacing the retired Hennie Groenewald in the second BMW GTC racing car is 31-year old Robert Wolk.  The Johannesburg-based businessman has won nine single-seater championships in his 22-year long career, bringing a wealth of racing experience to the Sasol team.

Mathew Hodges (3rd in the 2016 series) and Volkswagen won their maiden race in the final heat of 2016; the Jetta GTC has since been debugged and set competitive times in pre-season testing which bodes well for the team. Daniel Rowe, the defending GTC Production champion has been promoted into the second Jetta GTC, giving Volkswagen an exciting new driving talent to further boost their progress up the order.

Johan Fourie returns for a full season in his EPS Couriers-backed BMW GTC racing car. He has amassed a great deal of saloon car racing experience over the years and scored four GTC podiums last year.  An accomplished racer, Fourie is likely to be a thorn in the side of the factory teams.

He is joined by fellow BMW GTC racer Michael van Rooyen, who joined the season at round four last year.

The Rustenburg Steel Construction (RSC) team spent a great deal of time testing their car ahead of the season opener and will join Fourie in the privateer battle as they take on the manufacturer teams, setting the scene for some exciting racing in the months ahead.

GTC2, for production-based front-wheel drive cars has seen some exciting developments during the closed season.

GTC2 champions Volkswagen has built two new Golf GTis for Mandla Mdakane – who ended runner up in the standings last year – and newcomer, 17-year-old Keagan Masters. Masters raced to great effect in the Polo Cup last season, earning his spot in the Volkswagen Advanced Driving-branded team.

Last year’s cars have been sold to Trevor Bland and Charl Smalberger, two very capable drivers who will hound the works cars all the way. Devon Piazza Musso (Kalex VW Golf 6 GTi) and Ian Stevenson (Comsol VW Golf 6 GTi) add depth to the GTC2 class.

The big off-season news is the return of MINI to local circuit racing.  Signature Motorsport is building two John Cooper Works cars for Polo Cup graduates Chris Shorter in Champion colours while Bradley Liebenberg flies the Ferodo flag. The cars are expected to debut in Cape Town in spite of the late arrival of the donor cars from Europe.