The Sasol Global Touring Car (GTC) Championship will begin its second season this week with a grid of at least 16 cars lining up for Round 1 at Killarney International Raceway in Cape Town (March 24-25).
Launched in 2016, the championship is South Africa’s premier circuit racing category, with Sasol – a company that has been the country’s premier motorsport sponsor for over 50 years – continuing as naming rights sponsor, fuel supplier and broadcast sponsor of the 2017 season.
With an expanded calendar of nine rounds scheduled between March and November, the Sasol GTC Championship will bring high-octane racing action to thousands of spectators around the country as it travels to Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London, Pretoria and Johannesburg.
“We are pushing hard to produce spectacular racing this year, with lots of effort put into debugging the cars and ensuring they are faster than where we started from at round one last year,” said GTC director Gary Formato. “We will have a consistent field of 16 cars on the grid, I can confirm one privateer is building a GTC car, and there will be a new Honda in GTC2 early in the season.
“With a new television production team onboard to grow our media footprint, we are going out of our way to not only attract more privateers to the series and swell the grids even further, but to improve GTC as a whole on every level,” said Formato.
Speaking at the Sasol GTC Championship season launch last week, Christopher Kabosha, Senior Manager: Marketing and Public Affairs at Sasol Energy, said he was happy to continue the partnership with GTC and looks forward to raising the bar again in 2017.
“I am happy to confirm that our Sasol GTC Championship sponsorship – which is appropriately referred to as a ‘laboratory-on-wheels’ sponsorship – is already delivering for us in terms of our ability to conduct research on the performance of our products, while the Championship as a whole provides us with a fantastic platform to showcase our products,” said Kabosha.
GTC COMPETITOR PREVIEW
Headlining the entry list is defending champion Michael Stephen (#1), who will be joined this year by regular teammate Simon Moss (#38) in their Engen Xtreme Audi A3 GTCs. The Terry Moss Racing-run team has been burning the midnight oil to maintain their advantage, which eroded towards the end of the inaugural season.
Stephen won the first six races of the 2016 season, and a total of eight victories by the time he was declared champion. While Moss narrowly missed out on his maiden race victory at the final race of the 2016 season, but is expected to be a contender for wins this year.
Championship runner-up Gennaro Bonafede (#32) has his sights set firmly on this year’s title, having racked up five victories from eight races at the tail end of 2016. With a fully competitive Sasol GTC Racing Team car and his aggressive driving style, Bonafede is a serious title threat to take the #1 position from Stephen.
Replacing the retired Hennie Groenewald in the second BMW GTC racing car is 31-year old Robert Wolk (#41). 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 (#57) and Volkswagen won their maiden race in the final round of 2016 and will be joined by reining GTC2 champion Daniel Rowe (#11) who steps up to the main class this year. With the exciting new lineup driving Volkswagen forward, the Jetta GTCs were also debugged during the off-season and have already set competitive times in pre-season testing.
South African racing icon Johan Fourie (#14) returns in the EPS Couriers-backed BMW GTC racing car. Having amassed decades of saloon car racing experience over his career, his four GTC podiums last year bodes well for the accomplished racer’s new year on track, with Fourie likely to be a thorn in the side of the factory teams.
Fellow racer Michael van Rooyen (#95) – who joined midway through the championship last year – will again run his Rustenburg Steel Construction (RSC) BMW GTC car after spending a great deal of time testing ahead of the season opener.
GTC2 COMPETITOR PREVIEW
In the second-tier GTC2 class, for production-based front-wheel drive cars, there has been numerous exciting developments during the off-season. The big news is the return of MINI to local circuit racing. Signature Motorsport has built two John Cooper Works cars for Polo Cup graduates Chris Shorter (#33) in Champion colours while Brad Liebenberg (#12) flies the Ferodo flag.
The GTC2 class champion manufacturer Volkswagen has also built two new Golf GTis for Mandla Mdakane (#44) – who finished 2016 as class runner-up – and newcomer Keagan Masters (#18). Seventeen-year-old Masters raced to great effect in the Engen VW Polo Cup last season, winning the Rookie of the Year award, and has earned his spot in the Volkswagen Advanced Driving-branded team.
Last year’s GTis have been sold to Trevor Bland (#5) and Charl Smalberger (#15), two capable drivers who will hound the works team all the way. Devon Piazza Musso (#25 Kalex VW Golf 6 GTi) and Ian Stevenson (#69 Comsol VW Golf 6 GTi) add depth to the GTC2 class.
With 720 kilometres of hard racing on the cards this year, the 2017 Sasol GTC Championship is set to thrill motorsport fans around the country.
Round 1 of the Sasol GTC Championship at Killarney International Raceway, Cape Town, sees practice and qualifying held this Friday March 24, followed by two 12-lap races and the popular Fan Gridwalk on Saturday March 25.