REVIEW: BRIDGESTONE PRODUCTION CAR CHAMPIONSHIP
Hennie Groenewald claimed the overall honours at the 7th round of the Bridgestone Production Car Championship at the Sasol Race Day held at Zwartkops Raceway in bitingly cold but sunny conditions.
A runaway win in the double-points scoring feature race coupled with a strong second in the opening sprint race gave the Sasolracing Subaru WRX STI victory by a narrow 0.085 second in what is the team’s most important race meeting of the year.
Practice and Qualifying:
Hennie was a little frustrated during Friday’s free practice sessions. Arriving at Zwartkops with his Welkom race-winning set-up, the Subaru exhibited understeer. As the team worked on various solutions, the Subaru was the fastest runner in practice three on old tyres.
Qualifying on Saturday morning saw Hennie set his best time on his first flying lap with a time just 0.081 off pole position.
The Sasolracing Subaru held second off the grid and trailed race winner Johan Fourie (BMW) for the 9 lap race, unable to challenge and under no threat from behind. “I was disappointed not to be able to challenge Johan. The set-up wasn’t perfect and I knew we had to make changes for race 2”, said the former race champion.
The grid featured an inverted grid of eight cars, leaving Hennie 7th at the start. The changes made in the 20 minute break didn’t have the desired effect and the Subaru trailed the field, ending 7th. With the feature race grid determined from lap times during race 2, Hennie backed off to give himself some space to bank a fast lap, which was good enough for 3rd in the feature race.
The SP Race Engineering Team made some serious adjustments to the car’s suspension and shock absorbers in the break in an effort to make the WRX STI a more neutral handling machine.
The action packed 15-lapper provided plenty of heart-stopping action at the front of the field. From third on the grid, Hennie was passed by Gennaro Bonafede (Audi) going into Turn 2. Glued to the Audi’s rear bumper, Hennie had a moment in Turn Three.
Realizing the car had a lively rear end that made the Subaru quicker, he attacked Bonafede into Turn 5 and re-passed him under braking.
Next in line was Melvill Priest (Audi) who succumbed to the Subaru attack with a racy move under braking, making to pass the blue Audi up the hill leading to, appropriately, Sasol Corner. A late switch to the inside line paid off and Hennie set out to reel in race leader Etienne van der Linde (BMW).
As van der Linde went defensive, Hennie picked his moment under braking for Turn 8 leading to the main straight and powered into the lead.
Over the remaining laps, the Sasolracing machine pulled out a substantial lead before the team radioed Hennie to conserve his tyres, so he backed off and maintained a manageable 1 second lead.
“There was a lot of oil on the track which wasn’t ideal for the two-wheel drive cars. The team made the Subaru rear-end quite lively which gave it a lot of speed”, Hennie related.
“I dropped to 4th after Bonafede got past me in the first corner scrum but got past quickly. The BMW was never going to be an easy fight but I took my chance, grabbed second gear to slow the car and got ahead. The car was very neutral throughout the race. It was a great race”, he beamed.
Carel Pienaar, Team Principal, added: “We felt the pressure to do well at Sasol’s race day. Hennie drove an excellent race with three passes without any contact whatsoever. The other drivers played their part, leaving just enough room which shows the high standard of driving in the series.”
The next outing for the Sasolracing Circuit Team is the 8th and penultimate round at Killarney in Cape Town on 5th October.
Sasolracing Circuit Team gratefully acknowledges their partners Subaru, Top Class Automotive, Freem Sports Clothing and Shatterprufe windscreens.