Bridgestone Production Cars Class T Championship
Round 4 Result
Zwartkops Raceway, Pretoria West, 4 May 2013
MAJOR DAY FOR MINI AT ZWARTKOPS RACEWAY
It was a major day for MINI at Zwartkops Raceway near Pretoria on Saturday. The Castrol MINI John Cooper Works team of Gavin Cronje and Lee Thompson won all three Bridgestone South African Production Car Championship class T races with each driver recording a pole position and a fastest race lap and Cronje setting a new class lap record in the second of the day’s two nine-lap sprint races.
It was a dominant performance by the ADF Motorsport-prepared 1,6-litre turbo-charged cars, which benefitted from upgraded brakes made by South African company Powerbrake and new Akrapovic exhaust systems.
Thompson, recapturing the form that saw him win three times last year and finish on the podium seven times, took the chequered flag for the first time this year in the opening nine-lap sprint race in a master class lights to flag victory after starting from pole position. Cronje, who started from the second row of the grid in fourth place, finished fifth after completing most of the race without fourth gear.
A gearbox change between the two sprint braces saw Cronje respond magnificently to take the honours in race two from the second row of the reverse grid and record a new lap record of 1 min 8,286 sec for the 2,4-kilometre circuit. Thompson was out of luck on this occasion, forced to cruise around the circuit to enter the pits at the end of the opening lap and retire with a damaged intercooler pipe after an altercation with Graeme Nathan (VW Golf) in turn two.
The 14-lap feature race at the end of the day scored double points and the two Castrol MINI John Cooper Works drivers lined up first and seventh on the grid, with Cronje on pole. This time, although he led from the lights until the sixth lap, when a missed gear-change saw Gary Formato (Ford Focus) relegate him to second place for the next eight laps, the former Formula Le Mans sports car champion stayed in touch with Formato and made his move on the final lap to take the chequered flag for the second time on the day by two tenths of a second.
“I nearly lost out, but knew I had a faster car than Gary’s,” said the 34-year-old from Pretoria. “It was a great race and a great day. Two wins, first overall for the day and a lot of valuable championship points.”
Enough points, in fact, for Cronje to move into the championship lead with five rounds remaining. He now has 108 points and a two-point lead over defending champion Nathan.
Thompson’s bad luck continued as he was forced into the pits at the end of the first lap to have a misfire attended to. He rejoined the race two laps down and showed great pace throughout the remaining laps, recording the fastest lap of the race and finishing sixth to score a valuable six championship points.
“I was much happier with my and my car’s performance this weekend,” said the 33-year-old from Pretoria. “The DNF in race two, which was through no fault of my own, and the technical niggle in the feature race hurt my championship aspirations, but I’m chuffed to be back on the winning trail and look forward to the rest of the season.”
A former national Formula Vee and VW Cup champion, Thompson improved his championship position from eighth to sixth and has 54 points.
The next round of the championship is on the Durban street circuit on June 15.
In addition to principal sponsor Castrol, the team enjoys backing from MINI John Cooper Works, Endless Brake Pads, EPS Courier Services, Akrapovic Exhaust Systems and Powerbrake.