Hennie Groenewald took overall victory at the final round of the Bridgestone Production Car Championship at Kyalami, bringing a fitting close to the Subaru WRX STI hatchback’s racing career.
The Sasolracing driver claimed a dominant win, adding a 5th and 2nd place overall to his scorecard for the day. Richard Pinard had his most enjoyable race meeting of the year in the second Sasolracing Subaru but his efforts were not reflected on the results sheets.
The team was hopeful of retaining second overall in the Production Car Championship.
Practice and Qualifying:
Hennie topped the timesheets in P1 and P2 on Friday, running on old tyres. While the opposition ran new rubber in P3, Hennie stayed on used tyres setting the 5th fastest time.
Richard followed the team’s tyre strategy and was 9th and 10th before a turbo required replacing.
On fresh rubber for qualifying, the team’s tyre management plan was to run just a single flying lap. Hennie set a stunning 1:47:381, 1.1 seconds faster than the chasing pack. Richard set his fastest ever time recorded at Kyalami and lined up 10th on the grid.
“The circuit was ‘green’ having not been used for so long and was quite abrasive”, Hennie explained. “I knew we had a good car for a flying lap but it was quite difficult to arrive at a solid race set-up as the tyres went off so quickly”.
“The team agreed that we would run one flying lap in qualifying no matter what”, Richard added. “Tyre management was going to be crucial”.
Races 1 and 2:
Hennie got a great start from pole and scorched into a lead that he held to the flag. It wasn’t straight forward though, as Anthony Taylor (BMW) hounded him throughout the six lap race. “I was flat-out all the way,” Hennie reflected. Hennie earned a valuable bonus point for fastest lap in the race.
The race 2 grid featured a four place inversion, leaving Hennie in 4th position. Off the line the Sasolracing WRX was quickly on the move, taking 2nd place by the third corner. Coming down the Mineshaft into the Bowl, Hennie lunged around the outside of race leader Etienne van der Linde but put four wheels onto the dirt, dropping back to third place.
On the final lap, a suspected head gasket failure forced Hennie to cruise to the finish, dropping to 5th place.
“I carried too much speed down the mineshaft and paid the price but it was an awesome race; we ran side-by-side around a number of corners. It was hard but fair racing and really enjoyable”, said Hennie.
The points gained on championship rival Taylor in qualifying and the race 1 victory were negated and the cushion remained four points with just the double points paying final race to go.
Richard also made a great start in race 1 and was into 5th place by the first turn, racing hard with Darryn Lobb, Tschops Sipuka and Melvill Priest. The trio swapped positions throughout the race but with two laps to go, Priest drove into the back of the Subaru and Richard lost two places – and the rear bumper. The exhaust was dragging on the road and the rear hatch was open, so Richard clocked a disappointing 9th at the flag.
Starting 8th on the grid for race 2, the car’s engine temperature shot up to 118°C so Richard wound the boost down and circulated to the end of the race, ending 9th again.
Richard handed his car to Hennie for the final race after the team leader’s engine stopped circulating coolant.
Hennie was forced to start the final race from the back of the Class A grid as he swapped cars and his second place in the championship standings looked a lost cause.
There was much discussion in the Sasolracing pits about the weather between the races and true to form, the Highveld storm that built all afternoon broke over Kyalami just before the final race, Hennie’s best chance of seeing off Taylor’s challenge.
Making the best use of the Subaru’s All-Wheel Drive, Hennie jumped into 5th place by corner two and passed the champion Michael Stephen around the outside of Sunset Corner. Tschops Sipuka put up a fierce defense, which allowed Gennaro Bonafede (Audi) to close up.
What followed was lap after lap of top-class motor racing as Hennie and Bonafede passed and re-passed each other in atrocious conditions. The team advised Hennie that his title rival was well down the order, so he settled for second in the knowledge that the title log position was his.
“It was a difficult race”, explained Hennie. “The car was aquaplaning down the main straight. I could hold Gennaro off for most of the lap but I fell off the road down the mineshaft and could hear in my mind how Carel was chastising me for losing second in the championship”, he laughed. “It was risky out there but it paid off for the team”.
Reflecting on the season, SP Race Engineering Team Principal Carel Pienaar said: “The highlight for me was the Zwartkops meeting in May when we achieved a clean sweep of pole, all the fastest laps and all the race wins, which is something that has never been achieved in Production Car racing before. Our sheer consistency kept us in the championship hunt at the start of the year as we got to grips with some strange technical situations with the car. Hennie had the most number of wins this year, crossing the line first on 8 occasions compared to Michael Stephen’s 7 and the BMW drivers with 5 each”.
“My low point has been the rather sinister deals done in production cars and the rules that are not adhered to. As team principal, I am going to force the administrators to clean up the series”, he warned.
“We are building two new Subaru WRX STI sedans for 2013 so there will be no rest for SP Racing”.
Sasolracing gratefully acknowledges their partners Subaru, AutoZone, MIR Sports Clothing and Shatterprufe windscreens.