Thrilling Start to the 2012 Bridgestone Production Car Championship
The 2012 Bridgestone Production Car season got off to an exciting start at Zwartkops Raceway this past weekend and it is clearly evident that this year’s race day format is going to be a challenging one.
There was very little separating the Class A teams during Friday’s practice sessions with three different manufacturers topping each of the sessions. When it came to qualifying however, Michael Stephen (Engen Xtreme) showed why he is champion and put his Audi S4 on pole position. Etienne van der Linde (Afrox BMW 335i), on his return to the championship, was just five hundredths of a second behind Stephen and three tenths ahead of Hennie Groenewald (Sasol Subaru WRXSTI).
Anthony Taylor (Afrox BMW 335i) was marginally behind in fourth, with Tschops Sipuka (Engen Xtreme Audi S4) hot on his heels in fifth. Richard Pinard (Sasol Subaru WRX STI) put in a great lap to out qualify Melvill Priest (Mueller Sports Medicine Audi S4). Newcomers, Kishoor Pitamber (Pirtek BMW 335i) and John Mayer (3M BMW 335i) continued to gain confidence and qualified in eighth and ninth respectively.
Graeme Nathan (IndyOil VW GTI) took pole in Class T, despite Gennaro Bonafede (Ferodo VW GTI) topping the time sheets throughout Friday’s practice sessions. Gary Formato (Castrol Ford Focus ST) qualified second, with Bonafede only managing third. Shaun Duminy (Castrol Ford Focus ST) lined up fourth, ahead of Michael van Rooyen (Williams Hunt Opel Astra OPC). Jacques Joubert (IndyOil VW GTI) took up the sixth grid slot ahead of Devin Robertson (Big Boss Auto Mini Cooper S) on his Bridgestone Production Car debut.
As per the 2012 regulations, the Class A pole sitter of each race may elect whether the race will begin from a standing or rolling start. In a brave move, Stephen elected to have a standing start, the first for the category in about two years.
Stephen’s gamble paid off as he led the race from lights to flag to take the first race win of the season. Behind him, Groenewald was also happy with the decision, jumping van der Linde off the start to take second place. A position he held to the flag. The biggest start line winner was however Sipuka, who was able to gain three positions. He was however unable to hold onto this position as a problem dropped him down the ranks. Taylor claimed third, ahead of van der Linde, Pinard and Priest. Pitamber was able to stay ahead of Sipuka for seventh, with Mayer trying to find his feet in ninth.
Things were fairly static in Class T, with Nathan taking the victory. Bonafede passed Formato off the start to claim second, while Duminy held fourth from van Rooyen and Joubert. There was drama aplenty after the bonnet of Robertson’s Mini flew open on the second lap, forcing him to pit for some rapid repairs and creative panel beating. Robertson was able to complete the race, although two laps down.
The top six finishers in each class were inverted for the second race grid. This left Priest on pole position. Concerned over a technical malady however, Priest decided not to take up his position at the front of the field, but did elect a rolling start. It was now up to Pinard to lead the pack. He did so for the first lap, before a very determined van der Linde took the lead. He went on to take the race win from Taylor, with Groenewald third. Stephen took fourth, with Priest holding onto fifth. Sipuka took the flag in sixth, ahead of Pitamber and Mayer. Pinard finished ninth after making a short pit stop on the second lap.
The partially inverted grid left Joubert at the front of class T. This position was however short lived as van Rooyen bombarded his way past the rookie. A lap later, Formato took second and Bonafede third. The top positions looked decided, but drama struck on the last lap. A wheel came off the Opel, causing van Rooyen to crash out of the race. Formato took the lead, only to lose it a corner later after getting tangled up with Mayer. This gave the victory to Bonafede, who was only too happy to oblige. Joubert crossed the line second, to claimed his first Production Car podium. Formato recovered to third, with Duminy fourth and Robertson fifth. Race one winner, Nathan, appeared to be having problems down in sixth.
The grid for the third race was based on the lap times from the second race. This saw van der Linde on pole position for the longer feature race. By the end of the first lap, Stephen’s Audi was MIA and had retired with technical problems. This left Taylor to move up to second place. Taylor was however not going to settle for the position and challenged van der Linde for the lead. There may have been some bumping involved, because Taylor reappeared in the front with van der Linde’s rear bumper scraping on the tar in second. The Afrox duo flew in formation to the chequered flag. Sipuka had a good drive in third, finishing ahead of Groenewald and a very consistent Priest. Pinard finished sixth, ahead of rookie Pitamber who finished all three races and stayed out of trouble.
Formato took an unchallenged victory in Class T. Nathan held second place for most of the race, but seemed to have pushed too hard and had to pit for a tyre change, losing his position. This opened the position up for Duminy who happily took the second place finish. Robertson took third place, a great recovery after his race one disaster. Joubert finished two laps down after making a pit stop, whilst Bonafede retired with boost problems. Van Rooyen only completed one lap after the damage from his race two accident proved too much for the Opel.
The next round of the WesBank Super Series will take place at Killarney, Cape Town on 31 March 2012