Pretoria. A win in the opening nine-lap sprint race for Lee Thompson and a win in the double-points 15-lap feature race for Gavin Cronje was offset by a disqualification for Cronje in race one, and a non-finish for Thompson in race two of the seventh round of the Bridgestone Production Car Championship at Zwartkops Raceway west of Pretoria on Saturday.
In a decidedly up and down race day held in cold late winter conditions, the two class T Castrol MINI John Cooper Works drivers had done well to qualify second (Cronje) and third (Thompson) early on Saturday morning, only for both to be demoted three places each for a technical infringement involving their cars’ tyres.
Starting from fifth on the grid in race one Cronje’s car was damaged after contact with another competitor on the opening lap of a race that was red-flagged before the first lap was completed because of a more serious incident in which a rival barrel-rolled his car after hitting the tyre wall.
The race was rerun after a long delay and Thompson, who started sixth, drove superbly to score his second win of what has otherwise been a frustrating season. Cronje, who was fortunate to make the restart after the ADF Motorsport pit crew had performed a small miracle to repair the damaged front bodywork in time for him to take his place on the grid, was heading for a comfortable fourth place when the engine started overheating and he was forced to slow on the last two laps, losing a place on the final lap to finish fifth.
Cronje was subsequently disqualified for an underweight car. The MINI had lost bodywork in the opening lap incident and the technicians had not been able to replace it all in time for Cronje to make the restart.
Race two was another nine-lap sprint with the top eight finishers from race one starting in reverse order. Cronje started fourth and was lying second on the penultimate lap when he was forced to slow with an overheating engine and eventually finished fourth. The MINI’s radiator was damaged in the race one incident and there was no time for the pit crew to change it.
Thompson started from eighth on the grid and dropped out on lap four while lying fourth with throttle problems.
The feature race, held over 15 laps, had the extra attraction of double points and provided a chance for the two MINI drivers to make up for their earlier disappointments. However, there was no way Cronje could compete with a damaged engine so Thompson, no longer a contender for the championship, sportingly gave up his car to help Cronje, who started the day joint first in the championship, score some valuable points.
Cronje took full advantage to win the race from fifth on the grid after taking the lead on the last lap and score 20 points, finishing the day in third place overall despite scoring no points in race one. He is now second in the championship behind defending champion Graeme Nathan, but within striking distance with two rounds and six races remaining.
“The feature race win sure made up for the earlier disappointments and I’m very grateful to my team-mate for offering me his car,” said Cronje. “We work together as a team with the aim of winning the championship and this was perfectly illustrated this afternoon.”
The penultimate round of the championship is at Killarney in Cape Town on October 5.
In addition to principal sponsor Castrol, the team enjoys backing from MINI John Cooper Works, Endless Brake Pads, EPS Courier Services, Akrapovic Exhaust Systems, Powerbrake and Monster Energy.