Port Elizabeth, July 16, 2018. The large home crowd of the Engen Audi team were treated to an absolute race fest this weekend, at the fifth round of the Global Touring Cars Africa Championship (GTC) at the Aldo Scribante Race track. Emphatic racing - together with extreme weather conditions, delivered a nail-biting spectacle of action.
Local favourites and Engen Audi racing drivers, Michael Stephen and Simon Moss, dominated the free practice sessions on Friday (13 July), when they topped the leader board in a 1 -2 formation at every single session. The main talking points, from the moment go, was the new track surface and the weather forecast. Both elements delivered to its full potential and created incredible racing battles between the teams.
During the free practice runs, the Engen Audi team had proved that they were unbeatable regardless of external factors like the weather conditions. While the first two sessions were soaking wet, the final practice was on relatively dry asphalt and the Engen Audi team continued to conquer the competition.
On Saturday (14 July), the Engen Audi team’s confidence grew in the qualifying round when Michael Stephen, with a slipping clutch, took pole position ahead of Simon Moss on a dry track. The team were faced with a challenge before the start of the opening race when they had to replace the clutch on the number 1 race car. With plenty of time to spare, Michael rolled out of the pit box without a problem. Shortly after the qualifying round, the rain started to fall severely as Michael and Simon lined up a full front lock down in the wet, opening race. It was their fourth consecutive 1 – 2 on the grid - yet another record for the GTC championship series.
Michael Stephen took the lead with Simon Moss following in his slipstream for the first lap. It was Simon who faulted and went off at the start of the second lap and dropped back. While Simon frantically fought his way back to the front, reigning champion Michael, took full control over the race. Michael cruised to victory with Simon crossing the line in second place after impressively catching up with a series of exciting overtakes.
With his win in the opening race, Michael Stephen took the lead in the 2018 GTC Championship for the first time in 2018. Race two was also declared a wet race and this time the Engen Audi duo had to start from the back of the grid, in line with the reverse grid ruling. Simon Moss had a blistering start and battled fiercely for the lead after two laps. Michael had a progressive start, taking extra care to move up the field in the tricky weather conditions. By the mid-point of the race, Michael made a move into third place in turn one but contact on his left rear sent him spinning into the outfield - losing the gap to the leaders. Although Michael managed to finish the race in seventh position, he did set the fastest lap of the race.
Simon Moss in the meantime, was one of the key players in the hottest action ever seen in GTC history. He was forced off the field several times, causing him to make more passes than the entire field combined. During the 15 lap race, Simon moved from seventh position to lead in five laps, out-braked himself and dropped down to fifth. Six laps later, a battle with Daniel Rowe on the outside of the sweep forced him off the track. Simon fought hard and quick, as he took the final podium spot with a third position finish and claimed the second spot in the championship behind his team mate.
Engen Audi Team Manager, Terry Moss had to agree, that the second race was one of the craziest ones he had ever seen and was extremely happy for the spectators who endured the torrential rain to witness it all. “We’ve dominated the race weekend until the final race and with this number of bumper accidents, combined with wet and slippery conditions, we should be happy with the team’s performance. Leaving the track with yet another full front lock-down, fastest lap of the race, a 1 -2 podium, 3rd place for Simon in the final race and most importantly, first and second place standings in the overall championship, has left us feeling thrilled.”
Michael Stephen was as cool as ever after the race weekend. “I think we did the business here at home. We’ve now taken control over the championship, and we’ve proven that we’re the team to beat. With these weather conditions, racing becomes a very unpredictable game and we’re glad that the fans enjoyed a thrilling weekend.”
Round 6 of the GTC Africa Championship will take place in four weeks’ time when the series returns to Zwartkops Raceway in Pretoria on 18 August.