East London, June 18, 2018. Round 4 of the Global Touring Cars Africa Championship (GTC) returned to the coast for the second time this season, at the East London Grand Prix circuit. A jam-packed spectator venue saw the Engen Audi team excel, as Michael Stephen claimed overall victory of the weekend, exchanging their speed for top-step silverware.
Team principle, Terry Moss, and team engineers were wary about their chances ahead of the fourth round. Top-end speed seemed to be an issue for the Engen Audi team, and with the East London Grand Prix circuit being the fastest track in the country, it was going to be a challenge.
Friday’s practice session (15 June) was solely dedicated to finding the right balance between the long straight and the twisty infield section of the 3,9km circuit. While all the teams focused on individual set-ups, the Engen Audi duo invested their energy into collaboration and team work to fully prepare for the two races ahead.
The gusty wind on Saturday morning (16 June) ahead of the qualifying round was concerning for all of the GTC competitors and Simon Moss displayed his relentless speed in the first fast lap - when he convincingly took pole position in yet another lap record time of 1:22,773 (171 km/h). Simon was unaware of his pole position time and pushed even harder in his next lap, when he tried the impossible. By going flat out in sixth gear through the most daring corner in the country was a bridge too far. This resulted in a major shunt and the team were forced to switch into overdrive to repair the car ahead of the opening race.
In the meantime, Michael Stephen had claimed second position and made it the third full front lock-down of the season.
With literally minutes to spare, the Engen Audi team managed to repair the pole position car for race 1. Unknowing of its performance, Simon was happy with his installation lap and ready to race. He took the lead while Michael was pushed wide in the first corner and as a result he dropped back to fourth position. Simon was about to take control of the race when he encountered a misfiring engine and dropped back. Michael then took second position by the drop of the finish flag.
A fuel pump problem on the number 38 car was what appeared to be the culprit in the opening race. After a fresh repair, among other changes as a precaution, Simon was ready for race 2. The reverse grid gifted Simon another pole position with Michael starting from P6. In the opening lap, another misfire forced Simon to drop to the back of the field. Michael was challenging up for second position, until a fellow competitor took him on in the final corner, making the gap to the leaders ahead much larger again. As Simon finished his race in limp mode, Michael fought with all his might to make his way back to the podium in third position, thus still claiming overall victory of the day.
“The competition tightens up when you’re the fastest around the track and leading both races,” Terry elaborated after the race. We arrived with a sense of an ‘under-dog’ feeling, yet still managed to make our mark. It’s unfortunate to see that Simon has dropped to third in the championship but he’s still in very close contention of the title. Michael raced excellently and has secured himself into second position of the championship, which we’re very glad about.”
The next round of the GTC Africa Championship heads to the Engen Audi team’s home track – Aldo Scribante in Port Elizabeth and will take place on 14 July.