Johannesburg, 03 September, 2018. It was back to business for the Engen Audi team for round seven of the Sasol Global Touring Cars Africa Championship (GTC) at the 2018 South African Festival of Motoring. Although the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit had been harsh to Michael Stephen with a previous misfortune when he last raced on the track, this time around it was the sweet taste of victory and a massive step towards his third consecutive GTC title.
The three day, instead of the usual two day round was integrated into the 2018 South African Festival of Motoring over the weekend (31 August – 2 September). Simon Moss opened the first practice session with a stronghold, clocking the fastest time. While championship leader and king of strategy, Michael Stephen, clocked a conservative seventh time finish. During the final practice of the day, the sheer competitiveness of the GTC Championship became clear when the whole field was within 0.8 seconds of each other. The top three of the championship standings filled the top three steps, with Simon again on top.
Saturday morning’s qualifying round was as exciting and closely matched as the practice session the day before. This time it was Michael in his #1 Audi race car who claimed his fourth pole position of the season. For the sixth time in a row, an Engen Audi driver would start from the premier spot on the grid. Simon managed to stay within a half of a second of Michael and so took fourth on the grid.
With an eight point lead in the GTC Championship, Michael’s strategy was to stay out of trouble and fight for the win in race one. In the opening lap, Bonafede from BMW took the lead and held on with Michael in hot pursuit. Simon tried at an early stage of the race to take the second position from Michael but ran wide and dropped back into fourth place – which was his starting position. Luck landed on Michael’s Engen Audi two corners before the end of the eighth lap race, when Bonafede’s BMW encountered a terminal engine failure and forced him to retire. Michael then crossed the finish line as a winner, with Simon completing the rostrum in third.
“This is the result you want at this stage of the championship” both Michael and Engen Audi team owner Terry Moss, hailed at the podium. With the unexpected but well deserved win, Michael immediately opens a championship lead of 24 points.
Sunday’s race two posed a challenge beforehand for the Engen Audi duo. With the reverse grid policy, Michael had to start at the back of the field with Simon just ahead of him. Bonafede, with his bad luck in the opening race, found himself on pole position. With a changed setup to both Engen Audi’s, the race got underway to a rocky start with a red-flag raised in the opening lap. With a clear restart of the race, it was the new setup and the tight lap times that played up for Simon and Michael. Michael managed to gain four positions, regardless of his handling issues, and finished his race in fourth position. He has now gathered valuable points to hold his championship lead. Simon Moss finished right behind Michael in fifth place.
Round 8 of the GTC Championship will take place on 22 September at Killarney International Raceway in Cape Town.