Johannesburg, March 26, 2018. An eventful weekend for the Engen Audi team at the season opener of the 2018 GTC Africa Championship.
The results of the opening round of the 2018 Global Touring Cars (GTC) Africa Championship at Kyalami could not have delivered a more nerve-wrecking and mixed outcome as it did. With a double podium finish; the biggest crash in GTC’s history; and an overall victory, that is what the Engen Audi team from Port Elizabeth took home.
The rainy weather was in charge over the first two practice sessions on Friday, 23 March but that didn’t stop the Engen Audi duo going all out from the first session. Throughout the practice sessions, the team was consistently running top-3 times, although concerns started to grow over Simon Moss’s engine. On Friday afternoon, the team was forced to change the engine in Simon’s car, to avoid any further problems during the qualifying rounds and the two races.
On Saturday, 24 March, the race day kicked off with the qualifying rounds ahead of the anticipated double races. As much as Michael and Simon were on par during practice on Friday, they both lacked the speed and power to qualify in front of the field.
“I was expecting more grip on the new tyres, they never gave me the confidence during qualifying and I missed out on a good lap.” explained Michael Stephen, team engineer and lead driver for Engen Audi. “We also needed Simon’s newly replaced engine to add some mileage, in order for it to perform to the maximum.” concluded Michael.
GTC race 1 went underway with reigning champion Michael Stephen starting in sixth and Simon Moss behind him in seventh. At the start of the race, Simon got entangled and as a result he endured a chafing tyre against the body work of his Audi A3 which significantly reduced his speed, completing the race in fourth place. Michael, on the other hand, having had a brilliant drive, made steady progress throughout the race and managed to work his way into second place on the podium.
Michael explained: “Without having race winning pace, I relied on the reliability of the car to achieve the second place. I am extremely happy to finish the race in a podium position.”
GTC race 2 saw Simon starting in third and Michael in fifth, and turned out to be a roller-coaster for the entire GTC competitive field. An opening-lap crash forced a restart, after which Simon quickly took the lead. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to hold on to it as he spun off and rejoined the field at the back. Michael on the other hand had his hands full attempting to make up for lost time and had secured second place after overtaking Michael van Rooyen and Johan Fourie. The latter approached at top speed and when his brakes failed completely, he ended up crashing Michael out with full force. A horrific crash that miraculously saw both drivers walk away unharmed. Ultimately, it was the red flag that gave Simon the perfect opportunity to regain lost ground. Amid suspense, the final four laps of the race that remained saw Simon Moss win the race and claim overall victory of the day.
After the race, Terry Moss, owner and manager of the Engen Audi team, said: “It’s great that we’re taking home valuable points and a victory for Simon. I am extremely disappointed that the crash in race 2 robbed Michael of a good points haul for the day and just as disappointed to be ending it with a badly damaged car. We have a plenty of work to do before we go to the second round.”
The next round of the GTC Africa Championship heads to Cape Town’s Killarney International Raceway and will take place on 21st April.