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Wolk, Liebenberg gain GTC title-challenge momentum in East London

Robert Wolk and Brad Liebenberg saw their respective GTC Championship & SupaCup title challenges gain momentum at the East London Grand Prix Circuit this past weekend (21-22 July), with Wolk taking a double GTC Championship victory, while Liebenberg and Jonathan Mogotsi shared the GTC SupaCup wins.

GTC Championship

There was already drama in Saturday morning’s qualifying session. True to practice form, second in the championship chase, double reigning champion Robert Wolk was quick out of the box in his Chemical Logistics Toyota Corolla and went ahead on his second lap. But he went off track on his third lap to bring out the red flag.

Still fastest, Wolk was out of Qualifying, leaving the rest to take advantage. But they could not as Wolk watched from the sidelines. Championship leader Saood Variawa (Toyota Gazoo Racing Corolla) indeed improved his time. Still, it was not enough to beat Wolk to the Dunlop Pole Position, so he lined up second from teammate Michael van Rooyen’s similar car with Julian van der Watt (Chemical Logistics BMW 128ti)  alongside him on the second row.

Rookie Nathi Msimanga also hit trouble and did not resume in his Toyota Gazoo Racing Corolla. However, the time he set in the first half was still good enough for fifth on the grid ahead of Andrew Rackstraw (RDSA / Sparco Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI) and rookie Josh Le Roux (Master Stairs / Investchem Audi S3).

Wolk got the drop on Variawa to move into the lead from the get-go, with Variawa and Van Rooyen in pursuit, ahead of Rackstraw, Le Roux, and the slow-starting Van der Watt. However, Variawa was not letting Wolk go as the Toyota Gazoo Racing hatchback stuck to the tail of the Chemical Logistics sedan. The two made contact more or less mid-distance, damaging the left front corner of Variawa’s car and spilling bits around the circuit. Impaired by damaged aerodynamics on the long straight, Variawa could no longer hang on to Wolk, who cleared off to a welcome full-points win. However, Variawa set the fastest lap in his chase to secure another bonus point to soften the blow.

Behind them, Van Rooyen out-braked himself into Cocabana Corner to let the pursuing Rackstraw, Van der Watt and Le Roux by. Van der Watt soon caught and passed Rackstraw for third, and that’s how they finished. Le Roux, however, came under pressure from the recovering Van Rooyen, who duly got by with a lap left to run. Young Le Roux was having none of it, though and re-passed his senior rival to take an impressive fifth in his ageing Audi.

That meant Van Rooyen was in pole position for the reverse grid second race alongside Le Roux, with Rackstraw and Van der Watt next up and championship leaders Variawa and Wolk on row 3. Despite Van Rooyen’s best efforts to hold the lead, Le Roux grabbed the advantage. However, Van Rooyen was soon in trouble as Variawa moved into second from Van der Walt and Rackstraw. Msimanga’s miserable weekend already came to an early end.

Variawa’s relentless pressure paid off as Le Roux went wide into the Complex to allow the chasing four through, with Variawa now under pressure from his title rival Wolk. Wolk’s pressure on Variawa paid off in the same place where Variawa passed Le Roux three laps earlier as Wolk soon cleared off to complete a grand slam weekend of an albeit lucky pole position, two race wins, and the fastest lap of the day. This marked Wolk’s first double-for-the-day since he joined the series in 2017, and now sees him with three wins on the trot.

Variawa ultimately ended a lonely second, while Van der Watt completed the podium after absorbing the race-long pressure from Rackstraw. The latter dropped back after slipping wide while attempting a final lap pass. Van Rooyen finished fifth, while Le Roux retired on Lap 6.

GTC SupaCup

The form book was expected to normalise in the all-Volkswagen Polo SupaCup field since the series switched to the Dunlop Direzza semi-slick tyres for the first time at the previous meeting, and Championship challenger Brad Liebenberg (Hype Energy Drinks) duly got his weekend off to a flying start with the Dunlop Pole Position. He qualified five-hundredths of a second clear of Volkswagen Motorsport’s factory pilot Jonathan Mogotsi. Rookie Tate Bishop celebrated his best result by putting his ANGRi Racing Academy car in third. He lined up alongside championship leader Keegan Campos (Veloce Automobili). Arnold Neveling (GOSCOR Lift Truck Company) headed the third row ahead of lady racer Karah Hill’s (Kalex) and GTC SupaCup Masters duo, Danie van Niekerk and Paul Luti in their respective Titan Stunts and Finishline UK liveried Van Niekerk Racing entries.

Liebenberg made a great start as Bishop dived inside Mogotsi for second into Cocabana Corner on Lap 1. Campos held on to fourth from Neveling, Van Niekerk, Luti and Hill. Bishop kept the pressure on Liebenberg, but he too came under pressure from Mogotsi, who found his way past to take the fight to Liebenberg up front. Behind them, Neveling also found a way past Campos, who had none of it and was back to fourth a couple of laps. Campos had good race pace in the latter stages, but it was a case of too little too late as he watched his title rival Liebenberg take the win from Mogotsi and Bishop. Campos ended fourth from Neveling, with Masters duo Van Niekerk and Luti next up from Hill.

Liebenberg got the jump to lead the second race from Mogotsi and Bishop, who outpaced Neveling at the start. Campos was in what would soon become a lonely fifth, while Luti’s race lasted all of a lap, leaving Van Niekerk jostling with Hill. However, the action was up front, where Liebenberg was not having it his own way as Mogotsi closed right down on him.

Mogotsi made his move with a couple of laps left to race and opened up a small gap to take the GTC SupaCup victory, his first since 2021’s third round. Second was good enough for Liebenberg, though, as he closed his championship deficit down to just a handful of points. Bisho made a double third on the day, his best GTC SupaCup results to date, ahead of Neveling and Campos. Hill duly overcame the challenge from Van Niekerk for sixth, with the latter taking the GTC SupaCup Masters win.

Next Event

The final two rounds of the 2023 GTC Championship & SupaCup will see the series its first return visit of the season at Killarney International Raceway outside Cape Town on 8-9 September.

GTC Championship
GTC SupaCup

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