The ninth and final round of the 2017 Sasol GTC Championship provided the competitors with a host of trials and tests at Zwartkops Raceway on Saturday, November 25. Johan Fourie and the EPS Courier Services Racing Division team dealt with this successfully to record another podium finish prior to the off season starting.
Friday’s dry practice sessions saw Fourie running a combination of used Dunlop tyres while conducting the final setup changes ahead of the business end of the weekend. Although his times improved throughout the day, the team was well-aware of the fact that the times recorded would not be a true indication of the pace from their VM Innovations prepared BMW GTC. During Friday afternoon’s qualifying session Fourie’s true pace came to the fore despite qualifying in fifth position on the grid. The times throughout the class was however very close; only half a second covered the entire group. Fourie himself finished a mere 0.126 of a second off the pole time; also admitting to having lost 0.1 of a second in a critical area that would have seen him on the front row of the grid. Although somewhat disappointed with their starting position, they were confident about their pace over the 17 lap race distance.
Saturday morning however painted a different picture than what was initially expected. The weather reports predicted showers around midday, but a vast downpour already occurred early in the morning with no indication of conditions improving. Severe delays in the Extreme Festival programme also necessitated a 41% reduction in the first race distance; it would therefore only be a 10 lap sprint race around the 2.5 km circuit.
The multiple South African champion is rated as one of the better campaigners in wet conditions and justified this with his remarkable progress through the field during the opening laps. An unfortunate miscommunication regarding yellow flags on the opening lap allowed Simon Moss to quickly build up a considerable gap. Fourie nevertheless fought valiantly despite very poor visibility to finish the race in second position.
The starting grid for the second race was compiled by inverting the finishing position from the first race with Fourie lining up in seventh position. The total distance for this race was reduced to 12 laps from the originally scheduled 17, resulting in drastic setup changes being required to ensure a fighting chance around the short and tight circuit. This gamble did not pay dividends for Fourie who struggled with severe understeer throughout the race. Despite initially finding himself in the middle of the pack he lost out in crucial areas around the very damp circuit and finished the race in seventh position.
Fourie was still content with the weekend’s results: “Throughout the weekend we all found ourselves in very close contention. The first race provided us with very difficult circumstances; our first wet race in just under 15 months. We had to work hard and given the severe reduction in the race distance as well as the confusion at the start, we know we’ve achieved as good a result as we could expect. I’m also very happy for Simon, he drove very well out there. Our gamble in the second race didn’t pay off, but it was one which we had to take nevertheless. I would like to thank the entire team for their efforts throughout the weekend. We were fiercely tested and although not triumphant, we showed that we will never be easily defeated.”
Story by Reynard Gelderblom – EPS Courier Services Racing Division