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Variawa, van Rooyen win as debutant Le Roux takes the day

What    Global Touring Cars Round 1 Report
Where    Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit
When    24-25 February 2023
Community    South Africa National

South Africa’s premier Global Touring Cars delivered incredible action, two race winners and a shock overall victory at their opening round as curtain raiser to the Kyalami 9 Hour race over the weekend. Saood Variawa and Michael van Rooyen may have emerged victorious in the heats, but drama all round saw to it that reigning Investchem Formula 1600 champion Josh Le Roux, who kept out of trouble all weekend, emerged a shock overall winner on the day.

The GTC weekend was marred by a major accident in Thursday practice. Julian van Der Watt‘s Chemical Logistics Ford Focus RS GTC appeared to suffer a failure of sorts and ploughed into the Turn 13 barriers. Julian was extracted from the car and rushed to hospital with multiple fractures. He was in a stable condition at the time of writing and scheduled undergo a series of operations.

Teammate and reigning double champion Robert Wolk cheered the team up by putting his Chemical Logistics Toyota Corolla GTC on pole position ahead of Toyota Gazoo Racing Corolla GTC hatchback pair Saood Variawa and Michael van Rooyen. Andrew Rackstraw lined up fourth in his Sparco RDSA VW Golf GTC ahead of rookies, Polo Cup graduate Nathi Msimanga’s Gazoo Racing Corolla GTC, and Formula 1600 champion Josh Le Roux’s Chemical Logistics Audi S3.

Variawa got the jump on Wolk at the start and no matter what Robbie tried, he would not find a way past Saood, as his blue Corolla struggled with boost issues. Behind them Michael van Rooyen initially held Andrew Rackstraw, Nathi Msimanga and Josh Le Roux at bay, but Msimanga muscled his way around Rackstraw, who was experiencing gearbox trouble and dropped down behind Le Roux. Andrew then worked around his troubles and caught and passed Le Roux in his old car to move up to fifth.

That became fourth when van Rooyen also slowed, but there was no stopping Michael’s Gazoo Toyota Corolla hatchback teammate up front. Saood Variawa added the fastest lap to his opening race win by 1.5 seconds over Wolk in the end, with a delighted Nathi Msimanga picking up third on his GTC debut. Rackstraw was fourth from Le Roux and the delayed van Rooyen well back.

If the first race was hectic, the reverse race second race was wild. Michael van Rooyen gained redemption for his horrible Friday by moving into the front from pole position while second lad Josh Le Roux was swamped by Andrew Rackstraw, Nathi Msimanga, Robert Wolk and Saood Variawa in what was initially a tight race up front. Wolk made up a place on Msimanga, who then fought back as the top five raced nose to tail, often side-by side.

Variawa took advantage of Wolk’s attention to Msimanga to get by both of them and go after Rackstraw in second. Wolk then lined Msimanga up and after a little banging and barging, the two came together at the end of the straight. Wolk punctured and visited the pits while Msimanga limped on, as Variawa started to pressure Rackstraw. That also ended in tears as Saood bounced off the curve and banged into the side of Andrew’s Golf and the two ended up stuck on the outside of T3 as they struggled to fire their steeds back up.

The upshot was that the untroubled van Rooyen held a sizeable lead over Le Roux as Variawa, Rackstraw and Wolk re-joined to finish in that order. Variawa was later penalised for his part in the Rackstraw bash and demoted to fourth behind Andrew, and ahead of Wolk. All of which saw the the winner’s trophy handed to a somewhat bemused Josh Le Roux, who took an unlikely but sensational overall victory from Variawa van Rooyen, Rackstraw, and Wolk. Variawa’s penalty would however drop him to third overall behind teammate van Rooyen.

Variawa however takes a provisional six-point provisional Global Touring Car championship lead over Van Rooyen and Wolk tied in second to round 2 at Killarney’s Cape Town Extreme Festival on Saturday 18 March. Rookie Le Roux sits a further point behind in third and one clear of Rackstraw, with Msimanga in sixth. The perfect start to what promises to be a watershed GTC year with several exciting new cars and drivers set to join the fray as the season progresses…

Issued on behalf of Global Touring Cars

Photography by:  Jason Hanslo

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