What Global Touring Cars Round 5 Report
Where East London Grand Prix Circuit
When Saturday 22 July 2023
Community South Africa National
Double East London victory sets up Global Touring Cars title thriller
Robert Wolk overcame a qualifying scare to deliver a Global Touring Cars masterclass and set up a thrilling end of season by winning both races in Saturday’s East London Extreme Festival. It was a day of high action at the daunting spiritual home of South African circuit racing as the Grand Prix Circuit dealt a few curve balls and challenges through an epic day of racing.
There was already drama in qualifying. True to practice form, second in the championship chase, double reigning champion Robert Wolk was quick out the box in his Chemical Logistics Toyota Corolla GTC 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 indeed improved his time in his Gazoo Racing Toyota Corolla GTC hatch, but it was not enough, so he lined up second from teammate Michael van Rooyen’s similar car with Julian van der Watt’s new Chemical Logistics BMW M 128 ti alongside him on the second row.
Rookie Nathi Msimanga also hit trouble and did not resume in his Gazoo Racing Toyota Corolla GTC Sedan, but his first half time was still good enough for sixth on the grid ahead of Andrew Rackstraw’s Sparco LTR RDSA VW Golf GTC and rookie Josh Le Roux’s Master Stairs Investchem Audi S3 GTC. Wolk got the drop on Variawa to move into the lead from the get-go with Variawa and van Rooyen in chase, ahead of Rackstraw, Le Roux, and the slow starting van der Watt.
Variawa was not letting Wolk go however, as the white Gazoo hatch stuck to the tail of the blue Chemical Logistics sedan. The two made contact more or less mid distance damaging the left front corner of Variawa’s car, which went on to spew bits around the circuit. Impaired by damaged aerodynamics on the long straight, Saood could no longer hang on to Wolk, who cleared off to a welcome full points win. Variawa however set the fastest lap in his chase to secure yet another bonus point to soften the blow.
Behind them, van Rooyen out-braked himself into Copabana to let the pursuing Rackstraw, van der Watt and Le Roux by. Van der Watt then 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 Josh 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 on pole position for the reverse grid second race alongside Josh Le Roux on the front row, with Andrew Rackstraw and Julian van der Watt next up and championship leaders Saood Variawa and Robert Wolk on row 3. Le Roux grabbed the advantage, in spite of Michael van Rooyen’s best attention to lead the first two laps. But van Rooyen was soon in trouble as Saood Variawa moved into second from Julian van der Walt and Andrew Rackstraw. Nathi Msimanga’s miserable weekend had already come 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 later as Wolk soon cleared off to complete a grand slam weekend of an albeit lucky pole position and two race wins, and the fastest lap of the day.
Variawa ultimately ended a lonely third from van der Watt, who was fourth all the way in spite of huge pressure throughout from Andrew Rackstraw. He dropped back after slipping wide while attempting a final lap pass, followed by van Rooyen fifth after Le Roux stopped on lap 6.
So Robert Wolk took the day as he halved his points deficit over Saood Variawa. He ended second on the day ahead o Julian van der Watt in the BMW, Andrew Rackstraw, and survivor Michael van Rooyen. With just handful of points no3 between Variawa and Wolk, it’s all to play for in the championship chase, with four races Global Touring Cars left to run in 2023. The first two are at round six at Killarney’s Cape Town Extreme Festival on Saturday 10 September. Diarise it now!
Issued on behalf of Global Touring Cars
Photography by: Andre Laubscher
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