Round 1 of the 2023 Global Touring Cars (GTC) championship took place at the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit, as part of the Intercontinental GT Challenge 9-Hour. TOYOTA GAZOO Racing SA (TGRSA) had three cars competing, with each of the three drivers making their mark over the course of the weekend.
However, the entire GTC and wider racing community was shaken by the high-speed accident suffered by Julian van der Watt (Ford) at the bottom of the Mineshaft. Van der Watt was seriously injured in the crash, and TGRSA would like to wish Julian a full and speedy recovery – our thoughts are with him and his loved ones during this time.
For TGRSA, the weekend started with Saood Variawa, who finished second in the 2022 championship, posting the second-fastest time in qualifying, just 0.612sec off the pace set by Robert Wolk, in a private entered Toyota Corolla. Michael van Rooyen was third-fastest, with TGRSA rookie and GTC debutant, Nathi Msimanga, going 5th-fastest. This was Msimanga’s first race in a GTC car, and the prospect of taking part at a packed Kyalami was a daunting one.
Variawa seemed on course to take pole position, but a competitor had stopped in the apex of one of the final corners, which forced the GR Corolla driver to lose some pace, relegating him to second on the grid. As for Van Rooyen, the ‘Rustenburg Rocket’, he was plagued by brake balance issues throughout the weekend, though he still showed good pace during qualifying.
The opening race saw Variawa execute a perfect passing maneuver around the outside of the polesitter, promoting him to the lead by the second corner. He held onto this position until the end of the race, winning the first race of the season and clearly signalling his intent to challenge for the title this year.
At the same time, Msimanga improved two positions from his 5th pace on the grid to finish Race 1 on the podium – a remarkable debut with the team, and one that he will long remember. This, in stark contrast with Van Rooyen, who was battling with brake issues throughout the race. He eventually suffered a spin, and crossed the line in sixth place.
“This set me up for a pole position start, thanks to the reverse grid used in GTC,” said Van Rooyen after the race. “I initially had to fend off an attack from one of the cars behind me, but managed to open a gap before the mid-point of the race. From there, I managed to control my pace and ended up taking a relatively easy victory.”
The attack from behind was curtailed, in part, thanks to the actions of Variawa, who found himself embroiled in a battle with the car in second, after steadily making up positions throughout the early parts of the race.
“Unfortunately, we had a coming together as I tried to pass into second place, and we both ended up off-track,” explained Variawa. “In the end, I still managed to cross the line in third place, but was relegated to fourth after the incident.”
This leaves Variawa in the lead of the championship, after the opening round.
The next round of the 2023 GTC championship is scheduled for 17 and 18 March, at the Killarney International Raceway in Cape Town.
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