BY SETSHABA MASHIGO

The East London Grand Prix Circuit hosted round 5 of the Toyota Gazoo Racing Cup and big upsets were in store.

There was as much excitement as there was apprehension to tackle the oldest and fastest race track in Mzansi. The infamous Potters Pass and Rifle Bend – consecutive right hand sweepers taken at least 200km/h with only a strip of grass and a tyre wall between the tarmac and a steep embankment – were the subject of much chatter. The very kind folk from Toyota South Africa Motors took every opportunity to remind us that any incident at East London is likely to end in a written-off GR 86 at best, or ride in an air ambulance at worst, so it was crucial to be on our best behaviour.

The weekend seemed like it’d be another routine cruise to a double victory. I placed quickest in all three practice sessions, but Brendon Staniforth hovered near my lap times. I qualified on pole and prepared to stave off any first corner attacks and control the race from the front.

East London had become rather warm after a bitter cold front moved further inland, and while nursing a bout of flu and fever (racing driver excuse no. 1, I hope you’re counting!) waiting in the pit lane before the start of race 1, I elected to crank up the GR 86’s air conditioning to cool myself off. Away we went onto the circuit for a warm-up and formation lap.

Second gear for the rolling start, eyes trained on the start lights and the gaggle of boxer-4 engines buzzed past the start line. I’d nailed the start perfectly and expected to make a quick dash to the inside of Potters. But lo and behold Staniforth right beside me was already pulling half a car length ahead as we approached Potters! I conceded the position and determined that I’ll get it back later in the race, but this never happened. Instead, I was now defending second position against a very motivated Denis Droppa while Staniforth disappeared into the sunset.

Droppa eventually made an error going into the sharp Cocobana hairpin, giving me some breathing room to give chase for first position. It’s now lap 3 and I’d hardly made a dent in Staniforth’s lead. It occurs to me that the cabin would usually be extremely hot at this point.. And then, like a brick, it hit me. I looked down towards the climate control and the air conditioning light was glowing bright green, meaning that the air conditioning compressor was still sapping precious engine power to keep me cool. I’d forgotten to turn the a/c off!

I spat out some colourful words beneath my helmet, promptly switched the climate control off and put my head down. Try as I might however, Brendon’s gap was far too big and I began over driving in an attempt to catch up.

My frustration could not be hidden, but I licked my wounds, happily took my second place finish behind a genuinely impressive Brendon Staniforth and focused on race 2.

Race 2’s grid was determined by the fastest lap in race 1, and I started in P3 behind Staniforth in P1 and Droppa in P2. This put me on the inside line and at an advantage over Droppa because the rubber debris on the outside of Potters rendered the outside line useless.

All I had to do was hang onto Brendon’s bumper and a free overtake was guaranteed. This is exactly what happened and I laid on the pressure for first position. Staniforth drove an incredible race and hardly ever put a foot wrong while defending against me. We battled all the way until the second to last lap where it became apparent that I needed to set up a move several corners ahead. I kept it tidy through Potters, braked earlier than I usually would at Cocobana to get a good exit and carried as much speed as possible through the in-field complex. The gap was closing and the opportunity I’d been waiting for appeared on the horizon. A feint to the outside of the last hairpin then a dive to the inside was enough to unsettle Brendon. I managed to sneak up his inside on the exit and it was a nail biting drag race to Potters. I held my line, our mirrors only centimeters away from each other at almost 200km/h, I won the drag to Potters and Mr Staniforth yielded, handing me first position all the way across the finish line!

It was a hard-fought battle and a true test of resolve and race craft. By far the most enjoyable racing I’ve had the pleasure to experience in the Toyota Gazoo Racing Cup. ASAMM remains at the top, with only 4 points needed to seal the Championship!

Next we head to Killarney Raceway once again for Round 6 on the 9th of September.

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