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Saturday 23 February was the start of the 2019 season for the Burly Pro Gti Challenge series as right from the get-go the action was red hot with returning hands laying down the gauntlet and asserting dominance in each class. The enthralling battle took place at the Killarney International Raceway in conjunction with the Wingfield Motors Power Series.

In Class A first blood went to the returning old warhorse Nian “Race Muis” du Toit as the star child put his Cheapercars/Allied Fibreglass Jetta III on pole position with a blitzing 1:24:691, breaking his own personal lap record and setting the fastest lap time in Gti Challenge history. Race Muis letting the rest of the field know that he was the man to beat. Sharing the front row was Jurie “Umpie” Swart (Alpine Autohaus Polo 6R) at just 0.6s off the time set by the pole man. On the second row it was young superstar Colin Nicholas Meder (International Tube Technology Polo 6R) with 2013 overall champion Christopher Swart (Village Paint & Hardware Edgemead Jetta II) alongside. The third row was occupied by 1 half of the Universal Healthcare Racing Team & CHD chairman Francois “Trappies” van Tonder with challenge veteran Jano van der Westhuizen (Wingfield Motors/Kwikfix Polo Vivo) alongside. The fourth row was shared between Chris Roberts (Roberts Racing Jetta II) and VW Cup Campaigner Paulus Franken (Manitou Group Polo 6R).

With qualifying done and dusted, the teams returned to their respective pit bays to give the cars a once over and prepare for the 1st heat. At just a tad after 11am, the drivers made their way onto the grid weaving and swaying to get heat into the tyres. The drivers settled into their positions as the field were brought under starters orders and tensions rising. The officials gave the all clear signal as the drivers readied themselves to do battle on the black stuff.

The lights went out as the field roared into action with Race Muis getting the holeshot for turn 1 to lead the pack with Umpie, Meder, Swart, van Tonder & van der Westhuizen slotting in to create 1 long 5 car train. Drama early on as Roberts was just a tad eager and mistimed his braking to nudge Franken going into turn 1, sending the VW Cup campaigner out wide and dropping way down the order. More bad luck hit as by the end of lap 1 van der Westhuizen began to drop off the leading pack hampered by clutch issues. Not the return van der Westhuizen was looking for as the veteran will be heading to Dezzi Raceway this weekend to start his 2019 VW Cup campaign. Misfortune for Roberts as well as the nudge in turn 1 saw the Roberts Racing Jetta II return to pitlane with technical issues.

Back at the front Race Muis wasted no time and immediately opened up an advantage as P2 man Umpie Swart had no response to the fiery pace of the leader. By the end of the 3rd lap Umpie had in turn opened up a slight advantage on the chasing pack as Meder, Swart & van Tonder were involved in a 3-way tussle for the final podium position. But Meder had no intention of hanging around and by the end of lap 6 the young superstar had settled into lonely 3rd position with Swart having to fend off van Tonder at each and every corner as Franken negotiated his way through the field after his turn 1 incident.

As the chequered flag beckoned the class A pack had no response to the returning warhorse as a wicked fast Race Muis crossed the line in a flag-to-flag victory with Umpie Swart having to settle for P2 and a delightful Meder coming home to take the final step on the podium. Ex champion Swart successfully managed to fend off a hard charging van Tonder for P4 with Franken the final car in class to cross the line.

For the 2nd heat the first 2 rows were a carbon copy of heat 1 as Race Muis took double pole with Umpie Swart alongside, followed by Meder & Swart on row 2. Row 3 was yet again lead by van Tonder with Franken sitting alongside. On the fourth row it was veteran van der Westhuizen as Roberts occupied the final grid slot after failing to post a timed lap in the first heat.

The drivers again came under starters orders for the final time and the officials gave the all clear for the race to proceed. The lights went out as a case of deju vu unfolded with Race Muis once again getting a perfect start and getting the holeshot for turn 1. The lightening quick Umpie Swart yet again had to play second fiddle as the fiery pace of Race Muis saw the old warhouse open up an advantage lap by lap over the VW cup campaigner with Meder in a lonely P3. As with the 1st heat ex champion Swart found himself in a ding dong battle with CHD chairman van Tonder while van der Westhuizen was yet again plagued with drive issues and was unable to match the pace of the pack.

Just further back Roberts seemed to be having a much better run while Franken was having a torrid day as another bad start saw the VW cup campaigner slip down the order and again have to fight his way back through the lower classed cars.

Back it at the front it was advantage Race Muis as the young Umpie Swart fought tooth and nail in a bid to catch the old warhorse. But at the end of lap 6 Umpie Swart began too slow down and into the clutches of Meder as the VW cup campaigner picked up fuel pressure issues. Meder wasted no time and passed a limping Umpie Swart to sit firmly in P2 while further back ex champion Swart now found himself having to fight for the final podium position from the eager van Tonder. With the retirement of Umpie Swart, van der Westhuizen, Roberts and Franken were all promoted 1 position higher as the end drew closer.

The chequered flag beckoned for the final time as Race Muis made it a double victory along with a clean sweep of points on the day as Meder went one better to come home comfortably in P2 while a welcome return to the podium for the ex champion Swart who successfully managed to keep a hard charging van Tonder at bay. Although unable to match the pace and experiencing drive issues, veteran van der Westhuizen managed to limp across the line for a fine 5th position while Roberts had a clean run to bring home his Jetta II in a respectable 6th overall. Franken was struck another blow as technical difficulties hampered any chance of a podium finish for the young gun. Hopefully it will be a better start this weekend as Franken along with Umpie Swart & van der Westhuizen head to Dezzi Raceway for the opening round of the 2019 VW Cup series.

In class B it was ex overall and current class C champion Marco Busi (Automan Polo Playa) who laid down the law as Busi clinched pole from the current overall and triple class champion Eden Thompson (Somerset Refriegeration/MAD Performance Golf I GTi). On the second row it was Mario Roux (Automar Jetta II) alongside series chairman Zaki “Mr Worx” Hendricks (Wheelworx Mag Repair Centre Polo Classic). The third row was headed by Grant Cloete (Upstream Connect/Cape Kustoms Golf I GTI) alongside 2017 sensation Mr Consistency Wayne Field (Coetzee’s Auto Coachworks Jetta II) with new rookie and father of the current champion Marc Thompson (Somerset Refrigeration/MAD Performance Polo Classic).

Missing from the entrants list was 2018 class C graduate Gideon Serfontein (Goeiehoop Onderdele Golf II GTi) who was unable to make it to the startline after an engine failure during the Friday practice session. With all cars successfully through qualifying and without incident, the teams readied the cars and the drivers made their way onto the grid for the start of the season opener. The officials gave the all clear and the drivers were brought under starters orders.

The lights went out as the middle pack stormed into action with Thompson getting the better launch and getting the holeshot for turn 1 as Busi, Roux & Hendricks followed suit. By the end of the second lap a hungry Bsui began to pile on the pressure as the current champion was forced to take a defensive line going into turn 5. It was a 4 way shootout for the lead as Roux had his rear mirror covered in shiny red mist as Hendricks was desperately looking for a way past Roux and join the 2 ex champs in a fight for the lead. Just Further back, Field found himself with a slight advantage over Cloete with Thompson Snr gracefully negotiating his way around the circuit as he gets to learn his new machine.

On lap 3 Busi decided to make his move and passed the current champion down the back main as Hendricks also managed to find his way past Roux as the 4 cars went into turn 5. On the exit it was Thompson Jnr who got a slightly better drive and pulled alongside Busi as the 2 champions came barrelling down the main straight with Hendricks and Roux hot on their tails and ready to pounce should anything go wrong. On lap 6 the pressure finally boiled over as Thompson made a rare mistake which would see Busi and Hendricks open up a slight margin on the champ as Thompson Jnr slipped back and now found himself fending off Roux for the final podium place.

With only a lap and a bit to go, series chairman Hendricks now fancied his chances for the top step and latched onto the rear bumper of Busi, but the class C champ is no stranger to strong arm tactics and defended his lead at every corner. Busi and Hendricks arrived at the last corner and the ex overall champion was forced to toke a defensive line as Hendricks hugged the outside line. However Hendricks looked for the cut back and got good drive to see the 2 head for the chequered flag in a tight drag race. It was not meant to be as Busi just had enough to take the victory over Hendricks by a mere 0.089s with Thompson Jnr taking the final podium spot just ahead of a ferocious Roux. P5 went to a cool, calm & collective Field as Thompson Snr had a trouble free run to finish in the final spot. A rather unfortunate run for Cloete as the 2017 rookie made a slight error coming out of turn 3 when he ran wide on the exit and lost control of his vehicle. The 2017 rookie then made contact with the tyre barrier on the inside of the small straight which would see Cloete retire from the heat. Luckily the vehicle only had some minor cosmetic damage and would see the team patch it as good as possible and Cloete back for the second heat.

An interesting turn off events as series chairman Hendricks came away with pole for heat 2 with Roux sharing the front row. The second row was headed by 1st heat winner Busi and Thompson Jnr alongside while the 3rd row was shared by Cloete & Field as Thompson completed the line up.

The pack made their way to the grid and prepared for the second heat. The officials signalled the all clear and brought the drivers under starters orders. The lights went out for the second time as the field pounced into action. This time 1st heat winner Busi wasted no time and made a move to clinch the lead by the end of the 1st lap as Thompson Jnr followed the class C champ as Hendricks maintained a slight margin over the 2 leaders while keeping an eager Roux at bay. Just further back it was an indentical run to the 1st heat as Field was just off the leading group while maintaining a comfortable breather of Cloete with Thompson Snr gaining valuable experience for races to come.

Back at the front it was Busi in the lead and opening up with each passing lap as the class C champ got the hammer down with Thompson in hot pursuit while Hendricks and Roux were locked in a battle for the final podium position. At the half way mark of the heat, Busi had opened up a visible gap to the current overall champion as Thompson had no reply to the pace of the ex overall champion. Busi put in another faultless performance to make it a double whammy with the current champion going one better to come home in 2nd as series chairman Hendricks managed to keep Roux at bay to take the final podium spot. A clean and calm run from Cloete saw him turn his 1st heat disaster into a well deserved 5th in class and salvage some championship points with Field and Thompson Snr taking the final places in class.

In class C it was Vega University Bcomm student and Franschhoek resident Giordano Lupini (SA Accelerate 102/CIR Construction/LaVie de Luc Golf I GTi) who yet again clinched pole position with hopes of finally converting his pole into a victory. But an astonishing drive came from the WPMC karter and class C rookie Jason Coetzee (Automan Golf I GTi) who shared the front row with young Lupini. Heading the second row was the returning master Jarred Simpson (Greenz Plumbing Golf I GTi) with Paul Winter (Short Smalls Racing Golf I GTi) alongside as Winter showed promise early on. On row 3 it was Ian Kapp (Hydracor Hydraulics Golf I GTi) with newcomer Kyle Wiltshire (Flatline Racing Golf I GTi) as series vice chairman Gert du Plessis (Cheapercars Golf I GTi) and Daniel Munna (ISE Group Golf I GTi) completing the lineup.

Tensions were high as the formidable wolf pack sported some new names along with return master drivers which was a recipe for some super fierce and close racing. The field lined up on the grid and were brought under starters orders. The lights went out and the wolfpack sprung into action with the infamous turn 1 contact living up to its expectations. Series vice chairman du Plessis got off to a flying start and was right at the front of the pack by turn 1, but this was all in vain as Winter mistimed his braking and locked up going into turn 1. There was contact between Winter and du Plessis resulting in damage to the left front wheel of du Plessis’ and the vice chairman retiring at the end of the 1st lap with a puncture.

While the chaos went down, Lupini and Simpson used their better starting positions to break away from the pack and open up a slight advantage over the rest while everyone else worked their way around the incident. Fortunately Winter managed to recover spectacularly and was soon back up with the front runners while rookie & front row starter Coetzee got off to a bad start and found himself having to fend off Wiltshire. Also not getting the best of starts was Kapp who also made contact with du Plessis and dropped down the order to find himself in a small tussle with Munna.

But at the front it was the pole man Lupini having to content with a lightening quick Simpson. Simpson made it known that his return to the class was serious and that he had not lost his touch while out of competition. The ex VW cup rookie had his hands full as Simpson stuck to his rear bumper like glue and young Lupini having to go defensive at every corner. But with all the defending going in front allowed Winter to catch the 2 pack leaders and turn the battle in a 3 way dice for class honours. Just further back Coetzee & Wiltshire were having their own mid pack tussle while a disappointed Kapp started to open up a gap to Munna after his turn 1 clash.

Simpson gave it his all but could not find his way past young gun as Lupini finally broke the curse to convert his pole into a victory. Simpson missed out on victory by only 0.2s while a close following Winter clinched the final podium position with the top 3 only separated by 0.7s. WPMC karter Coetzee drove splendidly and kept Wiltshire at bay to take P4 & P5 with Kapp crossing the line in a lonely P6 as a clean drive from Munna saw the newcomer take the final spot in class.

With a few dings and dents, all the cars were mended and returned to the grid for the start of the 2nd heat. The was some cause for celebration as Winter found himself with his first pole position since his return to the series as Coetzee took up P2. 1st heat winner Lupini found himself in P3 while Simpson managed to place himself in P5 as Kapp recovered to slot into P5. The wolfpack was brought under starters orders and ready to fight for glory once again.

The lights went out and it was yet another flying start from du Plessis as the vice chairman was keen to make up for his 1st heat mishap and was on the tail of the leading pack by turn 1 after starting from the back of the grid. 1st heat Lupini got off to a cracking start and by the end of the 2 lap had already managed to open a gap over Coetzee, Simpson and Winter. While the battle for second place looked like a fight for the lead, the 3 way affair allowed Lupini to extend his advantage over the chasing pack. But Coetzee was the pick of the match as the karting youngster managed to get a better start and held station in P2. But the young gun had his hands full and a fiery and fierce Simpson and Winter were hot the heels of the newbie. If Coeztee wanted real action, this was it.

Just further back was an interesting mid pack tussle developing between Kapp & du Plessis as Kapp was determined to get one back on the vice chairman for the earlier mayhem. However the vice chairman reveled in the handling of his vehicle and stuck to the rear bumper of Kapp as the 2017 rookie found himself having to defend at each corner. Just off the midpack tussle was Wiltshire in a lonely P6 as Munna took up the final position while gaining experience with each passing lap.

With the leader in a comfortable position, young Lupini settled into a rhythm and concentrated on bring him his vehicle for a double victory. In the second half of the heat, Simpson and Winter began to tussle which in turn allowed Coetzee to open up slightly and see the rookie take the runner up spot on the podium on his debut. Simpson managed to get the better of Winter and clinch the final podium to also make it a double podium on his return back to competition. Kapp drove yet another spending race to finish ahead of vice chairman as Wiltshire and Munna completed the class line up.

With the 1st round done and dusted, the 2019 season looks to be yet another promising instalment of show stopping racing. Be sure not to miss round 2 of the Burly Pro Gti Challenge which is scheduled to take place on 16 March 2019 at the Killarney International Raceway. This event will also be run in conjunction with the round 2 of the South African Endurance Series.

See ya on the 16th…

– Written By: Byron Wanza