The first round of the 2004 SA National Formula Vee Championship produced two dramatic races, at the Zwartkops Raceway west of Pretoria. In fact the drama began even before the start lights came on, with Anthony Taylor (Vacuform Rhema 2), Benny Phelta (Vacuform Rhema) and Tony Beecher (Beecher), all relegated to the back of the grid, after the cars were weighed at the end of qualifying. Then, when Jaco Greying started the motor of his Rhema, the motor would not run properly and as the rest of the field headed for the pre race paddock, Greyling was left behind, with a suspected sticking valve.
Starting from Pole Position, Dennis Johns (Goldco Midas Rhema 2) took the lead, from Symm Grobler (Auto Mecca Rhema 2), Jody Robertson (Rhema), Alan Holm and Jaco Schriks, in their new Johannesburg Bright Steels Rhema 2s and Kevin Cartmell (Rand Brake Sting), with Taylor already up to seventh place, by the end of the first lap. Schriks did not last long, before his brakes failed and he was forced to pitch the car sideways and slide off into the gravel trap.
At the head of the field, Grobler was shadowing Johns every step of the way, with a three car battle involving Robertson, Holm and Taylor, not far behind and other battles raging all the way down the field. Then Francis spun out of the race, at Turn 4 and just after half distance, Holm came into the back straight, spinning like a top, after hitting a patch of oil. At Turn 4, they were still busy moving Francis’ car and the Safety Car was eventually deployed but with the job completed, it came straight back in again.
In the meantime, Grobler had locked up and given away a couple of car lengths, to Johns but he was closing in again, when Johns made a mistake and spun at the Top of the Hill, with just over two laps to go. His car was stuck in the gravel trap, at the side of the circuit, so the Safety Car was deployed again and it led the field across the finish line, with Grobler taking the win, from Robertson, Taylor (who had lost the use of third gear), Holm, Wayne Bennett (Lafarge Readymix Rhema 2), Kevin Cartmell, Beecher, Claude Cartmell (Rand Brake Sting), Bradley Martin (Rhema 2), John Lerm (Save the Jackal Sting), teenage debutant Paul Venter (Laser) and Nico Blignaut (Rhema), who had been hit by Martin and struggled home with bent trailing arms.
The second race saw Grobler take the lead, with Johns, Robertson, Holm, Schriks and Taylor, in hot pursuit. Taylor then lost the use of third and fourth gear, and retired at the end of the second lap. Kevin Cartmell then spun, at the Top of the Hill and his brother Claude tried to take avoiding action but spun into Kevin’s car and although Kevin was able to resume, Claude’s car was stranded on the circuit, with a broken gear selector. The Red Flag came out and the race was stopped.
With only three laps completed the race was restarted but once again, it would not last very long. This time it was Johns who took the lead, as Grobler cooked his clutch and by the time the Red Flag came out again, Grobler had been passed by Robertson as well. Someone had spun at Turn 4 and Francis was launched into the air, over the other car’s wheel, landing safely, but with bent suspension. Then Lerm spun coming into the Pit Straight. Beecher and Blignaut tried to get through on the inside but as Lerm’s car came back across the circuit, they collided and Beecher’s car was launched over the top of Lerm. With three cars stranded and another at Turn 4, the race was stopped again.
With a total of only six laps completed and nine still to go, the race would have to be restarted but the Clerk of Course decided to hold that over, until the end of the day and let the other categories complete their races first. This gave Grobler, Beecher, Blignaut and Claude Cartmell, the opportunity to sort their cars out and when the final nine laps eventually got under way, it was Grobler who chased Johns all the way to the line, followed by Robertson, Holm (stuck in third gear, due to a broken gear lever), Schriks, Martin, Beecher and Kevin Cartmell. On the combined time, of the three part race, Johns took the victory, from Grobler, Robertson, Holm, Schriks, Martin, Beecher, Phetla, Blignaut, Kevin Cartmell, Venter and Bennett, who had retired before the flag, with a broken gearbox.
The second round of the Championship will be held at Wesbank Raceway, on the 6th March.