Competitors always relish a trip to East London and the challenges offered by what is probably the most daunting layout in the country. The high speed Potter’s Pass and Rifle Range sections, in particular, ask drivers and riders to dig deep, and the combination of ultra fast sections and a tricky infield place a premium on car and motorcycle set-up.
Entertaining motor racing is always guaranteed in East London, but this time around the meeting is given an added boost. Tight championship battles, and there are plenty of them, add spice to a national programme that is loaded with potential for drama.
With the season well and truly into the home stretch those in championship contention will know East London could make or break them. There are those, too, who would appear to be out of title races but who still have a mathematical chance of lifting silverware - and for them it could be a last throw of the dice.
Only one championship has so far been decided with Hennie Groenewald wrapping up back to back WesBank V8 Supercar titles last time out at Aldo Scribante. Groenewald’s laid back approach in East London will certainly not be mirrored by those still involved in championship dogfights.
BRIDGESTONE PRODUCTION CARS
After manfully clinging to the overall lead in the Bridgestone Production Car series from the start of the season, veteran Iain Pepper (PG Autoglass/Plastomark VW Golf GTi) has finally succumbed.
A disappointing outing at Aldo Scribante last time out, has seen Pepper (132) slip eight points behind new leader Johan Fourie (140) in the JFR Audi A4. Shaun Watson-Smith (Extreme Team Audi A4) is still in the hunt with 129 points, closely followed by Graeme Nathan (BP Ultimate/Webcom/Kaye Eddie VW Golf GTi) with 122 points.
Reigning champion Leeroy Poulter (Sasol Nissan 350Z) is fifth with 118 points and has a mountain to climb over the rest of the season. There will be some consolation for Poulter and the Nissan squad in that after Zwartkops and Aldo Scribante, two circuits that don’t favour two-wheel drive cars, East London will provide a more level playing field.
The situation in Class A sees Fourie with an 11 point lead over Watson-Smith with Poulter next up. The battle between the Audi contingent with Fourie and Watson-Smith joined by Scribante winner Michael Stephen (Extreme Team Audi A4) and Melvill Priest (MiKar Audi A4) and the Sasol Nissan and Castrol BMW 330i brigade is going to be fascinating.
The Nissan and BMW teams will fancy their chances in East London and former champion Anthony Taylor (Castrol BMW) is due for a win. Team-mate Etienne van der Linde has been consistent and Clint Weston will want to end a disappointing run of results.
On the Nissan side talented Gavin Cronje did a good job in Port Elizabeth as the replacement for Gary Formato and will again join Tschops Sipuka in providing Poulter with much needed support.
After a high altitude out of the blue win at Zwartkops, the Subaru Impreza challenge faded at sea level in Port Elizabeth. Dawie Olivier, Peter Lindeberg and Seef Fourie can expect more of the same treatment in East London.
Predictions, with more than half a dozen drivers capable of pulling off wins, are risky. What you can safely bet on is that both heats are going to be loaded with tension and drama.
Robert Wolk (Afinta Mini Cooper) and Garth Waberski (Castrol Mini Cooper) dominated Class T in Port Elizabeth with Wolk a comfortable winner ahead of Waberski in both heats. It was an encouraging out for the Minis and while Wolk will be on home ground this time around, expectations are that the VW Golf brigade of Pepper, Nathan and Hein Bose (Super Tuning VW Golf GTi) will be back in business.
One of the more fascinating duels this season has been the youth versus experience tussle between Riyad Jaffer (Sasol Toyota RunX) and Ben Morgenrood (Zoom Zoom Mazda RX8) in Class B. The pair are level pegging and their battle in East London will be interesting with the odds perhaps slightly in favour of Morgenrood.
Reigning champion Trevor Tuck (Motorsport Infinity/Agip Fiat Grande Punto) and Robi Beninca (BTS VW Citi Life) have also been at each other’s throats all season in Class C. Benica has a one point lead and the knives will be out in East London.
The battle for third place is also interestingly poised. Scribante winner Mark Silverwood (OKI Ford Fiesta) is two points ahead of Etienne Prinsloo (Bizhub VW Polo TDi) and they will have a little dalliance all of their own.
WESBANK V8 SUPERCAR CHAMPIONSHIP
One competitor who will be in a complete comfort zone in East London is Hennie Groenewald.
After wrapping up back to back WesBank V8 Supercar titles in Port Elizabeth, the likeable Groenewald (SP Racing/Timken Jaguar) can enjoy himself without worrying about championship pressures. Groenwald, however, is far too professional and competitive to simply go through the motions.
He will be racing to win and rivals like Grant van Schalkwyk (Hi-Q Jaguar), find of the season Robert Briggs (Timken Jaguar) won’t be handed wins on a plate. For van Schalkwyk, Briggs, Mackie Adlem (Fuchs Titan/Kyalami Ford Mustang) and Gordon Connelly (Cowan Signs/Dezzi Jaguar) there is still plenty to play for.
Van Schalkwyk is is second in the championship but is just 17 points ahead of Briggs with four races to go. For his part Briggs is only six points clear of Adlem with Connelly, along with Groenewald the only driver this season to have scored in every race, just two points further adrift.
The race for the minor championship placings will be fierce and with East London always bringing the best out of the thundering V8 Supercars two high intensity races are on the cards. The inverted grid system will add extra interest and here the likes of veteran Willie Hepburn (Motorsport Logistics Chev Corvette) will come into their own.
The evergreen Hepburn, at 65, has finished on the podium twice in a row. Another veteran, Deon Auby (Tyco/Jonnesway Chev Lumina) has also shown good form of late but one would expect the younger drivers to come into their own in East London.
ENGEN VW CUP
Pretoria driver Lee Thompson could use the East London outing to put the Engen VW Cup out of reach of his only serious challenger.
Thompson (Xtreme Team VW Polo) leads veteran Graham Donker (Mini/Maxi Panelbeaters VW Polo) by 24 points. Third placed Kosie Swanepoel (Barnett’s VW Polo), another veteran, is 50 points behind the championship leader and the title is there for the taking for Thompson.
Thompson and Donker are the only drivers to score in every round of the championship so far. That perhaps explains why they are sitting one and two at the top of the points table, with Thompson’s higher rate of podium finishes the difference between the pair.
While the championship is there for the taking for Thompson, he could also throw it away. Given that he has hardly put a foot wrong all season this is highly unlikely, but motor racing is a funny old business.
Apart from Thompson, Donker and Swanepoel there are plenty of other potential winners. Curt Alchin (Bodyman/Assist2Sell VW Polo), Gary van Heerden (Webcom VW Polo), Jared Mortimer (Formax VW Polo), Neville van der Merwe (USN/Chelston Motors VW Polo) and Miguel Pasqualli, in the second Xtreme Team car, have all had their moments this season.
The prospect, however, is for another workmanlike performance from Thompson and with it the title.
CITIBIKE SA SUPERBIKE CHAMPIONSHIP
The CitiBike Superbike Championship has developed into a two horse race - but with three rounds left is still interestingly poised.
Arushen Moodley (Team Suzuki) is looking to become the first black national motorcycle champion worldwide, and currently leads reigning champion Shaun Whyte (Nashua Mobile/Daikin Yamaha) by 30 points. Another black rider, Lance Isaacs (Seesa/Honda Race Nation Fireblade), still has a mathematical chance but is a whopping 62 points behind Moodley.
The championship issue apart, there is always an air of expectation when the Superbike brigade race in East London. On a Superbike the Grand Prix circuit is an awesome test of bravery and skill.
While Moodley will be in something of a dilemma with wins or safe points the choices, Whyte and Isaacs have no option but to let it all hang out. Wins and rich hauls of points are what they need, and the situation is tailor made for exciting and dramatic racing.
The potential for drama is compounded by the fact that there are other young guns, and more experienced riders, who are capable of winning. Robert Portman (CitiBike Suzuki) is knocking on the door, Trevor Crookes (Mitsubishi Electric Suzuki) can never be left out of the equation and the likes of young chargers Clinton Seller and Brad Stark, also on Nashua Mobile/Daikin Yamaha entries, relish the challenges East London offers.
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to predict two humdinger heats. The championship issue simply adds to the potential for the unexpected.
CITIBIKE SUPERSPORT CHAMPIONSHIP
The CitiBike Supersport Championship is another title race that has developed into a two horse race.
Chris Leeson (Team Suzuki) and Dane Hellyer (Kyocera Kawasaki) have dominated the series from day one. Just recently, however, Leeson has gone a little off the boil and Hellyer - who missed a couple of races via overseas commitments - has narrowed the championship gap to just 11 points.
Leeson has not won since June and Hellyer, who started the season on a Yamaha, has taken a little while to settle on the Kawasaki. With a little help from dad Kevin, a former SA champion, Hellyer appears to have sorted out handling problems and over the final three rounds it is going to be a straight fight between two hugely talented youngsters.
There are, however, other talented youngsters who are capable of winning. Eddy Alberts (Race Nation Honda) won for the first time in Port Elizabeth and the likes of John Oliver (Atlantic Motorrad Suzuki), Chris Rudman (Suzuki), Ronan Quarmby (Gallardo Yamaha) and Dino de Wet (Monza Group Yamaha) are all looking to break the ice.
The biggest danger could come from young Capetonian Graeme Green on the Justin-time Online Yamaha. He has plenty of pace but it is consistency that has taken Leeson and Hellyer to the top of the points table.