Two hard-fought wins gave Rory Atkinson (Polo) overall victory at the opening round of the 2019 MotorMart VW Challenge, held at Red Star Raceway on Saturday, 16 February. Stiaan Kriel (MotorMart/Kalex Polo) claimed victory in class B after taking both heats while Reno van Heerden (Polo) and Dawie van der Merwe (Polo) shared the heat wins in class C, van der Merwe just doing enough to take the silverware for the class victory on the day.
Saturday morning’s qualifying session started on a wet circuit that slowly dried as the session went on. JP van der Walt’s final effort in his Platinum Wheels Polo at the end of the 15-minute session gave him pole position by over two seconds from Lyle Ramsay (Monroe Racing/Fuchs Lubricants Polo). Waldie Meintjes (Allwagen Parts Polo) headed the second row of the class A grid with reigning champion Atkinson alongside him. Mohamed Dangor (MotorMart Polo) and Bevin Masters (The CPS Warehouse Polo) rounded out the top six.
A late flyer by Riche Napier (SA Pool Liners Polo) gave him pole position in class B ahead of Deon Holliday Snr (Centparts Centurion Polo), Kriel and Stuart Mack (Race Technology Polo). Elna Croeser (Race Technology Polo) just got the better of Deon Holliday Jnr (Monitor Net Polo) to claim fifth.
Van der Merwe was comfortably the quickest of the class C brigade, claiming pole position from Philip Croeser (ATE Polo). Van Heerden was next up ahead of Andy Gossman (Allwagen Parts Polo) with Zaeem Goolam (Praga Karts Polo) in fifth.
By the time drivers lined up on the grid for the opening heat, the morning rain had cleared and all that remained was a slight drizzle that soon dried up. Ramsay was soon into the lead with van der Walt and Atkinson in close attendance. Contact between Meintjes, Dangor and Masters left Meintjes and Dangor some distance behind the leaders and Masters in the pits with a puncture, ending his race. Atkinson worked his way past both van der Walt and Ramsay and went on to take the win from Ramsay. Meintjes worked hard to close the gap to the leaders and shortly after half-distance, was able to get past van der Walt to take third which he held until the flag. Dangor had a somewhat lonely race in his first class A outing, coming home in sixth place, comfortably ahead of former motorcycle racer Kyle Robinson (Polo) who was making his first appearance in the MotorMart VW Challenge. Gavin Ross (Norbrake/Metal Used Spares Polo) and Eric Gander (My DNA My Choice Polo) filled the remaining points paying positions.
In class B, Holliday Snr led Mack off the line, Napier’s pole position not helping him. Part way through the second lap, Holliday Snr slid wide, leaving a gap that Mack, Kriel and Jacques Smith (Dirt Nurse Polo), who started way down the grid after missing most of the qualifying session when he was delayed in traffic on his way to the circuit, dived through. Mack made his Polo as wide a possible but eventually both Kriel and Smith found a way through, the pair taking the top two positions, separated by just over a quarter of a second. Holliday Jnr got past Mack on the final lap to claim third. The early leader, Holliday Snr, had to settle for fifth ahead of Chris Dale (Blue Belt Pozidrive Polo) with Elna Croeser and Piet Potgieter (Nathan’s Motorsport Polo) rounding out the top eight.
Philip Croeser got the best start in class C but a missed gear change meant he was down to fourth by the end of the opening lap. Van der Merwe was the early leader but had van Heerden all over the back of him. The pair pulled away from their rivals with van Heerden managing to take the lead on the second lap and hang on to it until the flag. Gossman finished a lonely third with Croeser and Goolam in fourth and fifth respectively.
The second race start was delayed slightly while the drivers lined up on the grid to pay tribute Nic Louw, a video cameraman who tragically lost his life in an accident earlier in the day. As the cars pulled away to start their warm-up lap, Ramsay’s engine let go ending any hope he had of challenging for the win and leaving Atkinson to control things from the front once the lights went out. Meintjes and van der Walt were not going to let Atkinson have things all his own way at the front though and kept pushing. Atkinson eventually made a rare mistake which allowed Meintjes through, but it didn’t last long, Atkinson again taking the lead after the pair spent a number of corners two-wide. Atkinson took the win from Meintjes by less than a second with Masters, who had to work his way through from the back of the class A grid, getting past van der Walt on the penultimate lap to claim third. Dangor made it two fifth-places for the day with Robinson and Ross again in sixth and seventh. Mike Barbaglia (Litemart Polo) completed the top eight.
Kriel led class B from the start with Holliday Jnr and Smith chasing for all they were worth. The 2018 championship runner-up was, however, able to keep in front, the trio crossing the line separated by three-quarters of a second. Behind them, Mack was able to hold off Holliday Snr to take fourth with Dale again in sixth. Christiaan de Wet (Polo) claimed seventh, just ahead of Potgieter.
In the class C battle, van Heerden opened a substantial early lead but van der Merwe slowly closed the gap, moving to the front just after half-distance. Despite some serious pressure from van Heerden, he was able to hang on and take the victory. Gossman was again a distant third with Goolam in fourth.
Two heat wins gave Atkinson overall victory in class A for the day ahead of Meintjes and van der Walt. Kriel took class B from Smith and Holliday Jnr while van der Merwe just edged out van Heerden in class C.
The MotorMart VW Challenge is back on track on Saturday, 9 March when round 2 of the 2019 championship takes place at Zwartkops Raceway in Pretoria.