Just a few days after the Covid regulations were amended to allow more spectators at outdoor events, the VW Challenge competitors got their 2022 season underway under the banner of new title sponsor Pabar, the Krugersdorp based metal pressing fabricator, at Zwartkops Raceway. Although the forecast promised rain, the races took place on a perfect Autumn afternoon and in Class A reigning champion Rory Atkinson (BHIT Industrial Transport Polo) continued where he left off last year, taking both heat wins. 2021 Overall champion Pierluigi Muzzulini (FSS International Polo) worked hard to take both Class C races while series newcomer Hannes Scheepers (Dainfern Dental Studio Polo) and Francois van Zyl (Jesus Saves Polo) shared the Class B victories.
With over 40 cars on the entry list, it was decided to split the categories and Classes A & C were the first to take to the 2.4km circuit for their qualifying session. Stiaan Kriel (The Design Hut Polo) just got the better of Atkinson to claim pole position with Wayne Masters (Performance Masters Polo) in third ahead of Waldie Meintjes (Allwagen Polo). Bevin Masters (The CPS Warehouse Polo) lined up behind his brother at the head of the third row with Stelio Nousias (Casing Cars Polo) alongside him. Derick Smalberger (Sabertek Polo) and Sam Dale (Blue Belt Pozidrive Polo) rounded out the top eight in Class A.
Ian Walker (Cycles United Polo) led the way in Class C with reigning champion Muzzulini having to settle for second. Newcomer Mark Castel (Eezi Parts Polo) was next up ahead of Dino Smit (ReZoom/SeSros Polo) with Eric Gander (Ouco Polo) and Charl Anderson (Pabar Polo) rounding out the grid.
Charisse van der Merwe (Hot 102.7 FM Racing Polo) headed the 23-car Class B grid from Scheepers, who showed that he would be a force to be reckoned with in his first Pabar VW Challenge outing. Elna Croeser (ATE Brakes Polo) made it two ladies in the top three when she outdid Ethan Coetzee (JRT Racing Polo). Anthony Pretorius (Fast Development Polo) and Dominic Dias (Chemi/Liquid Energy Polo) shared the third row of the grid ahead of Giordano Lupini (Bullion IT Racing Polo) and Stuart Mack (Creative Ink Polo). With the first 12 cars on the grid covered by less than a second, Class B promised some close racing.
Kriel’s hopes of turning his Class A pole position into a good result came to nothing when a driveshaft broke at the start leaving him watching the action from the centre of the circuit. Kriel’s misfortune allowed Atkinson to grab the lead closely followed by Wayne Masters with Meintjes and Bevin Masters close behind. Smalberger was next up followed by Nousias and Sam Dale with Mike Barbaglia (Pabar Polo) and Chris Dale (Blue Belt Pozidrive Polo) fighting it out for the final points-paying position. While things at the front of the field stayed as they were, a mistake by Nousias on lap four dropped him out of the points. He was able to work his way past Barbaglia to regain eighth and when Chris Dale experienced problems on the final lap, inherited seventh with Barbaglia taking the final point. Atkinson took the flag ahead of Wayne Masters. A bit further back Meintjes led a three-way battle for third over the line ahead of Bevin Masters and Smallberger while Sam Dale finished in a somewhat lonely sixth place.
In Class C it was all about Muzzulini and Walker at the front of the field. The FFS International man grabbed the lead from the start and, although he couldn’t open up a substantial gap over Walker, was able to stay in front for the entire race taking the win by 1.5 seconds. Behind the leading duo, Smit emerged as the best of the rest ahead of Gander with Anderson ahead of Castel who finished in sixth.
Class B has become known for delivering some robust racing and it was no different at Zwartkops Raceway this time out. The even-numbered grid slots seemed to be the positions to have as Scheepers was able to get past van der Merwe and Coetzee found a way around Croeser to each move up a spot at the start while a dreadful start from Pretorius dropped him out of contention. The leading quartet was followed over the line by Lupini, Dias, Bevan Williams (RAM Customers Polo) and Mack. Things stayed pretty much as they were until shortly before half-distance when Mack was helped into a spin at the final corner. While he was able to re-join and move up the field, it wasn’t enough to score any points. The top four held position throughout the race with Scheepers taking the win from van der Merwe, Coetzee and Croeser. Lupini managed to hold off Dias until the final lap but had to settle for sixth when Dias got through. Behind them, Aldin Haupt (Haupt Racing Polo) crossed the line in seventh but a post-race penalty for a technical infringement dropped him down the field and promoted Francois van Zyl (Jesus Saves Polo) and Williams to seventh and eighth respectively.
The grid for the second race, which is based on the fastest lap times set in the first race, saw Atkinson and Wayne Masters on the front row while Kriel had to start from the back. Atkinson again grabbed the lead from the start with the Masters brothers behind him, Wayne leading the way from Bevin. Kriel got a flyer and was up to sixth by the end of the opening lap. A lap later and he was up to fourth but he couldn’t make any more progress and that is how things stayed, Atkinson taking his second win of the day from Wayne Masters with Bevin Masters in third. Meintjes came home in sixth ahead of Nousias and Smalberger with Sam Dale claiming the final championship point for eighth.
Class C was again a fight between Muzzulini and Walker with the pair separated by not much more than a couple of car lengths until the final lap when Walker slowed, allowing Muzzulini an uncontested run to the flag, Walker was able to hang on to take second ahead of Castel with Smit and Anderson in fourth and fifth. Mechanical problems prevented Gander from making it to the start.
Van Zyl led the pack away from pole position in the second Class B race, but it was Croeser who got the better start and led the way from Lupini and van Zyl with Scheepers, Mack and van der Merwe rounding out the top six and the end of the opening tour. Contact between Mohammed Karodia (Fast 5 Motorsport Polo) and Mike MacGregor (Grange Workware Polo) in turn two on the second lap brought out the safety car to allow the marshals to remove MacGregor’s car which was stranded in a dangerous position. After a couple of laps, racing got underway again and a small mistake from Scheepers at the top of the hill allowed Mack and van der Merwe through and relegated him to sixth. Lupini then went wide at turn four and at the end of the sixth lap Croeser led the way from van Zyl, Mack, van der Merwe, Dias, Coetzee and Williams. Partway around the next lap, van der Merwe ended up sideways across the track and dropped out of contention. Van Zyl saw a half chance and dived up the inside of Croeser but couldn’t make a clean pass. They spent the next half of a lap side-by-side before he finally took the lead. By this time Mack and Dias had joined the party and there was a three-way fight for second. Van der Merwe’s race went from bad to worse as she and Mitch Coetzee ended up in the barriers between turns one and two bringing the race to an end one lap before the scheduled finish. In the end, van Zyl took the win from Croeser with Dias getting the better of Mack to take the final podium position. First race winner Scheepers had to settle for fifth ahead of Coetzee with Karshin Naidoo (Polo) and Williams rounding out the top eight.
In the day’s overall standings, Atkinson took Class A from Wayne Masters with Bevin Masters in third. Class C went to Muzzulini from Walker and Smit with van Zyl on top in Class B ahead of Croeser and Dias.
The VW Challenge have a bit of a break before their next outing which is scheduled to take place at Red Star Raceway on 13 and 14 May.
In addition to the support received from title sponsor Pabar, VW Challenge gratefully acknowledges the contributions made by ATE Braking Systems, ATS, Dunlop Tyres South Africa, Vanderlinde Developments, Bush ‘n Buck, Norbrake, and Platinum Wheels.