Highs and lows for Volkswagen in Sasol GTC series at East London

The Volkswagen Motorsport GTC team left the iconic East London Grand Prix circuit spraying champagne with Daniel Rowe claiming third position in race two, but a penalty for an alleged blocking incident saw the young driver drop from third to sixth. 

Brian Joss – “It is really unfortunate,” said Mike Rowe, head of Volkswagen Motorsport after receiving the news. “Racing is meant to be racing, and when determined drivers aim for the same piece of tarmac, it will always be marginal. We don’t agree with the decision at all and after analysing the evidence, we will follow the steps required to appeal the penalty with Motorsport South Africa.”

Despite the penalty, the two Volkswagen Jettas leave East London with valuable points in the bag after round three of the Sasol GTC series with Daniel Rowe claiming the points for third overall and Mathew Hodges taking the points for fourth. 

Crunch time: GTC action at iconic East London circuit. Picture: Motorpress

The Jettas had to find their feet on the fast and flowing piece of tarmac during the initial warm up sessions. “We were losing a little bit of time here and there without really being able to pinpoint where exactly,” said Daniel Rowe on Friday before qualifying. “But we were analysing the data to see what we could do to go faster.” When qualifying finally arrived, the strategy clearly paid off as Rowe closed the gap to his rivals to put his Jetta 5th on the grid, just 0.6 seconds slower than pole position.

Mathew Hodges had more work to do as he could only manage 7th on the grid.

“We will have dig deep to work our way through the field on race day,” said Hodges.

For the first time this season, a Golf GTI did not top the time sheets after qualifying in the GTC 2 category. Kyalami race winner Mandla Mdakane however qualified his Golf GTI in a close second position. “We missed out on pole position by a mere 0.08 seconds which equates to only a few centimetres. So we are going to have a very close race,” said an excited Mdakane.

Race day dawned bright and early at the East London GP circuit with beautiful views over the calm Indian Ocean, but the scenery is not what the Volkswagen Motorsport squad came for. They came to do battle against their rivals on a sacred piece of tarmac in front of thousands of race fans that lined the circuit, and when the lights turned green to signal the start of race 1, that’s exactly what they did. Rowe quickly gained two positions to move up into third, but had to give one back again as he crossed the finish in a fine fourth position. There was more good news for Volkswagen as teammate Hodges fought his way through the field to complete the ten-lap race in fifth.

Unfortunately for the GTC2 drivers, their winning streak came to an end in race 1. Mdakane was fighting for the lead with Liebenberg and Kosie Weyers in the early parts of race 1, but the brake pedal went hard at the end of the long straight sending Mdakane onto the grass at the outside of Cocobana.

He managed to recover but could only finish 7th. Teammate Keagan Masters quickly made his way up into third, but a tussle with Weyers saw him go off onto the grass in the Complex section of the circuit. He recovered to finish in 6th.

Race 2 provided the team with yet another opportunity to make their mark. It may only be round 3 of the championship, but this is the phase where every lap starts to count towards the points table at the end of the year, so Rowe and Hodges had everything to play for. It started well with Rowe staying in touch with the leaders for the first half of the race with teammate Hodges involved in his own fight a few metres back. After 10 laps, the Jetta of Rowe was the third car to receive the chequered flag, with Hodges crossing the line a few seconds later in sixth.

Minutes later, Rowe sprayed the coveted champagne from the third step of the victory podium, only to hear that he received a penalty for allegedly blocking a fellow competitor. “It was great to finish third. I have to thank the team for their hard work and dedication, so it’s really disappointing to

go from such a high to such a low,” said Daniel Rowe.  

Behind the Jettas, the Golf drivers in the GTC 2 category were back to their winning ways. Well almost. Keagan Masters lead the pack for 9 laps but was forced to concede victory with just a few corners to go, with a mere fraction of a second separating the two over the finish line. “You don’t have to win every race to win the championship. Our sights are on the title come the end of the year and we are currently in good shape,” said young Masters.

“It was a weekend filled with mixed emotions for our team,” continued Mike Rowe. “You always strive for better results, but racing is tough and unpredictable, and with that in mind, we are happy to bag valuable points for our efforts,” he concluded. Round 4 of the championship will see the Volkswagen Motorsport team return to Gauteng where they will continue their onslaught on the tarmac of the Zwartkops Racetrack to the west of Pretoria on the weekend of June 16.

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