It was a weekend of mixed emotions for the hosts of the Volkswagen National Race Day at the Aldo Scribante racing circuit in Port Elizabeth.
Brian Joss – Volkswagen Motorsport’s Mathew Hodges managed to fight his way to the third step of the podium in race 2 of the Sasol GTC series while teammate Daniel Rowe’s weekend ended in the gravel trap after being hit by a rival competitor. “We really had every intention to perform well in front of a loyal crowd at the home of Volkswagen,” said Mike Rowe, head of Volkswagen Motorsport. “But it turned out to be a trying weekend for the entire team.”
It was clear from the early practise sessions that something was brewing at the well-known Aldo Scribante circuit. “We as a team always abide by the rules,” continued Rowe. “But there seems to be a grey area when it comes to the rules and regulations with regards to the amount of new tyres allowed for the weekend. We did all the sessions on old rubber as per the rules while some of our rival teams seemed to have used new rubber during practise. This put us on the back foot for qualifying as both our drivers had to find the balance on the new tyres.”
Daniel Rowe completed the 2.48 km circuit in a time of 1 minute and 5.121 seconds with teammate Hodges setting a time just six hundredths of a second slower. It was however only good enough for seventh and eighth on the grid respectively. “It was most certainly not what we wanted,” commented Daniel Rowe after qualifying. “The other teams had a massive advantage going into qualifying. We on the other hand went into qualifying somewhat blind and had to find our feet very quickly.” Hodges confirmed that the rules or lack thereof presents a problem. “It needs to be addressed going forward to ensure that we have a level playing field.”
With the disappointment of qualifying firmly behind them, it was time for both Rowe and Hodges to focus on the task at hand, and that was to do battle against the best drivers South Africa has to offer during both races on the Saturday. When the lights turned green the pair of Jettas set their sights on the field in front of them with the pace getting better and better as the race progressed. It didn’t take long for the Volkswagen duo to make their way past the BMW of rival Robert Wolk, but sixth and seventh overall was as high as they were going to get. “This form of racing is getting really close,” added Mike Rowe. “Split seconds here and there can make all the difference. Our cars were getting faster as the race progressed, and although Daniel only managed to finish sixth, he got the chequered flag within 5 seconds of the race winner.”
Race two however would prove to be a lot more eventful. This time the two Volkswagen Motorsport Jettas were right in the mix from the word go and with just a few laps to go, Daniel Rowe and Mathew Hodges were closing in on the coveted podium positions. While flying through the fast sweep and onto the short back straight, Michael van Rooyen lost control of his BMW and spun out. Rowe attempted to avoid the spinning car but the Jetta had nowhere to go and got hit on the left rear wheel, violently bringing an end to his race. It very nearly turned disastrous for the Volkswagen team as Mathew Hodges almost got caught up in the mess. “I managed to just miss the crash,”
said Hodges who squeezed his Jetta through the tiny gap and up into third place where he stayed until the flag was waved. “It is always good to stand on the winner’s podium, so we were happy to finish an eventful weekend by spraying the bottle of champagne that came with our podium finish.” Daniel Rowe on the other hand was not so lucky: “It was very disappointing to not finish my home race. I simply had nowhere to go when I was hit, and after that I was merely a passenger.” The PE native was however pleased that the car narrowly escaped further damage. “We came very close to hitting a wall which would have inflicted serious damage. At least the team should be able to repair the car well in time for our next race in August.”
Behind the GTC Jettas of Rowe and Hodges, the GTC 2 Volkswagen Motorsport team of Keagan Masters and Mandla Mdakane were having adventures of their own from behind the wheels of their Golf GTi’s. Masters was the current championship leader coming into round 5, but the young man could only manage the third fastest time in qualifying. Times were extremely close with just
0.2 seconds covering the top 7 which also included teammate Mdakane. After the 10 laps that made up race 1, the name of Masters appeared in 4th position. “I accidently left the traction control on,” said Masters.
“It robbed me of all power going into the first corner and I slipped down to the back of the field.” He recovered well to cross the finish in fourth before delivering what could arguably be described as the drive of the day in race two. Masters picked his rivals off one by one as he moved up into second position. When the flag was waved, he crossed the line just 0.2 seconds short of victory, but more importantly, he leaves the Port Elizabeth circuit with his points lead well intact.
“It was a difficult weekend for the entire team. The results were not what we wanted, but we’ll take a few positives with us into the second half of the season,” concluded Mike Rowe.