Welkom, Free State – The first round of the 2017 SA Endurance Racing championship, the Six Hours of the Goldfields at Phakisa on Saturday, proved once again the old adage that endurance racing is about consistency and reliability, rather than outright pace.
In a race of attrition that saw almost every one of the fancied cars leading at some stage, father and son Harry and Charl Arangies gave Harry a magnificent birthday present with a hard-fought win in their that was in doubt until the final hour.
Their Ferrari 360 Challenge led home its Stradale stable-mate, the Lamborghini Gallardo GT3 driven by of Simon Murray and Gavin Cronje by two laps, with the two Backdraft Cobras of Mike McLoughlin/Mark Owens and Tony Martin/Duncan Day/Piet Bredenhann giving the new GT Class cars an unexpected 1-2-3-4 finish.
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The first hour was more like a sprint race as Marcel Angel’s Viper and Johan Engelbrecht in a Juno battled for the lead, with Cronje right behind, waiting to pounce. And pounce he did, after Angel’s big-bore V10 had muscled its way past the Juno, passing both to take the lead
But the fastest combination on the circuit was Michael Jensen and his Renault ‘sports-car’ – a Formula Renault single-seater with cycle fenders! – as he sliced through the field from the back of the grid to join the leading trio.
Then he systematically picked them off one by one, to move into the lead after a magnificent battle with Cronje and the Gallardo.Going into the second hour local teenage karting hotshot Stuart White took over the Formula Renault and walked away from the leading group – but he was using too much fuel, losing the lead to Engelbrecht for a lap when he was forced to pit for an unplanned second fuel stop during his stint.
Cronje kept station, just 10 seconds behind Juno – until they were separated by slow pit stops – while Craig Jarvis held a steady fourth in the Viper, a lap ahead of the Arangies’ Ferrari and Kevin Finneran’s Shelby-Nissan.
Gear selection problem
Then the Lamborghini ran out of fuel and had to be towed back to the pits while White powered away from the Carruthers in the Juno and the two GT cars. Shortly after White handed over to Mark Louth, however, the Renault had to pit to sort out a gear-selection problem, handing the lead to to the Juno, from the Viper and the Ferrari, while Murray worked his way back through the field in the re-fuelled Lamborghini.
The two Fantastic Racing Shelby-Nissans, however, steadily lost ground after the halfway point, allowing the Backdraft cobras, with Duncan Day and Mark Owens at the wheel, into sixth and seventh respectively.
The fifth hour was nothing short of Carmageddon, as the Juno retired from a three-lap lead after its gearbox cried enough, putting the Viper into the lead, but then it also coasted to a halt with gearbox failure and the Renault stopped again, handing the lead to the Ferrari, ahead of Cronje, the Backdraft Cobras, with Verrier a battling fifth in the Shelby, with Bradley Scorer’s Alfa Romeo Giulia a fine sixth, the first of the tin-tops.
The temperamental Renault roller-skate was soon back up, nipping past the Alfa and both Cobras, moving into third with only half an hour to go – but when the gearbox failed a third time, it was for good and Renault’s race was run.
All the Arrangies family had to do was to bring the Ferrari safely home, with Cronje unchallenged for second as five cars battled it out for third. The McLoughlin/Owen car was ahead when it mattered, however, followed by its stablemate and the Fantastic Racing Shelby-Nissan of Mike Verrier and Wayne Jardine.
Bradley Scorer, Theo van Vuuren and Darren Winterboer pulled off a brilliant sixth, out of 17 finishers from 30 starters, as they took saloon car honours in the brand new Arnold Chatz Alfa Romeo Giulietta.