Pretoria - Round 3 of the Grand Touring Cars (GTC) Africa Championship brought the Engen Audi team to the home ground at Zwartkops Raceway.
They came, they saw and they conquered - as the competition feared ahead of the second Gauteng round of the season.
The Engen Audi team experienced flawless preparation ahead of the race weekend and with Simon Moss entering round three as championship leader for the first time, the stakes were high and motivation higher amongst the Port Elizabeth squad.
Team engineer and reigning champion, Michael Stephen, aligned all resources to the max in order to come out in full force.
Friday practice (11 May) saw the team operate in a different league. Michael Stephen went out in the first session and outperformed the competition with a sequence of unbeatable times.
Michael knew his competence, played to his strengths and strategically used this to his advantage during the rest of the practice day. Simon Moss, on the other hand, took over the fastest time in the second practice session and remained quick throughout the day.
The atmosphere in the Terry Moss Racing pit-box was utter calm ahead of the qualifying race on the morning of Saturday (12 May). With little work needed to be done overnight for the team engineers, the drivers were confident and excited for the all-important race.
When the 10 minute qualifying session came to an end, the competition was overpowered - with both Michael and Simon breaking uncharted territory of the 1:01second lap time around the 2,4 kilometre race track. Sitting on just 0,015 seconds between Michael (on pole) and Simon, the fight to finish first was set to be between the two team mates.
GTC race 1 got underway with Michael leading the pack and Simon following in his Audi A3 slip stream.
The duo set the pace and stormed through the 12 lap race. In the early stage of the opening race, Simon seemed to be the quickest but after a small mishap he left a small 1,1 second gap across the line.
With a one - two victory for the Engen Audi team, a winning tone was set for the rest of the day. On his road to victory in race 1, Michael also set a new lap record around Zwartkops Raceway thereby underlining his supremacy.
2nd Race challenges
GTC race 2 was a bit challenging beforehand as the Engen Audi duo were "promoted" to the back of the field due to the reverse grid rules of the championship. The Pretoria race track is known for its perplexing overtaking opportunities and both Michael and Simon had to act swiftly in the opening stages in order to stand the chance of a podium spot.
Simon took the first corner initiative by trying to maintain third position but a small gear change glitch quickly demoted him back in the second lap. While Michael was working his way up in the field, he encountered a sudden power loss.
A cracked manifold stalled his fight towards the leader of the field, causing him to settle for third position. Simon, who chased Michael throughout the second race, crossed the finish line in fourth place.
Team Leader, Terry Moss, was very happy with the Engen Audi team's performance, yet not surprised. "We knew that we'd be strong this weekend and have done everything in our power to ensure we'd come out on top.
We made our position known in the qualifying and race 1. It's part of the competition dynamics to the series to have a reverse grid for the second race and with our current strengths, we would have easily rose victorious at Zwartkops.
Without this ruling it most probably would have been a boring second race to watch. I am extremely proud of my team!"
The Engen Audi team left Zwartkops Raceway with Simon Moss maintaining his GTC champion lead and Michael Stephen closing the gap between Simon and runner up, Gennaro Bonafede, to three points for second position.
The next round of the GTC Africa Championship heads to the coast, at the East London Grand Prix Circuit and will take place on 16 June.