Diary of a rookie racer: Finding success in East London

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Sean Nurse in the Toyota GR Yaris.
Sean Nurse in the Toyota GR Yaris.

Rookie racing driver Sean Nurse makes it to podium in East London, his first time out on the iconic race track. There are just two more races left.

Round 5 of the National Extreme Festival saw the Toyota GR Yaris Cup head to the fast-paced East London Grand Prix Circuit. I was nervous about tackling what is considered an intimidating circuit in the SN Automotive GR Yaris but knew that a good result here would bode well for the two following rounds.

Going Potters

My colleagues and I departed from Gauteng for East London relatively early the Thursday before the first practice on Friday. This allowed us time to visit the hallowed turf that greats like Jim Clark and Sir Stirling Moss have claimed famous Grand Prix victories upon.

READ | Diary of a rookie racer: Brakes glowing, dust churning, and drama in the dark

racing, aldo scribante
Sean Nurse racing in Round 3 of the GR Yaris Cup at Aldo Scribante.

It is incredible to consider that a portion of the circuit is a public road when it is not used for motorsport. After a quick look at the infamous Potters Pass Curve, we returned to our accommodation in preparation for Friday practice.

I arrived at the track well before our first practice session, which was scheduled to start at 07:45. I was nervous about this circuit, having heard many stories from drivers about how dangerous it can be, particularly for a novice like me. I headed out for my first session and immediately enjoyed the circuit, particularly the section through Butts Bend into The Esses, Cox's Corner, and then The Sweep, an area I managed to get acclimated to quickly. I finished the session in third and had to find 1.6 seconds, and I knew where that time would come from.

READ | Diary of a rookie racer: A hard lesson in motorsport

With my goal of shaving a second from my time in my mind, I went into the second session looking to go through Potters faster and still keep it flat-pinned through the fast sweep called Rifle. Once my tyres were warm, I went in about 10km/h faster, and by the end of the two sweeps, I had gained 0.4 seconds to my first session before lopping off another 0.4 seconds elsewhere in the lap. The bar had moved again, and despite gaining 0.8 seconds, I was still 1.1 seconds off of the fastest time. 

Sean Nurse in his SN Automotive GR Yaris at RedSta
Sean Nurse in his SN Automotive GR Yaris at RedStar Raceway in Round 4 of the GR Yaris Cup.

In the third session, I focused on consistency. I managed to shave another 0.2 seconds off my best time, again securing third place, but now being less than a second off of the fastest time, filling me with confidence for qualifying the following day. 

Race day

I felt pretty comfortable in the car and approached race day with a positive attitude. I went into qualifying, hoping to get into the 1min35s - something I achieved, even though the session turned into a mini race of its own. This hampered two of my better laps. Despite finding over a second overnight, I found myself fourth place, a few tenths from second on the grid, while Ashley Oldfield turned up the wick and found a second on his previous best.

The rolling start in Race 1 went about as well as I could have asked, and I entered Potters and Rifle on Oldfield's bumper, who lost two places at the start. I knew the best area to try to gain time was in the final corner, Beacon Bend. I managed to get the final turn right and had a great exit, pushing me half a nose ahead of Oldfield down the pit straight. I was on the outside line for Potters, and Oldfield and I turned in side by side, and thankfully, he graciously came off of the power, allowing me to slip past on the exit. 

toyota gr yaris, racing, motorsport, racetrack
The GR Yaris Cup cars on the track at Aldo Scribante.

I then set about catching Riaan Esterhuysen in second position and knew that this would only be possible if I drove within my limits and minimized mistakes. One lap later, I headed into The Sweep and had a great run up the back straight as Esterhuysen came off the power for a moment, allowing me to get alongside and head up his inside up Beacon Bend. I got the move done and then tried to gain any time I could on Falkiner in first place. The gap from me to first place appeared to remain the same, and we crossed the line four seconds apart.

With my confidence now high heading into the second race, we were all thrown a curveball and told that we would be racing in the dark, with the caveat being that it would likely only be four laps. I started the race in second position and was thankful for once in my life not to be in first place, as I was able to follow Falkiner as my eyes adjusted to the darkness. I was surprised that our race pace was only a second or so off of the first race despite it being dark.

toyota gr yaris cup
Autotrader motoring journalist Sean Nurse driving on track during the Toyota GR Yaris Cup at Zwartkops Raceyway earlier in April.

I managed to get a good start and followed Falkiner as best I could, and then he ran wide on Beacon Bend, and I got through on the outside, leading into Potters and Rifle before Falkiner went up the inside into Cocobana. I managed a better exit through the corner, and we were side by side heading into The Esses, but Falkiner had the line, so I slotted in behind him. 

The tussle between Falkiner and I had allowed Oldfield, who passed Esterhuysen early in the race, to close on us, and this then developed into a one-lap battle. Oldfield went up my inside into Cocobana in a move eerily similar to Falkiner's one lap earlier, which I knew how to deal with, so I positioned my car for another sprint to The Esses. This time, Oldfield missed a gear, and I remained ahead, pulling a small gap for the next lap before the checkered flag came out.

A special thanks

The vehicle was absolutely faultless this weekend, and I must take this opportunity to thank the pit crew who prepare, repair and maintain the cars at every event. It is a pleasure to work with Fast Developments and an honour to compete in the National Extreme Festival.

What's next?

The National Extreme Festival is headed to the Killarney Race Track in Cape Town on 16 and 17 September, and we hope to see you there!

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