TimesLIVE takes second overall in Toyota GR Cup at Aldo Scribante
After a rather frustrating showing at Zwartkops in April, it was time to reload and regroup at Gqeberha's Aldo Scribante Race Circuit for the third round of the Toyota GR Cup.
The action began early on Friday morning when I and the five other motoring writers selected to represent our titles in this single-make series arrived at the track to find our cars already waiting for us under a giant hospitality tent: washed, fuelled and ready to roll. Seriously, a huge shout out to the crew at both Fast Development and Toyota Gazoo Racing SA for making us hacks all feel like bona fide factory racing drivers — the organisation, preparation and attention to detail put into this project really is world class.
We also found the latest guest driver to join in on the action. Replacing Anand Pather who raced with us at Zwartkops, sales and marketing manager of Motus Toyota, Mario de Sousa, is no stranger to the Japanese marque and certainly no stranger to the track either as he in the mid-2000s used to run a Corolla RXI in the SA Production Car Championship. His experience certainly paid off as the wily old (silver) fox went third-fastest in all three Friday practice sessions behind yours truly and the ever rapid Ashley Oldfield (cars.co.za).
Saturday's 10-minute qualifying session is where real pace really mattered, however, and I was determined to stretch the gap from De Sousa and hopefully get closer — or match — Oldfield. So with the learnings from studying my Garmin Catalyst still fresh in my head, I took to the track and set about trying to crack into the 1:10s (my Friday best was a 1:11.318). Conditions were optimal and once my tyres has come up to temperature I was able to clock a 1:11.263 by the time the checkered flag came out to signal the end of the session: a marginal improvement but still not quick enough to challenge Oldfield who ran a 1:10.605.
Race One got off to a rolling start (thankfully there was none of that Zwartkops standing start confusion to muddle things up again), which saw our seven-strong Toyota GR Cup pack charge down the long main straight towards the first corner — a right-hander that requires some seriously late braking (and a late apex point) to get through successfully. Sitting comfortably in second place I tried my best to stick with Oldfield as the two of us pretty much left De Sousa, Jones, Nurse, Kok-Kritzinger and Matebese in our wake.
I'd gain ground on the cars.co.za pilot through the first two corners but then he would go and lengthen the gap again at “Hunts Hairpin” and the final corner known as “Dunlop” that feeds back on to the straight. In the end I started over-driving the TimesLIVE GR Yaris and lost a bit more time simply because I was trying too hard. With two laps to go there was no way I was going to come close to pole-sitter who had put on a flawless performance. Still, it wasn't quite the runaway victory Oldfield had enjoyed at Killarney's season opener and by the time the checkers came out I finished a respectable 3.137 seconds behind him.
By the time Race Two got under way the morning chill had been replaced by an afternoon heatwave with temperatures rising well up into the 20s. This added to the spectator count and the track embankments were now packed with people, many of whom were juggling braai tongs and beers while they watched the National Extreme Festival action unfold.
This psyched me up a bit and I started the second heat with a lot more aggression. Indeed, determined to protect my position on the run down to the first corner (not easy when second is on the left hand side of the circuit), I made a concerted effort to block Mark Jones who, now starting in third, was perfectly set up to get between myself and Oldfield. So as soon as the lights went out I went heavily defensive and gave the Citizen Motoring man as little space to make a move as possible. It worked and I reached the first corner unchallenged and free to concentrate fully on trying to reel in the cars.co.za campaigner.
Again, I was making up time around the first two corners and now also through the high-speed “Hanger Bend” that demands extra commitment and bravery to get the most out of. The TimesLIVE GR Yaris was game though and there were one or two occasions where I flicked past the apex point with a generous amount of opposite lock — an action that I hope provided a modicum entertainment to those watching. Still, Oldfield on the day was simply superior through the hairpin and final corner and despite my best efforts (I was giving it my all and I got a lap time of 1:11.589 to prove it), I had to be content yet another P2 finish. Though this time the losing margin was now a slightly slimmer 2.209 seconds.
In the end it was a fine weekend of racing around a track that I had not competed at before. The TimesLIVE GR Yaris ran flawlessly with not a single mechanical malady to report. Remember, despite the requisite safety equipment, semi-slick tyres and beefier brake pads, this machine is ostensibly the same as the one sitting on your local dealer's floor. It wasn't designed to tackle a full season of hard and fast circuit racing and the fact that it has already completed three rounds without any issues to speak of is impressive.
Next up on the Toyota GR Cup calendar is Red Star Raceway on July 2. And unlike Aldo Scribante I know it quite well so maybe this time around I can give Oldfield the jump...
Toyota GR Cup Aldo Scribante Overall Result:
Ashley Oldfield (cars.co.za): 19:19.207
Thomas Falkiner (TimesLIVE): +5.346
Mark Jones (The Citizen): +31.112
Sean Nurse (SN automotive): +35.597
Jeanette Kok-Kritzinger (Wiele2Wiele): +46.345
Mario De Sousa: +8 laps
Lerato Matebese (TopGear SA): +8 laps