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TimesLIVE second overall in Toyota GR Cup battle royale at Red Star

04 July 2022 - 19:25
TimesLIVE's Thomas Falkiner defending hard against Ashley Oldfield from cars.co.za. Notice the glowing brake discs.
TimesLIVE's Thomas Falkiner defending hard against Ashley Oldfield from cars.co.za. Notice the glowing brake discs.
Image: Supplied

I went into the fourth round of the Toyota GR Cup feeling pretty confident. Especially as I had spent the whole of Friday practise at the top of the time sheets. Red Star Raceway is a circuit I know better than anybody else in this competition and from the get-go this was reflected in my lap times that were consistently in the low to mid 2:11s. 

So when I and the five other motoring writers selected to represent our titles in this new single-make series arrived at the track early on Saturday morning I was again expecting to be the man to beat when we all left the pits for our 10-minute qualifying session. Not so.

Of the four laps I turned within this narrow window the quickest was a 2:11.813. My nemesis Ashley Oldfield (cars.co.za) pulled one out the bag with a sizzling 2:10.734. This came as something of a surprise to me as the best he turned on Friday was a 2:12.351. Yep, clearly my experience at this circuit was no longer the advantage I’d hoped it would be. 

Falkiner finished the first heat in second position 10.868 seconds ahead of third placed Sean Nurse.
Falkiner finished the first heat in second position 10.868 seconds ahead of third placed Sean Nurse.
Image: Supplied

On the positive side I was still comfortably ahead of fellow scribes Sean Nurse (2:13.656), Mark Jones (2:14.213), Jeanette Kok-Kritzinger (2:16.615) and Lerato Matebese (2:17.263). 

The first heat of the day got off to a rolling start which saw our Toyota GR Cup pack charge down the pit straight towards the first corner — a fast off-camber sweeper that requires a fair amount of commitment to get through successfully. Be too cautious and you’ll get mugged by those behind you, but go in too hot and you risk running wide onto the outside shoulder where a build-up of dirt and marbles could see you lose traction and venture off onto the dead Highveld grass — not a place you want to be by any measure.  

Starting on the left side of the grid (pole position is on the right at Red Star Raceway), meant my inside was vulnerable to attack from Nurse. So to defend my line into corner one I chose not to close right up on Oldfield and instead gave myself some extra space in which I could move over to the right of the track as quickly as possible. It was a plan that worked perfectly and by the time I got to corner five I had already pulled a comfortable gap between myself and the four GR Yarii behind me. The flipside to this strategy was that Oldfield was able to pull an early gap which I spent the next eight laps trying to whittle down. But despite setting the fastest lap, I wasn’t able to get within striking distance and the wily Capetonian crossed the finish line 1.5 seconds ahead of me.

Once again the GR Yaris took the racing abuse in its stride with no issues afflicting the 111 car of Falkiner.
Once again the GR Yaris took the racing abuse in its stride with no issues afflicting the 111 car of Falkiner.
Image: Supplied

Race two was delayed until the end of the day where we literally lined up behind the safety car as the sun was disappearing behind the horizon. Luckily the GR Yaris is a road-going whip, meaning we could banish the twilight murk with its LED headlamps. This added a whole new dynamic to events, as did the decision to make Oldfield start from the back of the grid: a move that Toyota thought would spice things up a bit and make him work a little bit harder. In reality it didn’t really do much. With Matebese not starting due to engine issues and Kok-Kritzinger soon retiring, the cars.co.za campaigner only needed to jump Jones and Nurse — which he did before the end of the first lap. Halfway through the second lap he was nipping at my heels, which saw me go into full-on defence mode.

With our race distance shortened from eight laps to six, all I had to do was position my GR Yaris in the wrong places and keep him from getting past. It’s been a while since I have driven so defensively, but my tactics seemed to work and no matter how hard Oldfield tried he couldn’t give me the jump. Well, until the start of the penultimate lap where, in an arguably banzai manoeuvre, he tried to dive right past me into corner one.

I saw this coming and instinctively moved over to defend my line, thinking it would keep him at bay. To my amazement Oldfield kept on going, putting two wheels on the grass next to me as we both reached the critical turn-in point. In that split-second I had to make a decision: either keep the throttle pinned and risk a costly coming together or back off completely and let him pass. I chose the latter which saw the Capetonian instantly steal a gap I knew would be impossible to close in the dying stages of the race — there just wasn’t enough time. I tried my best though, leaving my braking as late as possible into the final corner and managing to close right up to his bumper in the sprint to the checkered flag. In the end it wasnt enough and I lost by 0.326 seconds.

Still, it was one hell of a battle and one I enjoyed immensely. Even more so in the dark. 

Eventually Oldfield got past Falkiner in the first corner of the penultimate lap.
Eventually Oldfield got past Falkiner in the first corner of the penultimate lap.
Image: Supplied

The TimesLIVE GR Yaris ran flawlessly all weekend with not a single gremlin to report. Remember, despite the requisite safety equipment, semi-slick tyres and more hard-core brake pads, this machine is basically the same as the one sitting on your local dealer’s floor. It wasn’t designed to tame a full season of hard and fast circuit racing and that it has already completed four rounds without any issues to speak of is incredible.

Next up on the Toyota GR Cup calendar is the East London GP circuit on August 6. As with Aldo Scribante last month this track is totally foreign to me. I’m really looking forward to the challenge though. Especially trying to take the infamous Potters Pass Curve flat out. 

Toyota GR Cup Red Star Raceway Overall Result:

Ashley Oldfield (cars.co.za): 31:09.961

Thomas Falkiner (TimesLIVE): +1.857

Sean Nurse (SN automotive): +23.000 

Mark Jones (The Citizen): +37.606

Jeanette Kok-Kritzinger (Wiele2Wiele): +3 laps

Lerato Matebese (TopGear SA): +6 laps

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