Jaco Van Der Merwe

By Jaco Van Der Merwe

Head of Motoring

VIDEO: From wooden spoon to runner-up in Toyota GR Cup (VIDEO)

The Citizen moves up from sixth to fourth in title race after dramatic day at Kyalami.

After finishing the opening round of the Toyota GR Cup at Killarney in sixth and last place, the only direction The Citizen Motoring could go was up during the second round at Kyalami..

And that was exactly the case during an eventful weekend at Mzansi’s premier racing circuit. The bottom line reads that we are up two places to fourth in the title race. How we got there is quite a story.

Watch The Citizen in action at Kyalami

After starting the season on a track where only two of the six motoring media drivers had raced before, Kyalami presented a whole different ball game. All us of had been around the 4.54km circuit, but doing it in a race-ready Toyota GR Corolla took some getting used to. To our good fortune, the cool and dry conditions turned out to be perfect for racing.

Because Mzansi’s premier track hosted both the National Extreme Festival and its regional equivalent, racing was staggered over three days.

The GR Cup’s usual three practice sessions were trimmed to two, with qualifying last Friday, followed by the standard two Saturday races. Barely halfway into the first practice last Thursday, the red flags came out due to the Corolla of Kumbi Mtshakazi (Kumbi-M on Cars) stopping on the track with clutch failure, shortening the session.

ALSO READ: Toyota GR Cup opener proves to be a steep learning curve

Raising the bar

I managed to shave more than a second off my best lap time during the second practice at Kyalami on Friday. And then another second during qualifying. But the rest of the field had raised their games, too.

Alex Shahini (CarMag) found exceptional pace to shoot past Sean Nurse (AutoTrader) and Hannes Visser (La’t Wiel), who entered the weekend in first and second places in the title race after finished both races at Killarney in that order.

Armed with a brand-new clutch, Mtshakazi slashed his best lap time during qualifying.

Shahini on pole

Shahini secured pole position for the first race, followed by Nurse, Visser, Mtshakazi, myself and Bernie Hellberg (Driven).

Things were about to get interesting because, unlike Cape Town, five dealer-entry GR Yaris cars shared the starting grid with us at Kyalami.

The GR86s, piloted by the GR Academy drivers, were given a head start, followed by the field of Corollas and Yaris’.

ALSO READ: The Citizen ready to burn rubber in the Toyota GR Cup again

Epic duel

The Corollas of Shanini, Visser and Nurse and the Yaris’ of Paul de Vos and Mario de Sousa disappeared into the distance.

At the back, Hellberg and the Yaris trio of Johan Snyman, Werner Venter and Andries de Villiers had a race of their own, leaving me and Mtshakazi in a mid-pack duel for the ages. Patience paid off as I managed to capatilise on a mistake by Mtshakazi through Kyalami’s Esses.

A few laps later red flags came out. Visser went off at the infamous Crowthorne corner with braking issues, bringing to an end the race. Visser awarded the third place behind Nurse and Shahini, but with his car unable to race again a podium spot was up for grabs in race two.

ALSO READ: Brad Binder backs Kyalami to host Formula 1 and MotoGP races

Race two at Kyalami

My best lap time in race one was good enough for third on the grid behind Shahini and Nurse. But the hard-charging Yaris of Snyman overtook both Hellberg and Mtshakazi, and I had to pull out all the stops to keep him in my rear-view mirror.

Although we were not competing in the same class, he kept me honest and provided an important buffer between me and the rejuvenated Mtshakazi.

While fending off the Yaris like a demon, there was another twist when Shahini also ploughed into the barriers at Kyalami’s infamous Crowthorne, leaving the track at about 200km/h. Also due to braking issues.

Fortunately, like Visser, his car’s safety equipment did its job and he walked away from the incident without a scratch.

Kyalami GR Cup podium
Jaco van der Merwe (left), Sean Nurse and Kumbi Mtshakazi are all smiles at Kyalami. Picture: Toyota

Title race changes

Shanini’s misfortune at Kyalami saw him relegated to fifth place behind Nurse, myself, Kumbi and Hellberg. Nurse won the driver of the day, with myself second and Mtshakazi third.

Nurse is the runaway leader on 28 points, with Shanini now second on 15 points and Visser on 14. Only two points separate myself (11), Hellberg (10) and Mtshakazi (nine).

The third round takes places at Zwartkops Raceway on 18 May. With the brake issues addressed by then and the two wrecks up and running, the battle will resume on a clean slate.

Read more on these topics

Killarney Kyalami Toyota gazoo racing