• 1st in Race 1 for Van Rooyen
  • 5th in Race 2 for Van Rooyen (after penalty)
  • Penalty after controversial altercation results in dropped points
EAST LONDON, EASTERN CAPE – The delayed 4th round of the 2021 GTC Championship saw TOYOTA GAZOO Racing SA’s Michael van Rooyen pick up where he left off in Port Elizabeth: With victory in Race 1 of the weekend.

“We started strong, and set the pace throughout the weekend,” said Van Rooyen after the race. The Rustenburg Rocket dominated during Friday’s practice sessions, besting the competition by more than 1.5s on the tricky East London Grand Prix Circuit. The Toyota Corolla driver maintained his pace for qualifying, easily setting the fastest time and starting the race in pole position as a result.

“The first race was a relatively easy victory for us. The car was fantastic, and our pace saw us lead comfortably from flag to flag,” said Van Rooyen. “There was no need to push at all, and we made sure to preserve the car for the second race, which was always going to be tricky.”

As is customary for GTC races, the grid positions for Race 2 are in the reverse order of finish from Race 1. This put Van Rooyen at the back of the GTC pack in sixth place, with plenty of work to do if he wanted to repeat his victory.

“We had more than enough pace to catch up with the competitors ahead of us, but they managed to make their cars super wide in order to make passing difficult,” explained Van Rooyen. “Even so, we scored an easy pass from teammate Mandla Mdakane, but had to work hard to make up more places.”

A controversial move saw Ford driver Julian van der Watt leave Van Rooyen nowhere to go: “We made contact, and Julian ended up out of the race. To me it was a clear racing incident, and I had no choice in the matter. But the stewards decided otherwise.”

As a result, Van Rooyen’s hard-fought third place was met with a three-spot penalty. With only five cars completing the race, however, Van Rooyen was officially classified as fifth in Race 2.

“This is an unfortunate situation, but we have to abide by the steward’s decision,” said a disappointed Van Rooyen. “Despite the result in Race 2, it was clear that we were significantly faster than anyone else in the GTC field this weekend. Maybe that’s why they are so keen to put the clamps on our championship chase.”

As it stands, Van Rooyen trailed fellow Toyota Corolla driver, Robert Wolk, by a slim 7-point margin going into Round 4. With a fifth-place in Race 2, Van Rooyen is now slightly further behind in the overall standings, but still well within touch of the lead. “We’ll see how things play out at Red Star Raceway next month. Hopefully, our pace remains as fast as it is at present, and we can close the gap in the standings.”

Van Rooyen’s teammate, Mdakane, in the second GTC Toyota Corolla, had a tough outing in East London. The Joburger struggled with setup during qualifying, and was plagued by electrical problems in Race 1. The situation improved somewhat for Race 2, but Mdakane was never in a position to score meaningful points.

“I’m looking forward to the next round, however,” said Mdakane. “Our bad luck has to end at some point, and I’m sure things will improve for the next race.”

Round 5 of the championship is set to take place on 25 September, at the Red Star Raceway near Delmas in Mpumalanga.