Friday, February 22, 2013

Positive start for the Audi S4 teams at Kyalami

By Johan Laubscher

The 2013 South African Bridgestone Production Car Championship has gotten underway at Kyalami. Practice and qualifying took place on Friday. Four Audis have been entered by two teams for the 2013 season. Reigning champion, Michael Stephen, returns with teammate Tschops Sipuka in the Terry Moss Racing Audi S4 cars. VMP Motorsport are again running a pair of Audis for Melvill Priest and Gennaro Bonafede. 

The first free practice session got the ball rolling at 10:00 am local time, on an increasingly warm day. As the sun rose higher into the sky, the Production Cars headed out onto the track for the first time during 2013. The Audis and BMWs immediately shot to the top of the time sheets, followed by the brand new Subaru WRX STI sedans which were slightly off the pace. By the end of the session Johan Fourie, a two-time champion with Audi, was the fastest in his Team Afrox BMW. The leading BMW was followed by a trio of Audis with Gennaro Bonafede followed by Melvill Priest and Michael Stephen. Tschops Sipuka completed the Audi set in sixth place. 

Free Practice two saw increased track temperatures and a slight increase in pace, with most of the competitors remaining in the 1:50 minute bracket. This time Michael Stephen came out on top leading Melvill Priest for an Audi 1-2. The BMW of Etienne van der Linde was the meat in an Audi sandwich as he split the quartet of Audis by placing in third. Sipuka and Bonafede finished fourth and fifth respectively. 

Qualifying came after the two free practice sessions late in the afternoon. For the VMP Motorsport team it was a race against time to replace the gearbox in Gennaro Bonafede’s Audi S4. They managed to work at a frantic pace to complete the change in only two hours, ensuring that all four Audis could take part in qualifying. The reigning champ Michael Stephen went on from where he left off last year by placing his Audi S4 on provisional pole position. He set the fastest time of the weekend so far, and was the only driver to drop into the sub 1:50 bracket with a 1:49 minute lap. Stephen was followed by both the Team Afrox BMW entries in second and third. The top three will take part in the Super Pole tomorrow morning which will decide the final top three starting order. 

Melvill Priest qualified in fourth and Tschops Sipuka in sixth. The Subaru of Hennie Groenewald proved it was up to pace by placing in the top five, well within a competitive time bracket in the brand new Subaru WRX sedan. The top six were separated by less than a second. Gennaro Bonafede finished in seventh, less than two seconds from pole, despite another gearbox issue which left him with only two gears on his flying lap. 

The scene is set for another tremendous SA Bridgestone Production Car event. All the top teams are very close together and it is anyone’s guess as to who will lead the first race tomorrow. Super Pole is scheduled for 10:45 followed by race one at 12:50 local time. We wish the best of luck to the Audi S4 teams.

More information:
Production Cars FB page

Photos from the Audi Motorsport in South Africa FB page / Johan Laubscher