TOYOTA GAZOO Racing SA’s Michael van Rooyen drew first blood in the 2021 Global Touring Car (GTC) championship, by winning the opening race of the season. His victory was backed up by fellow Toyota Corolla racer, Mandla Mdakane, who recorded his first podium for the team during the second race at the Killarney International Raceway, which took place on Saturday, 20 March 2021.
The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing SA squad clearly showed their intent during the first qualifying session of the season. The pair decided on a strategy that could put either one of them – or both – on pole position for the opening race, but their plan saw only Van Rooyen reap the rewards of the effort. Unfortunately for the Rustenburg Rocket, he elected to protect his tyres for the race and pitted early after dominating the session, only to see Robert Wolk, also in a Toyota Corolla, pip him to the post. Mdakane started in sixth place.
During the opening race of the season, Van Rooyen quickly caught up with Wolk, and stayed with him through the opening four laps of the race, seeking an opportunity to pass. The businessman from Rustenburg finally found an opening on lap 4, and managed to control the race from the front for eight more laps, until the chequered flag. At the same time, Mdakane made up one position early in the race, holding onto fifth until the latter part of the race.
“A minor coming-together with the Ford saw me lose fifth place again, and I had to settle for sixth in the end,” said Mdakane.
While the opening round featured 12 laps, the second race was due to run over a total time of 30 minutes, with one lap added at the end. The race was shortened to 20 min however, due to delays in various races throughout the day. After his victory in Race 1, Van Rooyen had his tail up, and was hoping for another good result.
“But things didn’t go to plan,” said Van Rooyen after the race. “Right from the start, my engine just lacked power. We’ll try to figure it out once the car is back at the workshop, but I was about 3sec down per lap, right from the get-go.”
As for Mdakane, the Johannesburg racer made the most of the race, moving into third place early on and maintaining that position to the finish – recording his first podium for the team in the process.
“In the end, we can’t complain about our results this weekend,” concluded Van Rooyen from the Cape. “I won the very first race of the year, and Mandla flew the flag in Race 2. Now we just need to sort the niggles for Round 2, and we’ll be in a good position to push ahead with our championship aspirations.” The next race of the 2021 GTC championship is set for 17 April at the Zwartkops Raceway near Pretoria. This is home base for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing SA, and the team will be aiming to capitalise on the home ground advantage.