THE Bridgestone Production Car championship is entering its second half, and defending champion Port Elizabeth’s Michael Stephen can look back at the first five rounds of the nine-round series and give himself a pat on the back for a job well done so far.
The PE-based mechanical engineer (who also prepares the two Engen Xtreme Audi S4s) has been a model of consistency this year and has stood on the podium 10 times from 14 starts, only failing to score points on two occasions.
His haul includes six wins. No other driver in class A has visited the top step more than twice.
These facts alone must make him a favourite come round six at Phakisa on August 3. But BMW have made it their sworn mission to get back in front, and with three fastest laps and five podiums from Etienne van der Linde, he’s best-placed to lead the Afrox charge.
However, he’s a slender point ahead of Melvill Priest in the Ohlins Audi S4.
Priest’s consistency isn’t in question and he has an impressive nine podiums (five seconds and four thirds), but a win has eluded him thus far.
Nevertheless, he has played an important role in keeping the Audi brand well out in front in the manufacturers’ points.
In class T, as is the case for class A leader, double-digit podiums have propelled Gavin Cronje to the front of the pack.
The Castrol Mini pilot has won gold six times, and backs that up with three silvers and a bronze.
Reigning champion Graeme Nathan has slipped to second after a rash of recent incidents – not always of his own making – but like the class A runner-up has visited the podium nine times in his Indyoil overalls.
Lurking nearby though is Nathan’s teenage understudy, Jacques “The Stiglet” Joubert, who looks like a good bet for a strong secondhalf of the season.
Their efforts see Volkswagen leading the manufacturers’ chase.
A class T driver looking forward to Phakisa is Shaun Duminy in the Ecoboost Ford Focus, having effectively missed three full rounds (including his “home” event in Durban) after a freak mishap in which he damaged an achilles tendon during qualifying at Round Three in Port Elizabeth.
Conversely, missing from the action will be evergreen Richard Pinard, who was extremely lucky to escape from a 200km/h accident in Durban with “only” a broken right leg and a fractured hip.
His Sasolracing Subaru was destroyed in the accident, and the team are on the hunt for a replacement bodyshell with a view to both car and driver being fit as soon as possible.