Zwartkops Formula Vee Thrills and Spills
The seventh round, of the 2004 South African National Formula Vee Championship, produced a strong twenty seven car field, for the Zwartkops event. In the end, only one car failed to make it to the flag and the full field qualified as finishers, in the first heat. Heat two was however a different story and a number of cars were eliminated in various incidents, which saw the race red flagged during the second lap, followed by a Safety Car intervention, four laps after the restart.
Having lost his father, during the week, Lee Thompson (08xConnect.com Rhema) had his mind set on dominating the event and dedicating the victory, to his memory. He took the lead from Pole Position, at the start of the first heat but for a number of laps, he had Championship log leader Symm Grobler (Auto Mecca Rhema 2) breathing down his neck, with Alan Holm (JBS Lasersprint Rhema 2), teenage ex Karter Jonathan Vilaca (Vision), Peter Hills (Vacuform Rhema) and Jaco Schriks (JBS Lasersprint Rhema 2) not far behind.
Having his first Formula Vee race, in more than four months, pre season favorite Dennis Johns (Goldco Midas Rhema 2) found himself in the midst of a mighty multi car battle, behind them. This battle included two more teenage ex Karters, Trevor Bland (Rhema) and Kyle Bennett (Rhema), along with Alan Kernick (Tasman), development driver Benny Phetla (Vacuform Rhema), Doug MacDonald (Rhema), Wayne Bennett (Lafarge Readymix Rhema 2), James Leach (Vision) and Bradley Martin (Rhema 2).
Turning into Turn Two, for the fourth time, MacDonald spun and confessed that it had not been a pleasant experience, facing the barrage of oncoming cars. Taking avoiding action, Kyle Bennett had gone off as well, while Wayne Bennett had chosen to go straight on, rather than turn into the cloud of dust and risk hitting someone.
In the meantime, Thompson had opened a bit of a gap on Grobler and looked to be heading for a comfortable victory but that was not to be. With less than three laps to go, the brakes on one side locked, at the Top of the Hill and he ran wide, caught the kerb and spun back across the circuit. One of the steering arms was bent and at the end of the lap, he was into the pits for some hasty repairs. He rejoined soon after but he was out of the points and had lost out on a much sought after victory, as Grobler went on to win the heat, from Holm, Vilaca, Johns, Schriks, Kernick, Bland, Phetla, Leach, Kyle Bennett, MacDonald, Anthony Taylor (Rigidek Rhema 2) and Jannie Geyser (Vision), after Hills had slowed dramatically, with a bad misfire, in the closing stages of the race and had also finished out of the points.
Geyser withdrew before the second heat, with a suspected blown head gasket but the rest where all on the grid, for the start of what would be an incident packed race. This time Grobler led the field away but then Bobby Nel (Lantis) spun at Turn Six and could not get the car restarted. The marshals had moved the car to the side of the road by the time the field arrived again and under double waved yellow flags, the leaders went through safely but then Kyle Bennett went off into Nel's car and the Red Flag was out by the time the leaders had crossed the line, to complete the second lap. It would appear the Bennett had been right on Phetla's tail, in eleventh place and did not see Nel's car, until the last minute. His first reaction was to hit the brakes and he sailed straight on, into the back of Nel's car, ripping off one of his front wheels in the process.
In the meantime Ashley Spada (Omega) had spun at Turn Two and been hit by someone as well, leaving four empty places on the grid, as the field lined up to start the race again. The race distance had been reduced by two laps and it was restarted straight from the grid. The first lap appeared to pass without further incident but as the field approached Turn Two, for the second time, Bland made a move on Kernick. The cars touched and Kernick ended up beached at the side of the circuit, losing a lap before he was able to resume. In the ensuing avoiding action, Wayne Bennett had become the first casualty of the restart, when someone hit him and he retired to the pits at the end of the lap, with a punctured rear tyre.
Next to go was MacDonald, who had an altercation with someone at the Top of the Hill and Taylor and Martin also bore the scars of battle, with both cars having lost their nose cones. It was about this time, that the Safety Car was deployed, releasing the field again, with only five laps to go. Although Grobler had led the field for the first lap of the race, Thompson had found a way past, during the second and as the Safety Car pulled into the pits and the race resumed, it was Thompson who led, from Grobler, Holm, Hills, Vilaca, Schriks, Johns, Bland and Phetla. By the end of the lap, Hills was gone, retiring to the pits with a reoccurrence of the misfire that had plagued him in the first heat and Schriks was well down the field, having gone off the road, when his front brakes failed.
Although there would be no overall victory, to dedicate to his father, Thompson would have the consolation of the second heat victory, as he led Grobler across the line and they where followed home, by Holm. Vilaca, Johns, Bland, Phetla, Leach, Taylor, Kevin Cartmell (Rand Brake Sting), Tony Beecher (Beecher), Martin and Manie Geldenhuis (Lagus).
After the race, the cars of Leach and development driver Dayview Mogane, where found to be underweight and both where excluded, securing his first National Championship point, for a delighted Geldenhuis.