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It was a tough opening weekend for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing SA’s Global Touring Car (GTC) crews, as they took on Round 1 of the 2022 season at Cape Town’s Killarney International Circuit. The team, now running three Toyota Corolla GTC cars, struggled with various issues over the course of the weekend, at a circuit that has historically not brought the best results for either of the drivers.

“We came to the Cape hoping to turn the tide on our results at the Killarney circuit, but it seems the Mother City remains a tough nut to crack for us,” said Michael Van Rooyen after the race weekend. “Bad luck, setup challenges and some hard racing put paid to our aspirations, though there were some positives to take away from the Cape.”

The first driver to fall foul to lady luck – or the lack of it – was youngster Saood Variawa, driving in his first race for the team. During the second practice session on Friday, one of the wheels on his car came loose, leaving the driver to sort out the problem at well over 200 km/h, down the back-straight of Killarney. Variawa managed to keep the Toyota Corolla pointing in the right direction, and stopped without further incident. He lost out on the remainder of the practice session, curtailing his seat time leading up to the race.

There was more bad luck during the final practice session of the day, when the front splitter on Variawa’s car separated, forcing him into the pits yet again, and further limiting his seat time.

Despite this, the youngster posted the fastest TGRSA time during in qualifying. He outpaced his more experienced teammates, though his best time of 1min 15.515sec was only good enough for 5th place on the 9-car starting grid. He had Van Rooyen just 0.120sec behind him in 6th, while Mandla Mdakane went 8th-fastest.

“Both Mandla and I struggled with the setup during qualifying, and it was especially stability under braking that made it challenging for me,” said Van Rooyen after Qualifying.

Next followed the first of the two races, each consisting of ten laps. The race got under way with a rolling start as usual, but had to be red-flagged due to a serious crash in the SupaCup field, who share the circuit with GTC.

Variawa made the most of his starting position, until a broken rim saw him tumble down the order, and eventually into retirement. This left his two teammates to make the most of the race, which saw Van Rooyen take the chequered flag in fourth place, with Mdakane in fifth – good results, considering their starting positions.

The second race saw the grid reversed, with Variawa starting from the back, since he hadn’t completed the first race. When the flag dropped, the TGR Corollas made a good start, but unfortunately a crash in the mid-pack caused a chain reaction, which saw Mdakane punted out of the race. Variawa’s car was severely damaged in the altercation, and he was forced to return to the pitlane, from where he joined the race during the re-start.

Once the final race got under way for the second time, Van Rooyen made his way up the order, while Variawa had to battle from behind. Van Rooyen was locked in a tussle for the lead when he was punted and spun out of contention, forcing the Rustenburg Rocket to re-join the race in the middle of the SupaCup pack. He fought back through the slower cars and managed to finish in 7th place overall.

Despite a damaged car, as well as a start from the pitlane, Variawa managed to stay with the front pack, finishing in fifth place in the end.

“It was a really tough weekend for us,” concluded Van Rooyen. “But we’ll be back stronger and wiser for Round 2, which takes place at Zwartkops next month.”