From the cockpit of a rooky racing driver

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It’s hard to fathom that we have reached the middle of the Toyota Gazoo Racing Yaris GR Cup media challenge season. Six journalists, including yours truly, are participating as part of the National Extreme Festival race series. Our inaugural race, which took place at the Killarney International Raceway on 5 March, was quite the learning curve, and required a great deal of concentration and consistency.

Yes, most people can drive a vehicle fairly quickly but racing requires strategy and consistency to extract the maximum from your race car. For instance, you have to choose a brake marker into a corner and hit it consistently with each passing lap, which in our series is all but eight laps. Then you also need to manage your brakes and tyres, meaning instead of trying to attack the car ahead at every corner, you might need to pare back a bit and choose a more opportune moment to take the gap. Of course, this is easier said than done when adrenaline is pumping and the red mist has thoroughly descended.

Round 2 at Zwartkops on 23 April felt more natural, largely because of the familiarity of the track. I managed to find a good rhythm and the track suited my driving style more, with the car feeling strong throughout the weekend.

Then it was back to the coast on 28 May at Aldo Scribante in Gqeberha for Round 3, and although we found good pace, particularly during the race, we were met with some challenges. As a result, we had to sit out Race 2. That aside, Aldo Scribante remains a superb track with a great balance of fast, flowing corners and fairly tight ones.

Round 4 took place at Redstar Raceway in Delmas on 2 July. Being the middle of winter, the circuit was rather greasy in the mornings but got better as ambient temperatures increased. I didn’t find the track, with its  infinite amount of tight corners that were disorientating, to be the most exciting. I have always struggled to find a rhythm on this track. This was further exacerbated by the fact that we had to race it in a clockwise direction, which I had never done before. It remains a track designed and suited for bikes.

That aside, we have just returned from Round 5 of the season that took place at the East London Grand Prix Circuit. One of the fastest tracks in the country, the coastal track has been known to tame even the most ardent of racers, particularly the famous Potters Pass, which is a right-hand bend taken flat-out. And I mean pedal-to-the-metal sort of commitment. Top tier cars go through here at well over the 200km/h mark, meaning drivers negotiate half of the circuit’s 3.9km with the throttle wide open. 

It requires nerves of steel and bravado, not to mention complete faith in the car’s abilities to negotiate it. Of course, my initial lap into the infamous Potters Pass was taken with a great deal of caution and, even then, your reflexes are more inclined to dab the brakes and shave off the colossal speeds. You soon learn to drive on instinct alone and place any inhibitions on the proverbial backburner. 

Whatever you have heard about the East London Grand Prix being the most daunting track in South Africa, believe the hype. It simply resets your entire barometer of what a fast track entails. In fact, many international competitors have questioned the logic of having such fast sweeps, with clarion calls of a petition to redesign the track to make it safer. Although I understand the rationale, I still think that this iconic track’s layout should be preserved as is. And, having driven it in anger, I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration at its very existence.

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