Mopar Pretoria 3 Hour – Brilliant Cronje night stint seals Ligier win

Gavin Cronje emerged the hero of the Mopar Zwartkops Three Hour race when he turned in an incredible stint into the evening to steer the Rico Barlow Racing/Aid Call 24/7 Ligier JS49 he shared with Simon Murray to a two-lap victory over Francis Carruthers and Johan Engelbrecht’s Harp Motorsport Malta No. 1 Juno SS3 as Cape teams dominated the Pretoria African Endurance series round on Saturday evening.

The ever-consistent Mike Verrier and Wayne Jardine brought their Fantastic Racing Shelby-Nissan home in third, eight laps off the leaders and a lap clear of early pacesetters, Ecurie Zoo Vos brothers Duncan and Graham’s Juno in a race of attrition that saw only eight of the 27 starters take the flag. The drive of the day had to be that of Dewald Brummer and Bevan Williams, who brought their MAD Racing/Fuchs Golf 1 GTi home an incredible fifth overall ahead of the equally creditworthy Stuart and Jonathan Konig’s Northern Bolt & Tool/ASAP Spar Peugeot 207.

Two VSP Sports 2000s – a GP Cars/Fantastic Racing entry pedalled by Arno Marais and Ian le Roux and Darryn Lobb and Gerald Wright’s Wright Motorsport/Ztorm version followed, with the Mike Schmidt/Bruce Avern-Taplin Frankie’s Soft Drinks Toyota Corolla the last classified finishers in quite a long race on a relatively short racetrack that took its toll on teams and organisers alike.

Things were looking up for local crews after qualifying, with the Vos brothers Juno on pole position alongside the similar Andre Bezuidenhout/Peter van der Weshhuizen Weltevreden Estate car with the Murray/Cronje Ligier and Carruthers/Engelbrecht Harp Juno third and fourth and no less than ten Shelbys behind them as Bradley Scorer and Theo van Vuuren’s Mopar Alfa Romeo headed a busy tin-top field.

Duncan Vos led away from Bezuidenhout at the start as Engelbrecht’s Juno and the Ligier became engulfed in a sea of Shelbys before gradually moving forward, but the going immediately proved tough with five cars already hors de combat within five laps. The Bezuidenhout Juno was the first major scalp to fall within 13 laps and just fifteen cars remained by mid-distance, by when the Zoo Juno led the Harp Juno and the Ligier.

The Vos Juno then failed to restart after a fuel stop after the Ecurie Zoo team inadvertently unplugged the car’s steering and could not figure out why they could not get gears, while the Harp Juno overshot in a stop and parked at the wrong pit, losing time as the car had to be moved back to be able to refuel. There were no such worries for the Ligier as Cronje had the bit firmly between his teeth as he drove like a man possessed into the dark to take the team to its third win in four 2016 Mopar African Endurance starts as it took the double with index and overall victory.

The Harp Juno overcame its pitstop blunder to trundle home in a seemingly customary second overall from Verrier and Jardine in the best of the surviving Shelbys and the Vos brothers, who must have been quite frustrated to have been delayed by that pit box faux pas. And when all was done and dusted, the MAD Golf was a spectacular fifth

It wasn’t just the race cars that struggled to make the finish – The Zwartkops timing system was threatened by a power failure but in typical Pretoria style, a bakkie came to the rescue when the timing system was connected to its battery.

“The fourth round of the Mopar African Endurance Series was a tough one all round,” Series boss Roger Pearce reported. “This was the highest attrition rate we have had in the series, but the racing was still brilliant and we now have a most interesting title fight on our hands as we have had the same two cars up front through our first four rounds.”

The Mopar African Endurance Series heads to Port Elizabeth’s Aldo Scribante Raceway next for the Three Hours of the Eastern Cape Saturday 15 October.