The Volkswagen Driver Search delivered incredible results as its two finalists Jonothan Mogotsi and Ryan Rhode drove to a sensational Index of Performance win and a giant-killing sixth overall in Saturday’s annual Port Elizabeth 3-hour endurance race at the Aldo Scribante.
The rookie drivers, competing alongside regular Engen Volkswagen Polo Cup pilot Kuda Vuzhare in the penultimate phase of the Search, stunned observers with a competitive and consistent performance to bring their near-standard Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TSI home well up amongst a field comprising mostly racing sports, GT and saloon cars.
Rhode and Mogotsi were among the 16 hopefuls selected to the Driver Search, which strives to find the cream of South Africa’s crop of previously disadvantaged drivers, with all sixteen being put through an Academy module at the Gerotek Test Facility outside Pretoria in September.
That process not only served to provide each candidate with invaluable and necessary grounding, grooming and training in every aspect a racer will require in their careers; from fitness to the basics of driving, marketing themselves and the commercial aspects; but the top eight returned to Gerotek for a further Academy module in October.
The top four – Rishay Moodley, Ayrton Good, Mogotsi and Rhode then went through to an on-track shootout at Red Star Raceway, where Rhode and Mogotsi drove to qualify for the final phase, the first half of which was to compete together in Saturday’s 3-hour.
Volkswagen’s Driver Search Rookies did the program and themselves proud in Port Elizabeth, qualifying an impressive 18th out of 24 cars on the starting grid, but they went on deliver a legendary race performance.
The more experienced Rhode started the race and drove the first stint, delivering quick, but supremely consistent laptimes. “We sat the lads down after qualifying and told them that we wanted consistent 1 minute 22 second lap times and they banged them in lap after lap,” Volkswagen Driver Search coordinator Steve Harding explained. “Our theoretical best lap based on the data before the race was a 1:21:3 and they all came very close to that too.”
Rhode had moved up to a stunning 9th overall while delivering supremely consistent lap times by the time he pitted to hand the Polo over to Mogotsi at the end of the first hour and Jonathan picked up where Ryan left off to hand the Polo over to Vuzhare in 7th position during a safety car period 50 minutes later.
Kuda was up to 5th at a point before a previously slowed sports car re-passed the Polo with a few laps to go, but the young crew was rewarded with a stunning and giant killing sixth overall when the chequered flag flew.
All three drivers delivered precisely the sort of consistency they were asked to throughout the race and their quickest laps were split by mere milliseconds, all bang on the button versus the theoretical best lap. It got even better at prize giving though, where it was confirmed that the Driver Search kids had won Index of Performance in their little Polo.
“This was my first endurance race – it was absolutely amazing,” Ryan Rhode admitted. “This result proves so well how consistency pays, but it was a brilliant experience too – thanks so, so much to Volkswagen for this incredible opportunity!”
“Today was an emotional rollercoaster filled with nerves and excitement,” Jonathan Mogotsi added. “The team’s positive energy is what made the day really special to me, but I have to thank Volkswagen for a truly incredible and unforgettable experience.”
“I feel very privileged to have been involved in the Volkswagen Driver Search programme,” Kuda Vuzhare admitted. “Today was testament to how brilliant local talent is being realised.”
“We now know that we have found two really good young drivers with heaps of potential,” coordinator Harding admitted. “While the judges looked at lap-times and consistency, other factors also come into play – how did they handle the pressures of race day, are they properly prepared in every way, and are they prone to making mistakes?
“We also looked specifically this weekend at how they integrate and work in a team environment without losing the competitive edge that is part of a successful racers makeup.”
The Volkswagen Driver Search now moves into its final showdown at the Extreme Festival finale at the Zwartkops Raceway in Pretoria this Saturday 26 November, where Jonathan Mogotsi and Ryan Rhode will race against each other in a pair of Volkswagen Polos similar to the car they drove together in the PE endurance race in the Superhatch races, duking it out for the prize 2017 Engen Volkswagen Polo Cup seat that is up for grabs to the winner of the Volkswagen Driver Search.
“The Volkswagen Driver Search has been an incredible experience,” Volkswagen South Africa Motorsport Manager Mike Rowe reflected. “We started with 16 prospective talents two months ago and the process has seen the cream rise to the top – the three-hour has now proven the process beyond any doubt and based on this, it is going to be very hard to choose a winner come Saturday evening at Zwartkops – well done to the drivers – that was a stunning show.”
“Not only has the Volkswagen Driver Search delivered a pair of brilliant young drivers who are going to make us scratch our heads after Zwartkops, but it has shown how deep the pool of South African racing talent really is across the board,” Motorsport South Africa Sporting Services Manager Wayne Riddell concluded. “May the best man win next weekend.”