The 2017 Mopar South African Endurance Championship will get a new look, a new name, new cars and far greater excitement in the New Year and while most leading competitors are bringing new cars for the season ahead, not even some of the drivers know what they will be behind the wheel of, come the Phakisa 6-hour in February.
The series that has run so successfully as the African Endurance Series over the past three seasons now becomes the South African Endurance Championship with the winners to be crowned SA National Champions for the first time in 2017, along with a new identity and a 7-round championship run all around South Africa, with each race live streamed among several other innovations.
Series officials are keen to attract more international competitors for the coming year, but several regular leading local runners have big plans up their sleeve, although nobody is saying anything about exactly what new cars are coming as teams are playing their silly season aces close to their chests.
“We have a new car coming,” 2016 champion Simon Murray admitted. “We are not ready to say what it will be, but rest assured, it will be quick,” he smiled. “Our championship-leading Ligier is likely to stay in SA to race against us, but the Mopar South African Endurance Championship certainly looks set for a vintage 2017.”
“Francis Curruthers and I will continue in the Mopar SA Endurance Series in 2017,” this year’s runner-up co-driver Johan Engelbrecht confirmed. “But I really do not know what we will be driving – Francis has bought a new car and he won’t even tell me what it is!” The duo’s familiar black Juno is also set to stay in the series for 2017.
The Campos family is another team playing its cards close to its chest; not revealing whether Rui and sons Jason and Keegan will continue with their Shelby-Ford V8, or if they will also be racing a completely new car. Other developments include improvements for Vos brothers Duncan and Graham’s race-winning Juno-Jaguar, the likely arrival of a Wolf for a front running team and several local cars in the works, including new Nardinis, the regular fleet of Shelby Can Am V6s and junior sportscar plans for young drivers aboard SA-built Harper and Nash prototypes.
Even more exciting news is the formation of a GT3 Cup as a regular Mopar SA Endurance Championship highlight and a racing home to the likes of Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Porsches and Vipers. Series officials are working on an international flavour for certain races through the season – hopefully even attracting the likes of South African GT3 drivers and their teams from other international series.
There are several mouthwatering developments on the tin-top front too, with the likes of the Mopar Alfa Romeo team fielding a new GTC production-spec Giulietta; interest from other teams in running similar machinery and even talk of TCR machinery making its way onto the 2017 Mopar South African Endurance Championship grid.
“We have worked very hard over the past months and we will shortly be able to confirm several further team and commercial tie-ins and even festival activities around the races like a mini-Le Mans 24 hour, which also happens to be one of Europe’s biggest parties every year,” SAEC commercial director Mike Schmidt explained. “We also plan to include a GT3 Cup and there is a very strong possibility of greater international participation next year too.”
“Our biggest news is that the Mopar South African Endurance Championship gets full South African National Championship status from 2017,” Series boss Roger Pearce confirmed. “We strongly believe that this is the championship to race in South Africa – not only do we have a fleet of great new machinery coming and seven brilliant rounds right across South Africa through the year, but there is now a national championship at stake and you really cannot get more racing bang for your racing buck than our championship offers.
“See, when you look at how long each driver will actually drive through the season – somewhere between an hour and a half to four hours actual racing behind the wheel every race weekend, plus ample practice time in the car, it works out a hell of a lot more cost effective than the sixteen laps per meeting anything else can offer – never mind that the costs are split over two or three drivers; or that you need a real team to do this.
“Now add that to the fact that you can get fourteen or fifteen rand for every dollar, Euro or pound; that there are drives available across the board at prices that many an international driver will consider impossible and this series starts becoming hugely attractive to overseas competitors too.
“All in all, the Mopar South African Endurance Championship is the only South African championship worth considering for unbeatable value for money racing enjoyment,” Pearce concluded. “And 2017 is going to be a South African Endurance racing year to remember.”
Mopar South African Endurance Championship
Provisional 2017 Race Calendar
Welkom 6-hour, Phakisa (confirmed 25 February)
Cape Town 500, Killarney
East London 3-hour
Dezzi 3-hour, Port Shepstone, KZN
Port Elizabeth 3-hour, Aldo Scribante
Welkom 9-hour, Phakisa