The second and third open practice sessions for Sunday’s inaugural ASA Transcontinental Series Free State 500 were completed on Saturday morning with nothing more serious than a couple of spinning cars that brought out the red flag.
At the end of the two 45-minute sessions, which saw the big 358 cu in American V8s reach top speeds of around 280 km/h down the straightaway, it was veteran stock car driver and 1986 Daytona 500 winner Geoff Bodine of Chemung, New York State, who emerged with the fastest time around the 2,5-km Phakisa Freeway super oval.
The 60-year-old, driving a Rick McCray Chev Impala, turned back the clock to record a best lap of 36,334 sec at an average speed of 238 km/h around the ant-clockwise banked oval. Just 0,170 sec in arrears was Chris Wimmer of Wausau, Wisconsin in a Philly’s Subs Chev Impala. Third was American Marc Davis, from Mitchelville, Maryland (WHUR 96.3/The World Network/Marc Davis Motorsports Chev Lumina) with a time of 36,504 sec. At 19 years of age the joint youngest driver in the field with South African Johan Coetzer of Welkom, owner/driver Davis carries three special stickers on his car: a tribute to his late father Harry, who died just over a week ago, and decals supporting Bafana Bafana and the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
Lone Briton John Mickel, from Cambridge in England, was fourth in an RS Capp Chev Monte Carlo with a time of 37,00 sec, followed by American Gary Lewis from Bothell, Washington State (Midgley Motorsports Chev Monte Carlo) with a best lap of 37,145 sec.
Best of the six South Africans in the field was 29-year-old WesBank V8 racer Jaco Correia of Klerksdorp in North West Province (Liqui Moly Chev Monte Carlo) with a 10th-best time of 37,745 sec.
Dennis Huth, President of the American Speed Association, who have brought the thundering V8 stock cars to South Africa, expressed his admiration of the South African drivers’ performance so far. “This is very different to what they have experienced in the past and they have shown great skill and a refreshing willingness to learn in their first attempt at the very difficult discipline of super oval stock car racing.”
Former national V8 sprint car short oval champion Johan Cronje of Welkom was 12th in a Phezulu Plant/JCB Ford Fusion with Danie Correia, younger brother of Jaco, 14th in a Liqui Moly Chev Monte Carlo. Cape Town’s Johan Spies, the reigning national super salon short oval champion, was 18th in a Speedsport Motorsport Cape Town Chev Monte Carlo.
Johan Coetzer from Welkom was 21st in a Phezulu Plant/JCB/Speed Pro Racing/Signs4U Ford Fusion and reported a problem with his engine only revving to 6 000 r/min instead of the limited 8 000 r/min. Reigning class A5 national rally champion Gugu Zulu’s efforts were hampered by a lack of power on his Phakisa Freeway-backed Chev Monte Carlo and he recorded a 22nd best time of 41,135 sec. The Johannesburg driver was enjoying his first ever taste of oval track racing, but was frustrated with a car that was developing only around 370 bhp compared to the normal 500 to 600 bhp. “It’s one of ASA’s training cars and we’re concentrating on learning the ropes and getting laps under our belt,” said the former Sports 2000 circuit champion.
Zulu’s car is a big hit with the thousands of fans watching today’s action in warm and sunny conditions. The black Monte Carlo carries images of a cheetah, the symbol of Phakisa Freeway and the inaugural Free State 500.
Qualifying for Sunday afternoon’s 207-lap 500 km Free State 500, which starts at 13h00, gets underway later this afternoon and will consist of four 15-minute sessions to determine the start order for the main race.
SuperSport will broadcast a 13-minute preview of the race weekend at 18h30 this evening on SS6 and SS6 Africa. There will be a 26-minute report on today’s qualifying at 18h45 on Sunday on SS6 and SS6 Africa. Sunday’s race will feature in a 52-minute highlights programme at 17h20 on February 4 on SS2 and SS2 Africa.