The official 2017 South African circuit racing season will kick off on March 24th, when a full field of more than 20 Polo drivers line up for the start of the 2017 Engen Volkswagen Cup at Cape Town’s Killarney International Raceway. With the return of a few well-known names, as well as the addition of young and raw talent, the 2017 season has all the makings to be an epic one.
“We are very excited to finally go racing,” says Mike Rowe, Head of Volkswagen Motorsport. “The off-season gave everyone an opportunity to regroup and prepare their cars and teams for 2017, but the break was long enough now and I’m sure that all of the Engen Volkswagen Cup competitors are raring to go.”
The silly season, as it is fondly known in motorsport, resulted in a number of exciting developments in the world of Volkswagen Cup Racing. The top three points finishers from the 2016 season have all moved up to the GTC series, allowing a few competitors who were formerly part of the Volkswagen racing family to return to complete some unfinished business. The sport is also growing with a number of talented youngsters opting to make their tin-top racing career debuts in Volkswagen Cup, while a few drivers from different motorsport disciplines decided to make the switch to circuit racing
Probably the biggest news is that former Volkswagen Cup star, Tasmin Pepper will return to the series. This will probably not be such good news for the majority of men in the field, as the daughter of well-known racing driver Iain Pepper will most definitely be a title contender. “I’m looking forward being back in the Polo Cup field,” says Tasmin. “We start the season at my favourite track, so podium finishes would be a good.”
Tasmin will have her work cut out, as there are a number of competitors that will not take her challenge lightly. Jeffrey Kruger has good backing this season and will no doubt be a title contender, and so will masters competitor Juan Gerber. But perhaps the biggest onslaught for championship honours will come from Shaun La Reservee. The man form KZN is a proven race winner, and with a little bit of consistency thrown into the mix, he could be hard to beat in 2017.
Also on the comeback trail are masters’ competitors Jano van der Westhuizen and Francois van Tonder who return to the series after a two-year hiatus.
“We are also very excited about a number of new drivers that are joining the Volkswagen Cup family,” continues Rowe. One such driver is none other than Benjamin Habig. The surname will ring a bell as Benjamin is the son of legendary driver and multiple South African rally champion Jan Habig. The accomplished karting star’s Engen Volkswagen Cup debut is sure to draw close scrutiny. And speaking of rallying: Gansbaai resident Paulus Franken made the switch from rallying to circuit racing this year and if his speed on gravel is anything to go by, he could surprise a few of the established tarmac specialists.
Another youngster with a racing pedigree to join the fray is Giordano Lupini. As a fourth generation Lupini to be competing, motorsport is certainly in the 16-year old’s blood and the season kicks off on his home circuit, where he enjoyed a successful season in GTi Challenge in 2016. “The Polo is different for me. It is 50% more powerful, heavier and has power steering, but we’ve tested a quite a bit recently and I’m happy with our progress,” says Lupini.
“We are also very pleased that our inaugural Volkswagen Driver Search programme from late last year is already proving to be successful. Shivesh Bissoon made his way into the series after partaking in the 2016 Driver Search, and we are very happy to also welcome the overall winner of the programme, Jonathan Mogotsi, to the Volkswagen family,” continues Rowe. Mogotsi earned his drive by narrowly winning the Driver Search thanks to both fast and consistent performances towards the end of the programme, and he will now also face off against the likes of Kuda Vazhure who enters his second season of the Volkswagen Motorsport Transformation drive. Vazhure progressed well in 2016 and will want to consolidate in 2017.
“It is going to be impossible to make any predictions as there are so many potential race and even championship winners in this field,” says Rowe. Besides some of the names mentioned already, the long list of potential race winners and title contenders will most definitely include Matt Shorter. Matt is the brother of last year’s champion Chris and will do his utmost to follow in his brother’s championship winning footsteps; while identical twins Darren and Justin Oates have prepared well for the 2017 season, which should see them as regular front runners. Daniel Duminy is another driver coming from a motorsport family as his father Shaun is well-known from Production Car Racing and to prove that racing is all about keeping it in the family, there will even be a father and son combination competing in the same series in the form of Gary and son Ethan van Heerden.
“We would also like to welcome C Track to our team this year. With their help, we’re adding a valuable dimension to the series in that we will be able to monitor the mileage of each of the engines under the bonnets of the racing Polos this year,” concludes Rowe.
Everyone will have everything to play for when the first practice session starts at 09:45 on Friday 24 March. Official qualifying to determine the grid will take place at 17:30 on the same day, while the first of three races on Saturday will start at 11:55.