Regardless of the venue, there’s one racing category that’s guaranteed to deliver plenty of thrills – and a couple of spills – to keep motorsport fans on the edges of their seats. After more than 22 years in action, the Volkswagen Polo Cup still delivers some of the best racing on the South African calendar, and the penultimate round of the 2019 championship at Killarney Raceway was no different.
This year’s Falken Polo Cup may have come down to a two-horse race between Bradley Liebenberg and reigning champion Jeffrey Kruger going into the penultimate round, but with 26 Polo GTi entries lining up for the Killarney race, there was sure to be plenty of excitement. This was the largest field for this category in more than five years, and the biggest turn-out yet for the current-generation Polo GTi race car.
Kruger made Friday’s practice all his own, dominating proceedings with the fastest times in all three sessions. However, Liebenberg bounced back on Saturday’s main qualifying session, posting an exceptional time of 1 min 23.863 sec, only for Kruger to snatch the lead in the one-lap Superpole session that determined the starting order for the first race. Liebenberg was second quickest, followed by Matt Shorter, Jurie Swart, Justin Oates and Dario Busi.
Race one saw the two title contenders dash off at the front of the pack, with Kruger holding station initially, but eventually being passed by Liebenberg who took the win by just 0.6 sec. Other than the two leaders switching places, the top six mirrored the Superpole finishing order.
Race two was full of drama, as it was red-flagged after just four laps when Simon Need rolled his car at the end of the extremely fast back straight. The restart for the second part of the race only lasted two laps until another red flag came out following a collision between Darren Oates and Jason Campos. It was another victory in the shortened race for Liebenberg, just ahead of Kruger, Matt Shorter, Oates, Swart and Chris Shorter.
The 10-lap third race looked set to be more of the same, as Liebenberg notched up a hat-trick of victories, taking him one step closer to the 2019 Falken Polo Cup title. However, his elation was short-lived, as it turned out that he had made a costly mistake by using the Polo GTi’s push-to-pass power boost on the opening lap – a feature that is only allowed from lap two.
He was thus not classified in the results, which handed Kruger the win to complement his pair of second-place finishes for the day, promoting him back into the provisional lead in the championship, ahead of Liebenberg, with one round remaining. Justin Oates was rewarded with second place in the revised results, ahead of brothers Chris and Matt Shorter, Jurie Swart and Jonathan Mogotsi who rounded off the top six.
“I had a great qualifying session, but had a small gearbox issue in Superpole and only managed second place,” Liebenberg explained. “In the first race, Jeff and I charged off into the distance and I got the edge on him to come out on top. I had an awesome start from pole position for race two and just focused on maintaining the pace and looking after the car, and got my second win of the day.
“At the beginning of the third race, I started on pole but misjudged the lights so dropped down to second. I closed back up on Jeff going down the back straight, then coming out of the final turn onto the pit straight I wasn’t thinking straight and pressed the push-to-pass, which can only be used from the second lap. The penalty is really unfortunate, and it’s not the way I wanted to end the weekend, but we will go into the last round ready to fight for the championship,” Liebenberg added.
The final round of the 2019 Falken Polo Cup takes place at Red Star Raceway in Delmas, east of Johannesburg, on 25 and 26 October.
Gaining fantastic international experience through the Volkswagen Motorsport Driver Exchange Programme
As part of the Volkswagen Motorsport Driver Exchange programme, 2018 Volkswagen Ameo Cup single-make series winner and newly crowned 2019 Indian Touring Car champion Dhruv Mohite had the opportunity to compete in Round 7 of the Falken Polo Cup at Killarney Raceway in Cape Town.
Although it was somewhat a baptism of fire in the exceptionally competitive South African series – along with the additional challenges of learning an all-new circuit and having to get used to a significantly different car in the form of the Polo GTi – it was an opportunity that Mohite relished.
“My race weekend went reasonably well, although I had a lot to learn about the car and the circuit,” he said. “There’s only 1.5 seconds separating the field from first place to 24th in terms of lap times, so it’s not easy to make up positions. I managed to finish 20th in race one, 22nd in race two with a flat tyre, and then ended 21st in the final race, so I’m fairly happy with the results today.’
As for the competitiveness of the Falken Polo Cup, Mohite was truly impressed: “Although our grids are approximately the same size, the racing is much closer and a lot more cut-throat in South Africa. We only have three tracks to race at compared to around nine in SA, and we have half as many races for the year, so we’ve got some way to go to be up there with the best.
“I have to say a big thank you to Volkswagen Motorsport, both in India and South Africa, for giving me this opportunity. I feel this is a great initiative to come and learn new things and race against different competitors,” Mohite added. “The South African team has been extremely generous to us, and it has been a wonderful experience. I hope that many other drivers will get this kind of opportunity in the future.”