An engine fire in the closing stages of the SA Endurance Series season opener at Red Star Raceway, Delmas at the weekend robbed Steve Clark and Mike McLoughlin of a well-strategised victory and allowed Henk Lategan to take the chequered flag in the BBR Racing Porsche a mere 0,8 seconds ahead of the Promigen Audi in the hands of Paul Hill.

With just one racing lap to go after the safety car left the track, Paul Hill tried everything he could but had too many backmarkers to pass to catch the Porsche.

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Lategan, sharing with Heinrich Lategan and Versisimo Tavares gained the lead during the pit stop phase with half an hour of the race left to run and, at that point 44 seconds ahead of the Paul Hill/Bradley Liebenberg Promigen Audi with the Mike McLoughlin/Steve Clark Slingshot  in second place.

Consistency in endurance racing is a must and the Karah Hills/Jurie Swart pairing in the Kalex VW Golf proved that by finishing third overall, taking up the place after the Slingshot fire and having run for the majority of the race in fourth spot.

The consolation for Steve Clark was being able to nurse the Slingshot through to fourth overall ahead of the Mark Harvey/Dean Wolson/Philip Meyer Pple Group/Adapt Signage Backdraft that claimed the win in the Backdraft Roadster National Championship – the first win in the newly promoted class.

On Index of Performance it was that car which claimed top honours from the McLoughlin/Clark Sligshot and the Tradecore Racing VW Golf of CJ Blackman/ Jean Paul Briner and Anthony Hoare ahead of Trevor Graham/Dan Hirsch (Backdraft) and Rosh Sooful/Denver Branders Race Co Backdraft).

Bradley Liebenberg used his pole position slot to good advantage to power the Promigen Audi into an early and growing lead as the opening laps unfolded with the main tussle a way back between McLoughlin in the Slingshot Backdraft and the BBR Racing Porsche.

Sadly the Samlin Racing/Trinity Lamborghini suffered a terminal gearbox issue in the morning warmup and had to be withdrawn, while the Supacup Golf Nathan Hammond was in charge of came in early when the fuel pump to the reserve tank failed, creating fuel starvation on some corners.

The team resolved the issue after a lengthy pitstop – and equally as long for the Korridas Golf of Mozambiquan visitors Joao Martins and Marcos Rodrigues that was pitted when the rubber bushings on the engine mountings failed and the whole drivetrain started to move forwards and backwards.

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The first safety car was deployed around the half hour mark when Lonika Martens had her Backdraft Roadster cut out and refuse to restart. It was towed back to the pits, tweaked and she was able to rejoin.

The next major issue of the race arrived for Pesty Racing just on the hour mark and the team was forced to change both fuel pumps when the car started to lose fuel pressure.

As the clock ticked past the first hour of racing, Liebenberg’s Audi had completed 31 laps and was a lap ahead of Heinrich Lategan in the BRR Porsche who, in turn had gained a lap on the McLoughlin Sligshot.

Running fourth on the road was Andrew Horne in the Ligier and the sole competitor in the 1-hour sprint so as soon as he pulled off to collect the winners’ accolades, Karah Hill moved the Kalex Volkswagen into the vacant slot ahead of Richard van Heerde who was then the leader in the Backdraft Roadster category.

Moving on through the first round of tyre changes and fuel stops, the Audi continued to lead but on 90 minutes Lategan has reduced the deficit to just 11,7 seconds with McLoughlin holding station in third place some 48 seconds adrift of the leader.

Karah Hill was staying steady in fourth place with Kishoor Pitamber in a Class A Backdraft now up to fifth place on the road ahead of the new leader in the Roadster class, Dean Wolson with Dan Hirsch in seventh spot followed by Roberto Franco in the Graphix Supply World VW Golf and Anthony Hoare in the Tradecore Racing VW Golf completing the top 10.

The problems for Pesty Racing were not over and the car pitted once again, this time the problem traced to the earth on the dual fuel pump system – the team electing to do a complete change to new high pressure pumps and to use the remainder of the race as a test bed.

Further drama unfolded when the Team Qhubani Backdraft stopped near Turn 8 with flames coming from the front end.

“I think it was a steering pipe because the flames appeared every time I hit the brakes and started to turn,” said Baphumze Rubuluza.

There were also problems for the Van Heerde Backdraft and the car was brought into the pits for a rear differential change – all of this shaking up the midfield order as the Audi continued to rack up the laps.

Crossing through the halfway mark of the race, Liebenberg continued his domination of proceedings, having opened up the gap on the Porsche, now with Verissimo Tavares at the wheel and a lap adrift of the flying ‘green spectre’.

Mike McLoughlin helps to get Steve Clark strapped in

Steve Clark in the Slingshot Backdraft was in third place one lap further back with Jurie Swart having taken over duties in the Kalex Volkswagen in fourth place ahead of Kishoor Pitamber, Dean Wolson, Roberto Franco, Mark Owens, Trevor Graham and Anthony Hoare.

Behind them Rosh Sooful continued to run at a steady pace and Fabienne Lanz, battling to recover from a bout of flu, was trying to recover some of the ground lost early in the race.

Sadly for the Pitamber pairing overheating brakes meant they had to slow the pace and they started to drop back, forsaking fifth place for ninth as the race passed through the 2,5 hour mark, although they retained fourth place overall in Class A.

Going towards the final hour of the race the single pitstop strategy by the Sligshot team paid handsomely and Steve Clark leapfrogged the two cars ahead of him to lead the race, initially with a 13 second advantage over Paul Hill in the Audi but then the car briefly had a gearbox issue that slowed them through turns 1 and 2 – enough for the Henk Lategan Porsche to seize the advantage and move itself into the lead.

“The Audi is catching us, so it’s going to be a close one at the finish,” said Mike McLoughlin.

For the Pitmabers though, the day was done with a differential failure finally sidelining their car.

Those prophetic words from McLoughlin then turned to disbelief with the small fire that put the car out of contention and off the podium, turning the whole race on its head.

Colin Windell