The Squadra Corse team, running under the Performantè programme, showed some serious momentum and improvement in Round 5 of the ROK Cup’s Northern Regions Championship held at the Vereeniging Kart Circuit on 14 August 2021.
In the Mini ROK qualifier, Ntiyiso Mabunda, Luviwe Sambudla and Mahlori Mabunda secured the first three grid positions, with teammate Enzo Rujugiro further back in 16th. The opening heat saw the national championship leader Luviwe taking an early lead, then dropping back to third before working his way back to the front of the field.
Midway through the race, Mahlori successfully challenged for the lead and went on to secure his maiden victory. Ntiyiso crossed the finish line in fifth following an unfortunate opening heat that saw the pole-sitter drop down the order to seventh before making up a few positions. While Enzo courageously battled the rear of the field, he could not improve on his starting position.
Starting third on the grid for Heat 2 and recording the quickest lap of the race, Ntiyiso bounced back to claim the victory ahead of Luviwe and Mahlori. The boys claimed a dominant one-two-three finish for the team. Further back, resolute driving from Enzo saw him improve his 17th starting position to take the chequered flag just outside the top-10 in 12th place.
Courtesy of his quickest lap, Ntiyiso led the 18-kart Mini ROK grid for the final heat. Sibling, Mahlori, started alongside him, with Luviwe in fourth. Ntiyiso led for 10 of the 12 laps before contact in the tight hairpin turn resulted in him being run off the circuit and losing several positions to finish in eighth.
Luviwe, who eventually took the win, was later excluded from the results for the incident, handing the victory to Mahlori, who clawed his way back from the fifth position by posting the fastest lap of the day. Enzo further improved to claim his best finish ever in 11th, in a character-building round. The overall results saw Mahlori crowned the overall victor ahead of Ntiyiso, with Enzo awarded a well-earned 10th place. Luviwe finished 12th.
Squadra Corse’s OKJ aspirations were headed by Lwandle Pule, with the teenager qualifying in fifth and remaining in fifth in the first and second heats. The final heat, unfortunately, was a bit of a downer for Lwandle and the team. “However, Lwandle has vastly improved and has developed his pace to be within a sniff of the leader position in the eight months since moving to OKJ. It seems to be a Squadra Corse trend at the moment that the development curve of our heir racing drivers is a very short one from start to top end of the field,” says Mpho Eli Gumbi, owner and team principal of the Squadra Corse team.
“I am incredibly proud of how these boys are maturing and improving in the sport. We put a mammoth effort into developing them into top-class drivers, and they are certainly proof of the vision we have developed along with VW Motorsport SA. The synergy between the two Mabunda brothers and their ultimate first and second positions on the day, in what is their first full season in Mini ROK, is rewarding to see,” he adds.
“We truly dominated on track and are thrilled at our one-two-three finish in one of the Mini ROK heats. Mahlori’s maiden victory is one we all celebrate. It’s long overdue but well worth the wait. Ntiyiso’s pace was sublime, and it was rather unfortunate that he didn’t win the last heat after commanding most of the laps. And let’s not forget Enzo, who demonstrated promising abilities and a much-improved standing, finishing in the overall top-10. This is largely due to his training at home with our driver coaches Roman, Keagan and Bradley, as well as the short stint in Italy with the CRG factory team. This shows just how receptive the boys are to targeted training and encouragement from other professionals,” says Gumbi.
Ex-World Champion, Roman de Beer, says that all the boys showed great pace despite the very cold and windy conditions. “We had a big target on our backs but the boys stepped up to the plate and progressed very well over the whole weekend. Without exception, they all drove their hearts out and never gave up, even when it seemed the odds were against them. A special mention goes to Mahlori who manages to surprise us every time we go to a meeting; his progress is amazing. His manoeuvres are great and he makes the right decisions at the right time, resulting in him winning the day. He was definitely Squadra Corse’s driver of the day.”
Gumbi added that the support of Squadra Corse’s sponsors – VW Motorsport South Africa, Würth South Africa and Rujugiro Investments, has seen the team flourish.