2017 Investchem Formula 1600 champion Julian van der Watt totally vindicated the series’ policy of giving its champions the chance to race overseas, when he returned home, hopped back into a Formula 1600 and proceeded to dominate Saturday’s fifth round championship races at Pretoria’s Zwartkops Raceway.

Van der Watt, who raced in US F2000 last year, took pole position on his comeback weekend, before storming to two lights-to-flags wins over 2019 championship leader Scott Temple. It was still a very good day for Temple, who tightened his grip on this year’s title with two close seconds as he further increased his points lead over Nicholas van Weely, who followed Temple home in third in both Saturday’s races.

There was more pre-race drama when luckless championship challenger Andrew Rackstraw took ill in the lead up to Saturday’s meeting and was replaced by mentor Claudio Piazza Musso, but that did not prevent van der Watt from storming to pole position in his Investchem/Wulfchiptegnik Mygale, two-tenths of a second clear of Temple (Road to Race/1st Race Mygale).

Andrew Schofield (Investchem Mygale) pipped van Weely (Magnificent Paints & Hardware van Diemen) to third ahead of Tiago Rebello (TRMS Mygale), Alex Gillespie (ERP Trucking Components Mygale) and rookie trio Alex Vos (Ecurie Zoo/ DV Build van Diemen), Zac Edwards (Mygale) and returning Class B frontrunner, lady racer Ivana Cetinich (Alpha Universal Mygale).

Gerard Geldenhuys (Abacus Division Racing Mygale) closed off the top ten ahead of Brendan Tracey (Investchem Mygale), Class B man Allen Meyer (van Diemen) and Piazza Musso in Rackstraw’s Investchem/RDSA Mygale. Siyabonga Mankonkwana ran into trouble early in qualifying and it got worse as his times were disallowed after his car failed to cross the weighbridge, to see him start from the back in his Investchem Mygale.

Van der Watt blasted into the lead off the start, from where he controlled the race in spite of Temple’s best efforts, to beat the championship leader to the flag by all of seven-tenths of a second. Van Weely ended up a considerable distance behind in third after dealing with and then holding off Schofield, with Gillespie, Rebello, the ever-improving Edwards and Class B winner Cetinich nose-to-tail next up.

Mankonkwana did well to minimise the effect of his qualifying woes by fighting back to ninth, only three positions behind championship rival Rebello, with Vos tenth ahead of Meyer and Geldenhuys after both Piazza Musso and Tracey took early showers when both cars stopped out on track.

Race 2 was much the same, as van der Watt controlled it from the front to keep Temple a second at bay by the flag this time, with van Weely in a lonely third, once again ahead of Schofield. But it was all change behind them as young Vos impressed to emerge a close fifth ahead of Gillespie, Rebello, Geldenhuys, Mankonkwana and Class B winner Cetinich. Tracey was next up ahead of Edwards and class B runners, Meyer and substitute Piazza Musso.

So, van der Watt duly took the day from Temple, van Weely and Schofield, with Gillespie emerging fifth overall ahead of Rebello, Vos, Mankonkwana, Edwards, Geldenhuys and Tracey as Cetinich took Class B from Meyer and Musso. Temple meanwhile left Zwartkops with a firm grip on the championship — with just 66 points up for grabs over the next three rounds, Scott holds a 39 point lead over Nicholas Van Weely.

The absent Andrew Rackstraw remains third in the title chase with Tiago Rebelo fourth as Andrew Schofield moved up to fifth over Siyabonga Mankonkwana, with just four points splitting those three. But everyone from second back has something new to look over their shoulders for as Julian van der Watt shot from nowhere to sixth with his full points haul on his Investchem Formula 1600 comeback at Zwartkops and at this pace, a championship second seems well within his grasp…

Investchem Formula 1600 heads to the East London Grand Prix Circuit next for its sixth round and while the championship may well be a formality, the rest is still very much to play for. Roll on 31 August!