The new-look TOYOTA GAZOO Racing South Africa GR Cup had its season debut at the Zwartkops International Raceway on Saturday, 18 February 2023, featuring the recently introduced GR 86, rather than the Yaris models used in 2022. The opening weekend saw TimeLIVE writer Thomas Falkiner dominate as the experienced campaigner took the honours in both heats on the day.

Falkiner, who raced in the first GR Cup last year, made the most of his undeniable knowledge and experience of the Zwartkops circuit to take pole position in a time of 1min 13.930sec, placing him well clear of second-placed ASAMM’s Setshaba Mashigo; and Brendon Staniforth of Maroela Media in third.

As in 2022, the latest GR Cup will be contested by six of South Africa’s foremost motoring writers. The Citizen’s Mark Jones is the only former competitor to crack a second nod, but Falkiner, too, returned to action after colleague Denis Droppa was unable to attend the opening round.

“This truly is a one-off for me this year,” explained Falkiner. “Denis had to attend a function over the opening weekend, and Toyota allowed me to sub for him. This was just the chance I needed.”

The highly competitive Falkiner made the most of the opportunity, after starting from pole position for the opening heat.

“The front-engined, rear-wheel-drive layout of the GR 86 made for a completely different driving experience to that of the four-wheel-drive GR Yaris we had last year, but it seemed to suit my style,” said Falkiner after the race weekend. “I was in the lead when the flag dropped for the first race, and I never looked back.”

Setshaba held onto his second position throughout the 10-lap race, with Staniforth finishing in 3rd. Jones was in 4th, with GR Cup debutants Chad Luckhoff (Auto Trader) and Reuben van Niekerk (Jumping Kids/Wheels24) in 5th and 6th respectively.

Falkiner even overtook one of the GR Yaris that started ahead of the GR 86 drivers, clearly showing his pace – though his fastest lap during the first race was 1min 14.210, still some way off the time set during qualifying.

Race 2 saw Falkiner attain a second flag-to-flag victory, this time while setting a fastest lap of 1min 13.975sec. Mashigo again finished in 2nd place, while Jones and Staniforth duked it out over the course of the race, trading positions in a fight for the podium. In the end, it was Jones who improved on his performance from the opening race to take 3rd. Staniforth was relegated to 4th, with Luckhoff and Van Niekerk maintaining their positions.

Once the dust had settled, the scorers issued an official overall result for the day. Unsurprisingly, it was Falkiner who took the honours, with Mashigo in second and Staniforth in third. Jones finished in 4th overall, with Luckhoff taking 5th and Van Niekerk in 6th.

The next round of the 2023 GR Cup is set to take place at the iconic Killarney Raceway in Cape Town, on March 17th and 18th.