Tasmin Pepper back on the podium
At her second race meeting after her racing return in South Africa's VW Polo Cup, Tasmin Pepper proved that she has certainly not lost her touch and was back on the podium.
It certainly was a tough season for South Africa's top female talent, having been forced to sit out the entire W Series campaign after gaining automatic access to the grid following a stunning debut season in 2019. Tasmin Pepper was consistently in the top-ten and scored a sixth place the second round in Zolder as her best result - which put Pepper in tenth overall. It was her first year in F3 machinery, against a plethora of more experienced drivers and certainly a dark horse in the inaugural all-female championship. Unfortunately, her hard-earned spot on the grid was suddenly in question once W Series resumed its activities in 2021, as she was unable to reach the UK for the pre-season test due to travel restrictions. Eventually, Pepper would miss the whole season. After over two years after her last race, Tasmin had the chance to get back behind the wheel last month, when she returned to South Africa's Volkswagen Polo Cup - a championship where she had competed in prior to her single-seater journey in Europe - this year at its 25th season of competitions. The championship features an impressive grid of young talents moving up the ranks of national motor racing, which gave Pepper the opportunity to challenge herself at a very competitive level. Pepper stepped in Keegan Campos' #3 entry at Red Star Raceway, and earned a double top-five finish at her return to racing. At the penultimate round of the championship, Pepper headed to Zwartkops Raceway with a brand-new livery, echoing the PUMA W Series F3 car that she was set to drive in the all-female championship. The support from PUMA resulted in one of the most striking racing liveries to date and was surely a deserving testimony of Pepper's involvement in the 'She Moves Us' campaign. In Friday's qualifying session at Zwartkops - a fast and technical track with not many passing opportunities - Pepper narrowly missed out on pole position, who went to Clinton Bezuidenhout, and qualified in second place for the final race, while she started in seventh place for the first race of the weekend. Among the 17-car field, Pepper joined fellow female racer Lonika Maartens in the one-make series: the driver of the #26 Stradale Motorsport's Polo had a great weekend at Red Star Raceway, but was hampered by a difficult qualifying and started from P15 despite a strong warm up session. At the start of Race 1, Jurie Swart had a perfect start and managed to pass between poleman Bezuidenhout and Leyton Fourie, snatching the lead at Turn 1. Pepper battled in eighth place, in an incredibly tight mid-pack: Nathi Msimanga was putting pressure on Jayden Els, but he had to watch his mirrors from the recovering Pepper, who had meanwhile reclaimed her starting position. After a weekend where she shaked off the rust, Pepper had pace to fight at the front and was eager to make up positions quickly: she attacked Msimanga and, after an exciting duo, she had to back off as van der Walt was ready to pick up the pieces from the battle in front. Tasmin, though, would move up to sixth a few moments later, before Msimanga dropped down to ninth. Swart and Bezuidenhout had pulled away from Fourie and the rest of the pack, but the midfield remained tightly fought. Further down, Lonika Maartens had a good race and recovered to P13, before crossing the finish line in P14. Jurie Swart was never under pressure and won the first race having capitalized from the start; Bezuidenhout and Fourie completed the podium. Tasmin Pepper moved up to sixth place despite a track which offers few passing opportunities. Her real chance, though, was in Race 2, thanks to the front row start. A few hours later, drivers lined up on the grid for the final race of the weekend. Jurie Swart retained the lead into Turn 1 despite Pepper's good start from second place. Fourie went side-by-side with Bezuidenhout - joined by Charl Visser in a three-wide moment. Nathi Msimanga joined the fight but was then passed by Jayden Els for sixth place. Further down, Lonika Maartens was up to 14th and aimed at making up some more places. Tasmin Pepper closed in on the race leader, but couldn't get close enough to prepare a move. The PUMA-sponsored driver then turned her attention to Leyton Fourie, who was making up ground and putting pressure for the runner up spot. In the final laps, Pepper defended masterfully and kept second place, while Jurie Swart survived a big slide on the final lap to take his second win of the weekend. It was Tasmin's first podium after returning to the series. "Overall I think it was a good weekend." - she told us. "The track makes for super close racing and it’s incredibly difficult to qualify in the top 6. Finishing on the podium in my second event back was awesome. Haven’t quite lost my touch!" "It was awesome to have Puma on board backing me and supporting me, as well as getting to display the Puma livery on the car." The Volkswagen Polo Cup season finale will certainly be one of the highlights of the year, as it is scheduled to support the Intercontinental GT Challenge 9-hour race at Kyalami, on December 2-4. "I will be at Kyalami, so hopefully I can better that number 2 finish." - concluded Tasmin. "I just really love being back in a race car!"