Tasmin Pepper was back on the podium with another second place at Killarney in the VW Polo Cup South Africa and rounded out the championship with a remarkable racing return in just three rounds.
There was one more exciting championship showdown last weekend – and it assigned the title for the 25th season of racing in the VW Polo Cup South Africa, one of the most competitive national racing series. The final race meeting of 2021 was moved to Killarney International Raceway following the postponement of the 9H of Kyalami, which should have rounded out the Intercontinental GT Challenge on South Africa's most famous racing circuit. Volkswagen Motorsport then announced the rescheduling of the final Polo Cup meeting at the Cape Town venue – giving Tasmin Pepper the chance to return behind the wheel for the third time in 2021. The 31-year-old South African was set to enter her second W Series season following an outstanding inaugural campaign in the all-female F3 championship in 2019, but was unable to travel to the UK for pre-season testing in May due to travel restrictions imposed to South Africa and subsequently missed the whole championship. She would return behind the wheel of a race car in September, when she joined the grid of the VW Polo Cup stepping in for Keegan Campos in the #3 Campos Racing SA Polo at Red Star Raceway. After over two years away, Tasmin was quickly up to pace and completed her first weekend with two Top-5 finishes. "It was awesome to be back behind the wheel and in familiar ground" – Tasmin told us. "I didn’t think it would click as quickly as it did, it’s a really competitive field but I’m glad I was about to get right back into it and in the top 5 straight away." "I have some pace to refine, but I think the next round will be a little better. It was good to be fighting at the top end of the field, and I’m sure it will only get better from here." And indeed Pepper made a further step forward at Zwartkops Raceway, where she returned to the podium with a second place in Race 2. At the penultimate round, Tasmin also hit the track with a new striking livery and with support from PUMA. "Finishing on the podium in my second event back was awesome." – she said. "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." At Killarney, Tasmin was off to a great start with second place in free practice – 75 thousandths of a second behind Lupini, and with six cars within one tenth, proving the excellent competition in the series. In qualifying, championship contender Jurie Swart took pole from Jayden Els, who preceded Tate Bishop and Tasmin Pepper on the second row – the latter having run in the top3 for most of the session. Nathi Msimanga rounded out the top5. At lights out of Race 1, Pepper had a great launch and went alongside Bishop for third but had to slot in fourth at Turn 1. While drivers battled throughout the field, the leading four drivers held positions and tried to pull away; Msimanga ran wide at the end of the first lap and was passed by Bezuidenhout, dropping to eighth.
On the second lap, Tasmin Pepper completed a great pass for third place on Bishop at Turn 2, then hunted down Jayden Els. The latter - under pressure from Pepper – locked up at Turn 1 on lap 4 and ultimately lost second one lap later, when Tasmin dived on the inside at Cape Town Corner and completed a stunning pass. Pepper seemed able to catch up with Swart as well but, after initially cutting the gap to approximately one second, she then came under pressure from Els and Bishop in the final laps. Swart pulled away and took victory ahead of Pepper – who held on to second after a great race. Bishop moved into third in the final stages and stepped on the podium. Having to defend a 17-point advantage ahead of the final round, championship leader Leyton Fourie was sixth across the finish line. The title would thus go down to the wire on Saturday morning. Tasmin Pepper's speed was evident after Race 1, but the PUMA athlete had to do some extra work on Saturday as she lined up ninth on the grid for Race 2. Swart was again on pole position for the championship decider, leading Neveling, Msimanga and main rival Fourie. Fourie and Bishop made contact at Turn 1 but both continued, while Msimanga advanced to second place at the start. Pepper had another great getaway and made up two positions, chasing down Visser. In the hectic midfield, though, she unfortunately was almost sent into a spin and dropped back to ninth again. Fourie started his charge and passed Bishop for third – an important pass that could seal him the title. Soon after, he attacked Msimanga at Turn 6 – but opened the door to Bishop. The two went side-by-side on the back straight, as Neveling and Visser joined the battle and demoted Fourie to sixth. In an exciting finale, Fourie recovered and leapfrogged his teammate Visser, claiming third and the championship despite Swart's double victory. The action allowed Tasmin Pepper to close in on the leading group and the young lady completed a last-lap double-pass on Coetzee and Bishop to secure seventh place. She thus completed three race weekends with two podiums and four top-5 finishes in a remarkable return to racing. "It was an awesome weekend, definitely still a track favourite." - commented Tasmin.
"I always love competing in the Polo cup championship, it’s always super competitive and I’m glad I haven’t lost my touch completely. Let’s see what’s next."