Erik Stark came to South Africa needing just five points to ensure Ola Pettersson could not deny him in his quest for a third consecutive UIM F2 World Championship. The 26-yearold Swede made sure of the title with a dominant performance, topping the time sheets in both free practice sessions, both qualifying sessions, and setting the fastest lap on his way to victory in the 40-lap race.
The event, originally scheduled to be held on 14 and 15 December 2013, was moved a day earlier due to the funeral of former president Nelson Mandela. A five-pin course was laid out on the Vaal River in front of the Abrahamsrust Resort in Sasolburg, giving spectators a superb view from the tree-lined banks.
The first practice session took place late on the afternoon of Friday 13th. Stark showed his intentions when he set a time of over a second quicker than his countryman Johan Osterberg. The surprise of the session was South African Attie Tromp who was making his debut on the international stage. His fastest lap of 49.22 seconds was only three tenths of a second slower that the vastly more experienced Osterberg and secured him third spot on the time sheet. After Friday afternoon’s practice session the crews went to work fine-tuning the 2.5l Mercury Optimax SST motors to compensate for the rarified Highveld air.
Free Practice Two on Saturday morning showed that their work had not been in vain. Stark still topped the time sheet but, despite going over a second quicker than on Friday afternoon, he was only three tenths of a second quicker than Osterberg. Sasolburg resident Wynand de Jager made it a second session with a South African in third on the time sheet after not setting a time in the first session. He was just two tenths slower than Osterberg. Pettersson’s chances of stopping Stark’s charge to the title looked bleak after he could only manage the 14th fastest time.
After a short break, the boats were back on the water for the first of two qualifying sessions. Conditions were almost perfect and Stark took full advantage, setting what would turn out to be the fastest lap time of the event, and leading a Swedish lock-out of the top three positions. His time of 45.53 seconds was just over two tenths quicker than Osterberg with Erik Edin just over a second further back.
South Africa’s Wynand de Jager had a disappointing session after his cowling blew off before he had set a competitive time. Once it was recovered and re-attached to his boat the session was almost at an end. He had to settle for 13th place just behind the other South African, Attie Tromp.
By the time the boats were back on the water for the second qualifying session the wind had come up and times were not expected to improve. As it turned out none of the top 10 from the first session, with the exception of German Stefan Hagin, could better their times with the majority at least a second slower per lap. Hagin’s time of 47.38 was good enough to put him second for the session behind Stark. Edin was again third. Both South Africans managed to improve their times though, and Tromp ended the session in fifth and De Jager in seventh.
With each driver’s best time from the two sessions determining their start position, the grid for the Free State Grand Prix had three Swedes at the head. Stark was on pole position with Osterberg alongside him. Edin lined up third ahead of Austrian Rupp Temper. Hagin’s efforts in the second qualifying session brought him fifth place. Tromp was the best of the locals in 10th ahead of Pettersson who was going to battle to challenge Stark from 11th. De Jager lined up 12th.