A few days ago I was lucky enough to be one of the journalists invited to experience the new Opel Astra on the revamped Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit. Of course I accepted because, well, who in their right mind would decline a few hours on a racetrack behind the wheel of a brilliant new car? The day was pretty basic, we received instruction from well-known race driver and advanced driving instructor, Grant McCleery, on how to tackle a few of the corners on Kyalami so that we could put in some decent laps of the track while using the right lines. Some of us have been on track plenty and so we were familiar with how to do things, but having a refresher from a professional can never be a bad thing. It's especially cool when you're taking one of the new Opel Astra cars through the corners you've just been instructed on and you hear Grant commenting over the two-way radio; "great lines..."
The purpose of the event wasn't just to learn the right lines for Kyalami, it was to serve as a reminder of just how good the new Opel Astra is and why it's a finalist for the 2017 Car of the Year. We were given a range of new Astras to try out made up of the 1.4T Enjoy and Sport in manual and auto as well as the 1.6T Sport in manual. The smaller capacity 1.0T wasn't available, which is a pity because while it features the smallest engine, it uses it's available 85kW very well. My first stint was in the 1.4T and just as on the launch last year, the car impressed. Not only is it packed with tech usually reserved for cars higher up the food chain, it handles great when you give it stick in the corners. After we'd all been through the instruction part of the day, we were given the opportunity to go out for a few hot laps and for this part of the the session was divided into two groups; one for the faster, more confident drivers and one for the drivers who didn't want to push it too much and drive at a comfortable pace.
This is where I messed up a little... I wanted to go out with the faster drivers, but the same car I'd been driving was all that was available and I wanted to take the 1.6T around. So I ended up in a faster car but could only go at a slower pace. Don't get me wrong though, it was still great fun and I did manage to use the 147kW / 280Nm properly by letting the cars ahead pull a bit of a gap and then hoofing it a bit. Another reason for taking this car is that the guys from StigWorx were on hand to record our laps and telemetry around Kyalami, and I selfishly wanted a video of me in action and the car was rigged out to record my laps. You can check the video below, it's not too exciting but I'm a fan - for obvious reasons. My co-pilot for the session, Farzana from Autotrader, had just as much fun as me.
All in all it was a great day at the office and an excellent reminder about just how good the new Opel Astra is. The car is a strong contender to take home the title of SA Car of the Year, and considering it's already bagged the World Car of the Year for 2016, if you're into placing bets as to who will win locally the odds are in the new Opel Astra's favour. A huge thanks goes out to the team from Opel SA for having me there, as well as to all the instructors and everyone else involved.