The Diamond Route 400 - to be run this weekend (February 24/25) for the second consecutive year in the Wolmaransstad area of the North-West Province - will open the 2012 National Off-Road racing season for motorcycles and quads as the first of six rounds in this year's championship.
The Diamond Route 400 was a new - and very successful - entry to the National calendar in 2011, even though the organisers had to make last-minute adjustments to the route due to heavy rain before the race. This year the Verwes Club have promised to make it an even better start to the series.
And it seems that some of last year's big battles are set to pick up where they left off. Defending title-holder and OR1 (Open Class) champion, Jade Gutzeit (Yamaha), will aim for a third consecutive overall title, but will have his work cut out for him. His former team mate, Louwrens Mahoney, now KTM-mounted and also competing in OR1, won this race last year, but finished second overall at the end of 2011.
REGULAR TOP 10 RIDERS
The rest of the KTM squad will also be out in force, including Gray Dick, who finished second in Wolmaransstad last year, as well as the defending OR2 and OR4 champions, Riaan van Niekerk and Tyron Miller. Miller will now compete in OR3 (200cc Class) next with Michael Creevy while Altus de Wet will ride in OR2 with Van Niekerk - and defending OR3 champion Marc Torlage (Yamaha), who finished 2011 fourth overall, will add even more spice to OR2.
Most of the regular top riders will be back in action - Juan 'Bollie' van Rooyen (Kawasaki) carries the No.3 plate on his Kawasaki in OR1 this year, together with Ruan Roberts and the Webster brothers, Jonathan and Christopher (each on a Yamaha) who will hope for some better luck this season.
Other Yamaha riders include regular top-10 finisher, Wade Blaauw, Mark Garland (OR1) and his team mates, Bradley van Aswegen (OR3) and Timothy Young (OR2).
SENIORS & MASTERS
Other interesting names on the entry list include those of Kenneth Gilbert (KTM) who has returned to SA after competing in the US for the past few years, off-road regular Dillon Inggs (KTM and female Roof of Africa competitor, Toni Jardine (Gas Gas), who is entered in the OR4 Under 21 Class.
Defending Senior Class champion Wayne Farmer (Gas Gas) and runner-up Guy Henley (Kawasaki) will again lock horns this season - but riders such as 2011 Dakar finisher, Albert Hintenaus (KTM) and enduro specialist, Steve Landman (Suzuki) could upset their applecart. Senior Class competitors ride only 75 percent of the full race distance (including the time-trial) but the competition has been very strong between the riders older than 38 years.
Botswana's Neil Gailey (KTM) will again defend his Master Class title for riders older than 46, who do 50 percent of the race distance.
Former champion and overall runner-up the past two seasons, Brian Baragwanath (Yamaha) will again aim for the title, but he'll have to deal with former Junior champions, Jacky Antiga (Can-Am), who started the Diamond Route 400 last year from the back of the field after drowning his quad during time-trial and eventually finished seventh overall, and KTM's Michael Wagner and 2011 Junior champion Matthew Barnard.
They'll face regular top 10 riders such as André du Plessis (Suzuki) and Jacques Struwig (Boesman Racing Suzuki) who finished second and third respectively in this race last year, Cornel Kannemeyer (Kawasaki); Hannes Saaijman (Suzuki) and David Hollis (Yamaha) as well as Leonard dos Santos (Suzuki), Eric Williams (Honda), Freddie Taljaard (Suzuki), Damien Lee (Honda) and Stefan Swanepoel (Yamaha) who have been competing regularly and know the ropes by now.
the regulars are all back in the Master Class where Jurie Meyer (Yamaha) will defend the title he has earned the past two years while Kobus Visser (Can-Am) will go for the Q3 Utility Class title again, but the entries in this popular class have grown and the competition will be tough.
The ladies hope more will join them in the Ladies Class where last year's runner-up, Chardri Monk (KTM), will aim for the title together with former class winner, Amanda Eardley (Can-Am) who is also competing in the Q3 Class, and André du Plessis' twin sister Adi (Suzuki).
The Diamond Route 400 will start on Friday (February 24) with a time trial to determine the starting order and times for the race proper on Saturday (February 25) when the motorcycle and quad competitors will tackle the race on separate loops from 8am.
National full-distance competitors will have to complete their loop twice before switching to the other loop after a 15 minute de-control and will have ride the second loop twice as well. The start, finish and designated service point will all be on the farm Rietkuil, about 12km outside Wolmaransstad.