Cape Town - The Mike Hopkins Regional Motorcycle series gets under way this Saturday to the accompaniment of a serious fanfare, with no less than 44 entries in seven classes for round one of the 2014 season at Killarney.
The two stars whose rivalry made last-year’s championship one for the record books - Ronald Slamet and Aran van Niekerk - have both moved up to the new SA SuperGP national series, leaving the regional contest wide open.
With some familiar faces entered on new machinery and a sprinkling of new names, it’s difficult to make any predictions - other than that all the leading riders in the Superbike races (with one possible exception) will be mounted on Kawasaki ZX-10R’s.
Veteran Malcolm Rapson will be back on his well-sorted Racebase ZX-10R, but he’ll face a determined challenge from Gerrit Visser, the only rider other than Van Niekerk and Slamet to win a regional race in 2013. Visser has replaced the underpowered Honda CBR1000RR with a ZX-10R and will be on a level playing field with the rest of the class for the first time since moving to the premier league.
So will born-again racer Hilton Redelinghuys, out for the first time on the Thruxton ZX-10R. Redelinghuys was a Powersport champion during his first career and has been punching above his weight on a Suzuki GSX-R600 since his return in 2013.
But the real dark horse is Trevor Westman, who has finally called time on the super-quick but unacceptably temperamental BMW S1000 RR in favour of a Yamaha R1, with support from Ocean Sizzler. If there is anybody capable of upsetting the Kawasaki steamroller it is the mercurial Westman, who is always at his best when he’s the underdog.
With both Nicholas van der Walt and Sharl Wasserfall having moved to SuperGP, the Supersport streetfight is likely to be between Hayden Jonas’ Suzuki GSX-R600 and the Pragma/Midas R6 of Mike van Rensburg.
In the absence of Graeme Green’s indecently fast Suzuki SV650, Warren ‘Starfish’ Guantario (Calberg ER6) must start as favourite in Powersport A, with his toughest competition likely to come from team mates Leroy Malan and Andrew Liebenberg.
Powersport B, by contrast, is likely to be a JP Friedrich benefit, although a lot of older fans will be enjoying the crackle of two-stroke engines once again as Kevin Spratley (Aprilia RS250) and Corey Horn (Suzuki RGV250) show today’s youngsters why two-strokes ruled the roost for so long.
And don’t kid yourself: in any class where two-stokes are still eligible, they can win.