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The traditional Kalahari 400, Round 3 of six in the SA Off-Road Motorcycle and Quad championship, will be run this weekend in the Vryburg area of the Northern Cape.
All the action will again centre on the Excelsior Farmers Hall about 55km north of Vryburg, just off the R378, where the start and finish, and the only designated service point, will be. The clover-leaf route will consist of three loops, taking the riders through the service point after every loop - which means the support crews won't have to travel because there are no service or refuel points on any of the loops.
KTM star Louwrens Mahoney will not only be aiming for a hat trick of national victories this season, but also for his third Kalahari 400 win on the trot, having won this race in 2005, when it was still the Kalahari 1000, and again in 2010 and 2011. His team mate Gray Dick won what was then the longest off-road race on the calendar in 2002, 2003 and 2004 - but if he wants to win the current, shorter and faster version he'll have to be nice to Lady Luck, as she hasn't smiled on him so far this season.
DE WET HAS A POINT TO PROVE
Kenny Gilbert will be out for the first time in the colours of the 'official' Yamaha squad. He's second behind Mahoney on the overall standings and in OR1 (Open Class) and will be pushing hard for a win. Altus de Wet (KTM), however, has a point to prove; he's been on the podium already this year and is third overall - and first in the OR2 (250cc) Class - but he finished an embarrassing 16th in the Kalahari in 2011 and will be looking to do a whole lot better this time around.
Juan 'Bollie' van Rooyen (Kawasaki) finished on the podium in Vryburg in 2011, and is currently fourth overall followed by the two Webster brothers, Jonathan and Christopher (each on a Yamaha). Jonathan recently finished third in the Cape and will hope to step onto the podium again - he was fourth in last year's Kalahari 400.
Senior Class star Wayne Farmer (Gas Gas) crashed this past weekend and will not be in action at Vryburg, which could cost him his championship lead as Guy Henley (Kawasaki), Steve Landman (Yamaha) and Albert Hintenaus (KTM) - second, third and fourth respectively - battle it out for line honours.
Brian Baragwanath (Yamaha) will also need some luck as he aims for a second consecutive Kalahari 400 trophy, as well as for an elusive first win of 2012. He's seventh in the overall standings and sixth in Q1, and will be keen to narrow the gap to overall leader Jurie 'Botter' Meyer (Yamaha) who won last time out in the Cape.
André du Plessis (Suzuki) is second on the overall standings and in Q1 and might have a bit more experience of desert racing than Meyer while third-placed Giacomo Antiga (Can-Am), who couldn't finish this race last year, will be looking for his second win of 2012 - if he makes it to the finish line, that is.
Baragwanath and veteran Jacques 'Boesman' Struwig (Suzuki) are probably the riders with the most Kalahari experience, although Struwig has never actually won this race. He finished third last year and is currently joint 10th in the overall standings. A tough competitor at the best of times, he'll bring a steely determination to the line that could spell disaster for Baragwanath.
ON A MISSION
Level on points with Struwig is Honda rider Damien Lee. Like Struwig, he's had a top-three finish this year - but he DNF'ed in the Kalahari this year and will be on a mission this weekend.
John Aylward (Yamaha) is fourth in the overall standings (just one point behind Antiga) and will be tackling the Kalahari for the first time while Leonard dos Santos (Suzuki), who is leading Q2, and Stefan Swanepoel (also a DNF at Vryburg last year) are fifth and sixth respectively and share the same amount of points.
Former junior competitor Dino do Amaral (KTM) is eighth overall and also a Kalahari rookie.
The redoubtable Amanda Eardley and her humungous Can-Am Renegade are not only leading the Senior Class, she also heads the Ladies Quad Class as well and the Q3 Utility Class - but behind her there are likely to be fireworks as a number of new entries take the fight to Peter Schenk (Honda) and Roxy dos Santos (Racing Suzuki), who will have to extract digit to hold on to their second and third places respectively.
The Kalahari 400 will start with a 40km time-trial on Friday, 27 April, to determine the starting order for the race proper, which will start at 8am on Saturday.