Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal - Botswana rider Ross Branch (KTM) claimed his maiden victory in the SA Off-Road Championship when he won the motorcycle category of the Bell 400, Round 3 of the series, at the weekend. But on four wheels it was 'business as usual' as Brian Baragwanath (SA Yamaha) notched up a hat trick, winning the quad category for the third time this season and claiming his second consecutive Bell 400 victory.
Branch, who finished second overall and in OR1 (Open Class) at the previous two rounds, took the lead from the start of the dry and dusty 360km race, to beat defending champion Kenny Gilbert (Yamaha) by just under two minutes. There was also a maiden podium position for his team-mate, Louw Schmidt, who not only won the OR3 (200cc Class) for the third time this season, but finished third overall.
Jarryd Coetzee (Honda) scored his best result yet with fourth overall (second in OR3) beating Tim Young (Yamaha) by just four seconds after being compensated for assisting a fellow rider who crashed. Young, who finished third behind Gilbert in OR1, was himself only seven seconds faster than Juan 'Bollie' van Rooyen (KTM), who won the Senior Class for the third time this year.
His closest opposition, defending champion Pieter Holl (KTM) was 17th overall with former champ, Wayne Farmer (KTM) rounding off the Senior Class podium in 24th overall.
Only 18 seconds separated the four riders from Coetzee to seventh-placed Jaycee Nienaber (Yamaha) who won OR2 (250cc Class). Jono van Wyk (KTM) finished eighth overall (second in OR2), closely followed by Charan Moore (Yamaha) - only 37 seconds separated them after almost six hours of racing. Estiaan Steenkamp (Husqvarna) was also only a handful of seconds behind and rounded off the overall top 10 - he was third in OR2.
In the Master Class for riders older than 46 years of age, Adrian Storm (KTM) claimed his first victory of the season ahead of Robert Streak (Yamaha) and Jan Berning (KTM).
Baragwanath was left on his own at the front when defending title-holder, Jurie 'Botter' Meyer (Yamaha) caught up after starting seventh, only to go out just after the halfway mark with engine problems. André du Plessis (Yamaha) also chased hard and worked his way up to a possible podium finish but went out on the last lap, also with mechanical gremlins.
Bethlehem rider, David Hollis (Yamaha) overcame a variety of issues to claim his second consecutive runner-up result (and second in Q1) despite finishing more than 20 minutes behind Baragwanath. Hollis finished little more than half a minute ahead of Justin Robert (Suzuki) who won Q2 and claimed his first overall podium position despite experiencing clutch problems. André Park (Yamaha) was fourth with Franco Annandale (Suzuki) rounding off the top five.
Only 13 quad riders completed the full race distance with Eric Williams (Yamaha) finishing sixth overall and Bertie Morton (Kawasaki) seventh, followed by his team-mate, Willie Roos, who won the Senior Class for the first time this season.
Damien Lee (Honda) was ninth overall with team-mate Russell Ferreira rounding off the top 10 and finishing second in the Senior Class after battling mechanical problems.
While Toni Jardine (KTM) claimed her second victory in the Ladies Motorcycle Class (she also won the Combined Ladies Class for motorcycle and quad competitors) with Taye Perry (KTM) second, while quad rider Chardri Monk (Yamaha) took her first class win this year when she beat class leader, Liezel Barnard (Can-Am) finishing second.
That any of these four redoubtable ladies competed at all, let alone finished the Bell 400 says much for their mettle - all four had completed the six-day Namaqua African Rally in the Vredendal area of the Western Cape only days before.