Wolmaransstad - The 2014 SA Off-road Series for motorcycles and quads hits the ground running this weekend with the season opener, the Diamond Route 400 on the farm Rietkuil in the Wolmaransstad area of North-West province.
The route has two 60km loops, with motorcycle racers starting on one and quad riders on the other at 8am on Saturday morning, 8 March. They'll swop loops after completing three laps, and do it all again for a total race distance of about 360km.
Riders from as far as the Cape, East London and Port Elizabeth, KwaZulu-Natal, Hoedspruit and Limpopo have entered.
The starting order for this race was determined by the results of a seeding event held earlier this season outside Bronkhorstspruit, where Botswana motocross and off-road motorcycle racer Ross Branch rattled a few cages by posting the fastest time - albeit only 26 seconds faster than the defending OR2 (250cc) champion, Yamaha rider Timmy Young, with current OR1 (Open Class) champion and title holder Kenny Gilbert on a works Yamaha just seven seconds further back in third.
Branch's KTM team mates, Louwrens Mahoney (twice a winner of this race), 2013 OR4 (Under 21) winner Louw Schmidt, Juan 'Bollie' van Rooyen (the fastest Senior Class rider at the seeding event), Jono van Wyk and Tyron Miller all finished within the top 20 at the seeding event and will hope to start their season on a high note.
Yamaha Racing's two members - Gilbert and Marc Torlage - will also be aiming to build on their top-five results at the Seeding Event while privateers Ruan Roberts (sixth fastest in Bronkhorstspruit), Young and Charan Moore will be adding their support to the Yamaha campaign.
Like Young, Dillon Inggs (Kawasaki) has also moved from OR2 to OR1 and posted a seeding time that put him in the top 10 while Husqvarna star Altus de Wet moved from OR1 to OR2 - he posted the top OR2 time at Bronkhorstspruit will start in the top 10 at Rietkuil.
FULL RACE DISTANCE
Senior Class competitors in both categories have to complete the full race distance and they also score overall points. Juan 'Bollie' van Rooyen (KTM), who joins the Senior Class for riders older than 38 years this year, set the fastest seeding time but he can expect competition from the current champion, Pieter Holl and his team mate Kobus Jonck, while Justin Broughton (Kawasaki), who finished second in 2013, and former champion Wayne Farmer (Gas Gas) will also be aiming for the title again.
There's new name at the top of the Masters Class for riders older than 46: Garth Prost (Husqvarna) set the pace in seeding and will hope to stay at the front in Wolmaransstad. Leon Gerber won a few times last year, however, and will be aiming for the title from the start.
The three Polokwane riders who dominated the 2013 season are seeded in the top four with André du Plessis (Yamaha) posting the fastest time, ahead of defending title holder Jurie 'Botter' Meyer (Yamaha), with Jaco Moller (Yamaha) third, Brian Baragwanath (Yamaha) fourth and Jacques Struwig (Boesman Suzuki) fifth - and leading the Senior Class.
Struwig, however, will be on two wheels this weekend - he's in Cape Town competing in the Argus Cycle Tour.
Defending Senior Class champion Paul Chomse is also not competing, so anything could happen in this category and probably will. Charles Lee (Suzuki) posted the second fastest time at the seeding event with Stuart Freeman (Yamaha) third.
Freeman's team mate Russell Ferreira (Honda) could not post a time and will have to fight his battle from the back of the field, along with Banie Barnard and Oz Osborne (Yamaha).
Competitors in the Masters Class will have to complete five laps - a severe test for riders older than 46. Tony dos Santos (Suzuki) was the fastest at Bronkhorstspruit; he and multiple champion Jurie Meyer Snr (Yamaha) will take up where they left off last season with Org Geldenhuys (Can-Am), who was seeded third fastest, ready to take advantage of their slightest misfortune.
The riders have to pass through the pits after each 60km lap which means spectators in the Start/Finish and central pits area at Rietkuil will get to see all the action, up close and personal.