By: Dave Abrahams
Tradition has it that the bike on pole position at Cape Town's annual eight-hour endurance race for lightweight motorcycles always gets a poor start, and the 30th running of the RST 8 Hours on Killarney's 'K' circuit was no different.
Seconds after the riders had sprinted across the circuit, both SA Supersport star Brent Harran on the Portable Shade CBR150, who'd topped the practice time-sheets, and second qualifier Trevor Westman on the RST CBR 150 could be seen battling to get going while JP Friedrich on the Peninsula Drilling Supplies CBR150, Aran van Niekerk on the Vanbros CBR150 and Graeme Green on the Craig's CBR150 leapt into a lead they were to hold throughout a frantic first 10 laps.
On lap 10 Harran moved into third, he was second the next time around and on lap 12 he took the lead and began to open a small but crucial lead, while Westman on the RST machine kept a watching brief in sixth place.
TOP GAUTENG CREW OUT
But on lap 52, just 40 minutes into the 8 Hours, it all went suddenly pear-shaped for the top Gauteng crew as the beautifully-prepared Portable Shade bike suffered a major rear wheel-bearing collapse that took the chain off the sprockets and spat Harran unceremoniously out of the saddle.
The PS crew tried for more than an hour, with the help of several local teams, to get the bike back on track, but too many specially-made components had been ruined, and their race was run - so Harran joined the 69 team (Warren Strydom, Charl Niemand and Jared Rethman) while team mate James Egan hooked up with the Vanbros squad of father Mark van der Walt and his sons Aran van Niekerk and Nicholas van der Walt.
“DREAM TEAM” ON THE MOVE
But by now the RST 'dream team' of Trevor 'Killer' Westman, Warren 'Starfish' Guantario, David 'McFlash' McFadden and race sponsor Jonny Towers were on the move. They were running second when the upcountry bike went out and immediately moved into a lead they were to hold to the end, with only the Vanbros bike, Craig's and the astonishing MP80 two-stroke on the same lap after the first hour.
This bike had been built by suspension guru Martin Paetzold, using a 65cc KTM motocross engine bored to 80cc in a 20-year-old Yamaha TZR50 Grand Prix frame, with Paetzold's own swing-arm, suspension and furniture.
It was being ridden by Paetzold, short-circuit star Michael Wahl, 14-year-old newly crowned Regional Powersport champion Hayden Jonas and top SA Supersport rider Lance Isaacs, who said the bike was both quick and agile - and in fact it was the only 'stroker in recent years able to stay with the all-conquering CBR150 Hondas.
Fifteen minutes into the second hour Shakir 'Shrek' Smith on David Hamer's Bajaj 180 Pulsar was skittled in the 180's by Ryan Snyman, sharing a CBR150 with Gerrit Visser Jr and Andrew Liebenberg. Shrek was unhurt, and the crew soon had the bike running again, but it was only the first in a series of misfortunes that was to lead to the team's early retirement.
By the two-hour mark the RST machine had completed 138 laps, two ahead of Craig's with the MP Special just one lap further in arrears, but seven minutes later Tasnim Jack (out for her second stint on the Hamer Bajaj) and JP Friedrich on the Peninsula Drilling Supplies CBR150 tangled coming out of the 180's.
The petite Jack went down hard and wound up face down and unmoving on the track, bringing out the safety bike and the ambulance.
It took 14 minutes to roll Jack carefully onto a trauma board and get the ambulance off the circuit, during which time several teams opted to duck into the pits for a splash 'n dash, among them the MP crew, who discovered to their horror that as fast as they were pouring premix into the fuel tank it was pouring out on to the ground.
A seam in the hand-made aluminium tank had split after 143 laps and that was that for the Paetzold special
One of the problem with cruising round behind the safety bike - apart from the tyres getting cold - is that the riders lose concentration. Just before the green flag came out Raymond Wassung on the Ray's CBR150 collided with another rider at little more than walking pace on the main straight, doing a lot of damage to the bike and costing the team about 40 laps.
Three hours and three minutes into the race Gerrit Visser Snr lost the front end of the PJ1 CBR150 he was sharing with veterans Jimmy Pantony and John Craig in the 180's and broke the right footpeg and throttle housing. Visser and the team put this down to a bad tyre choice (they'd opted for cheaper, harder tyres rather than the expensive Dunlop slicks used by the faster teams) and the PJ1 bike's wheels were pattering all over the place - causing the bike to go down again later.
THIRD SAFETY-CAR INCIDENT
Ten minutes later Mandy Peake who, like Jack, had never before raced on the short circuit, outbraked herself into the first 180 and dumped the all-girl Bosson Performance Exhausts CBR150 she was sharing with Martie Bosson, Jeanette Kok-Kritzinger and Carmen Agnew, bringing out the safety bike and the ambulance again.
The PJ1 crew, however, took advantage of the interruption and, with the help of several other teams, got the bike running and out on the circuit with Pantony in the saddle before green flag came out again. - and three minutes later the BPE machine was out again with Bosson aboard.
She completed exactly two laps before Dave Hamer crashed the Bajaj at exactly the same spot where Peake had gone down, breaking his left collarbone, and everybody lined up behind the safety bike again, while the ambulance crew scooped Hamer off the tar and off to hospital.
At this point the battered Bajaj would have needed a welder to get it back on track and with only one rider left, would not have been allowed to continue anyway, so the only Bajaj in the 8 Hour was retired after completing 102 laps in three and a half hours.
At the halfway point the RST CBR150 had 259 laps to its credit, five ahead of the Peninsula Drilling bike, with Craig's on 253 and Vanbros on 251, along with the Visser/Snyman/Leibenberg machine, who in turn were two laps ahead of Tony Sterianos, journalist Chris Northover from UK bike magazine Superbike and Emile van der Merwe on the Wackem Racing CBR150.
The RST team put in a superb fifth hour to put another four laps into their cushion, while a five-way battle erupted for second between Craig's, Peninsular Drilling, theVisser/Snyman/Leibenberg machine, the Vanbros crew and Wacken Racing, with all of them on the same lap, nine behind the leaders, after five hours of racing.
Wackem Racing lost two laps in the sixth hour, but the battle for second went on unabated as a gale-force southeaster came up and the crews settled in to a long, hard grind to the finish.
As Aran van Niekerk of Vanbros wryly put it: “All year long you can't wait for the 8 Hour - and after four hours you can't wait for it to end!”
DRAMATIC FINAL HOUR
At the end of the seventh hour the RST crew had a 10-lap lead over Peninsular Drilling and Vanbros, with Visser/Snyman/Leibenberg and Craigs still on the same same lap, 13 tours behind and two ahead of the Wackem crew.
Then, with less than 40 minutes to go, Gauteng visitor Alex Kyle on the Jackhammer CBR150 elbowed Adrian van der Merwe out of the way going in to the pits Eses, sending Van der Merwe and the sole surviving two-stroke, a beautifully prepared TZR50 he was sharing with Malcolm 'Moogly' Steyn and Jacques Norval, straight into the hay-bales at well over 100km/h.
Before the marshals could bring out the safety bike, however, Van der Merwe had been gently lifted to safety over the pit wall, the medics were in attendance and the bike had been picked up and wheeled into the pits.
Miraculously, Van der Merwe was unhurt apart from a sprained ankle, although his helmet, leathers and boots were ruined, and the bike was back out on the circuit with Steyn upholding the honour of the 'strokers within 15 minutes.
After the race Kyle, who had already been penalised five laps for reckless riding, was called into a Stewards' hearing, at which the stewards recommended to the MSA that he be banned from holding a racing licence until 31 December 2013.
With half an hour to go Towers handed over the leading bike to McFadden and went out on the second RST machine, which he was sharing with the Team GB, three veteran British racers (Phill Ashley, Paul Gilbert and Rob Swinbank) who had come out specially for the race, bringing their families so that they could at least pretend it was actually a holiday in the sun.
And as the minutes ticked away, they circulated in formation at full race pace, ducking and diving and swopping places for the the sheer joy of it, living the moment until the flag came out at 32 seconds past the hour and they crossed the line together.
The RST team had completed 532 laps of the tight and twisty 'K' circuit in eight hours, at an average of 54.1 seconds a lap including fuel stops and rider changes. Second, 10 laps down, were the Vanbros team, two laps ahead of Craig's and three ahead of Visser/Snyman/Leibenberg and the Wackem racing crew, who finished on the same lap.
Amazingly, 22 of the 27 starters were still running at the end and the only injuries from more than a dozen crashes were to Jack (concussion), Peake (swollen elbow and ankle), Hamer (collarbone) and Van der Merwe (ankle).