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Round 2 of the SA Superbike series, run at Killarney at the weekend, delivered some of the closest racing seen in many years at the Cape circuit – even the car guys acknowledged that the bikes were the stars of the show – and all the drama a soap opera scriptwriter could ask for.
Race day dawned misty, after rain in the night, and qualifying had to be called off; instead the grids were made up according to championship positions, which put Clinton Seller and his privateer Kawasaki ZX-10R on pole and relegated the local hopefuls to the back of the grid.
Seller came off the start into a lead he was never to relinquish, albeit by the narrowest of margins as Nicholas Grobler on the first of the ‘official’ Kawasakis chased him down lap by lap, showed him a wheel a couple of times in the final frenzy and finished just 0.053sec adrift after a do-or-die last-corner effort.
HOME TRACK ADVANTAGE
Regional hotshot Ronald Slamet (Kawasaki ZX-10R) came off the fourth row of the grid to muscle his way into fifth by the end of lap one. By lap three he was up to third, and involved in a huge dice with the works BMW S1000RR’s of Chris Leeson and Ryan Ottens.
Home track advantage seemed to be working as he and fellow Capetonian Aran van Niekerk also Kawasaki-mounted, pushed Ottens down to sixth and held him at bay until Van Niekerk lost the front wheel under braking into turn Two 2 on lap six and went tumbling into the dirt.
A lap later Leeson finally made a pass on Slamet that stuck, eking out a two-second gap over the final three laps, but Ottens was unable to catch them and had to settle for fifth – until Slamet’s bike was excluded for a technical infringement that the local man’s team didn’t even know about, promoting Ottens to fourth and setting the stage for an explosive second race.
Seller got it completely wrong at the start of Race 2 and wound up 13th at the end of lap one, while Leeson and Grobler made the running at the front, with Dylan White and Allan-Jon Venter on the first official Yamaha entries in a number of years, as well as a fired-up Ottens, trying desperately to keep them honest.
Grobler moved to the front on lap three; Leeson immediately tried to get back at the Kawasaki rider but tried too hard on lap five, getting it all wrong and dropping back to 10th and out of contention.
Crew chief Danie Maritz had worked miracles between races; not only was Van Niekerk out there, he was on the pace, up to sixth by the end of lap one and splitting the Yamahas on lap two. A lap later however, he had the championship leader all over him as a very motivated Seller, having made up eight places in two laps, caught up to the leading group.
DICE OF THE RACE
By lap 5 Seller had made mincemeat of the pack and was up to second, but there was no catching Grobler, who by this stage had a six-second cushion and a clear track ahead of him.
All eyes then switched to Ottens and Van Niekerk, who put up the dice of the race for third, swopping places on almost every lap, carving each other up into every corner – especially Turn 5 at the end of the back straight, where they produced some epic late braking.
But it was Van Niekerk who was in front - by just 0.191 of a second - when it mattered, ahead of Venter and a valiant effort by Leeson, who worked his way back up to sixth (and some valuable championship points) by the flag.
Slamet’s crew had hastily returned the Kawasaki to standard trim between races, using the factory’s baseline settings, but it cost him about a second a lap, which at this level of racing was enough to make him an also-ran as he rode the wheels off the bike to bring it home seventh after an immensely frustrating ride.
Just as they did in Round 1 at Kyalami, the two brand-new MV Agusta F3’s of young guns Cap Petersen and Brent Harran set the track on fire as the battled it out with Capetonian veteran Lance Isaacs on the lone works Kawasaki.
Isaacs got the best of the first-corner traffic jam and set off to make space with Petersen in hot pursuit, while Harran disposed of a first-lap challenge from Yamaha’s Dean Vos and joined the leading duo on lap three.
From then on it was Isaacs all the way as team mates Petersen and Harran (MV Agusta team principal Brad Anassis refuses to issue team orders) carved each other up, banging elbows and fairings into every corner as they fought over second.
They gave a brief glimpse of the pace the three-cylinder thoroughbreds are capable of with a breathtaking final two laps, almost half a second quicker that Isaacs’ best, but it was just too late as Isaacs held on to win by 0377sec.
Nicholas Kershaw (Kawasaki) and Vos took the next two places, ahead of a six-way dice for sixth that went pear-shaped when local teenager Nicholas van der Walt (Honda) hit a false neutral and suddenly slowed in the middle of Turn 5. Kawasaki privateer Garrick Vlok couldn’t avoid him and went down, while Van der Walt was lucky to stay aboard.
That left another local, Brandon Haupt (Suzuki) to lead home Kawasaki riders Jesse Boshoff, Gareth Davidson and Brandon Goode; all four finished within a second.
Isaacs pulled a perfect start to lead Petersen, Kershaw and Harran on lap one but by the end of lap two normal service had been resumed as Petersen and Harran harassed Isaacs at the head of the field and everybody else squabbled over the minor placings.
Petersen got by Isaacs on lap two but the vastly experienced Kawasaki rider hung until lap five, when Harran went round both of them going into Turn 5 to take the lead. Petersen was having none of that however; on lap six he relegated Isaacs to third and went after his team mate, pushing past him on lap eight.
On the next lap Harran tried another unorthodox outside move in Turn 5 and threw it away, leaving a relieved Isaacs to follow Petersen home. Kershaw was third, more than eight seconds in arrears, followed by Vos, Rhyno Stander (Kawasaki), Haupt and Van der Walt, all within less than six seconds after a thrilling dice.