Durban - National championship motorcycle racing will return to KwaZulu-Natal on Sunday 24 August for the first time in 26 years with Round 5 of the inaugural SuperGP series, to be run on a 2.4km circuit laid out on a section of the old Durban international airport.
The last time KwaZulu-Natal motorsport fans were treated to motorcycle racing at this level was at a round of the 1988 national championship on a street circuit that included sections of NMR Avenue.
KwaZulu-Natal has a proud history in the sport, led by world champions Kork Ballington (250 and 350 GP in 1978 and 1979), Jon Ekerold (350 GP in 1980) and Russell Wood, with 12 South African 250 and Superbike titles between 1985 and 2003, who was involved from the start with the construction of the new circuit.
He helped lay out an anti-clockwise course with 11 turns, including a hairpin Turn 1 at the end of the pit straight - the old south runway - and a chicane with pit entrance to end the lap.
"Russell rode a few laps of the provisional marked-out circuit," said Stephen Watson, executive director of series promoter Gas Sports, "and the smile on his face afterwards said it all."
SuperGP is normally an all-bike weekend of racing, modelled on the World Superbike programme with practice and qualifying on Saturday and racing on Sunday.
But because this circuit will be 'green', without the usual coating of rubber on the racing line, the organisers have invited the Porsche Club to run two races of its Challenge on Saturday, between practice and qualifying for Sunday's six bike races - which should lay down enough rubber to provide safe traction for the bikes.
There will also be a stunt bike show by XDL Super Stunt on Saturday and Sunday.
The headline act is SuperGP, a unique South African national championship class for litre-class machines with very limnited modifications, supported by Super600, like SuperGP a national championship for base-level 600cc bikes, much closer to stock than the previous Supersport category.
Then there's the run-wot-ya-brung SuperM Challenge, open to entries from the previous Superbike and Supersport classes (which would otherwise have been rendered obsolete by the new series) as well as SuperMasters, for riders older than 35 years on litre-class Superbike or SuperGP machines, and Supertwins, open to twin-cylinder modified up to 1200cc.
With everything from screaming 16 500rpm Yamaha R6s to thundering KTM RC8s competing for the same bit of tar, it provides fascinating if nerve-wracking racing.
After four rounds of the inaugural series - at Phakisa Freeway in the Free State, Red Star Raceway in Mpumalanga, Killarney circuit in Cape Town and the old Grand Prix circuit in East London - Clint Seller (Kawasaki ZX-10R) is the man in SuperGP, with a healthy 27-point lead over similarly-mounted Bret Harran, thanks to six wins and a second from eight starts.
Capetonian Superbike veteran Lance Isaacs is third, just six points behind Harran, having broken Seller's three-race winning streak with a fine first victory on his BMW S1000RR, despite a measurable performance deficit - the all-conquering limited-edition HP4 isn't eligible under SuperGP rules, much to BMW SA's chagrin.
They'll be under pressure all the way from Brandon Goode, Garrick Vlok and Western Cape Regional champion Ronald Slamet, each on a Kawasaki ZX-10R.
Six wins from eight starts - the last four in a row - have given Kawasaki ZX-6R rider Steven Odendaal a commanding lead of 59 points - equivalent to more than two race wins - over Dean Vos (Yamaha R6), who has five podiums to his credit, including seconds in round two at Red Star and round four in East London.
Matthew Scholtz (Kawasaki ZX-6RR) is third with 116 points despite DNFs in rounds two and four, while Anthony Shelley (Kawasaki ZX-6RR) and reigning Supersport champion Cameron Petersen (Yamaha R6) are the only other riders to have stood on the top step of the podium this season and are currently fourth and fifth respectively in the championship with 90 and 87 points respectively.
Kyle Robinson (Kawasaki ZX-10R) came back to the SuperM Challenge with a bang after missing round three in Cape Town, winning both races in East London and taking his points total to 140, a healthy 46 ahead of second-placed Justin Gillensen (Kawasaki ZX-10R).
Beau Levey (KTM RC8 1190) is third with 81 points, 13 behind Gillensen and just two ahead of Janine Davies (BMW S1000RR).
Davies, the only lady rider in the class, would have been out of contention after she crashed out of Race 1 in East London, flat out through the notorious Potter's Pass, had not Levey showed exemplary generosity and sportsmanship by lending her his spare bike for the second race, enabling a badly-bruised Davies to salvage some valuable points and stay in the hunt.
Two high-profile first-time entries in SuperM, each on a Kwasaki ZX-10R, will line up on the Durban airport grid; World Superbike racer Sheridan Morais was SA Superbike champion in 2005, 2008 and 2009 and Supersport champion in 2009, while Chris Leeson was SA Supersport champion in 2007 and runner-up to Clint Seller in the 2013 SA Superbike championship on a factory BMW HP4.
Tickets and full programme details for Round 5 of the series can be obtained by visiting the SuperGP website. If you can’t get to the airport, watch Sunday’s races on live streaming and follow the racing throughout the season on Facebook and Twitter.