Cape Town - Late entries and last minute stand-ins turned the first round of the 2014 Mike Hopkins Regional Motorcycle series, run at Cape Town’s Killarney circuit on Saturday 8 March, on its ear, and provided some of the closest racing seen here in years.
Local hero David ‘McFlash’ McFadden decided the best way to prepare for the upcoming World Superstock racing was by racing, so he borrowed Mike Wilhelmi’s Kawasaki ZX-10R, while Aran van Niekerk, who had resigned himself to missing a season due to lack of finance, secured a limited sponsorship to put his ZX-10R back in the regionals on Thursday.
‘Vantastic’ had finished the previous season with a bone-crunching crash and hadn’t sat on a motorcycle for several months; before the first race he admitted that he wasn’t on top of his game and would have to take it nice and easy - but, like Tina Turner, nobody in that family ever does anything ‘nice and easy’.
McFadden threw down the gauntlet with a qualifying lap of 1min11.934, with 2013 champion Ronald Slamet (Mike Hopkins ZX-10R), Malcolm Rapson (Kawasaki ZX-10R) and Trevor Westman (Ocean Sizzler R1) filling out the front row.
Westman was riding the legendary 2007 Yamaha with which Van Niekerk had put up some sizzling performances in 2012; now seven years old, the bike was still capable of a surprising turn of speed but hadn’t been run in more than a year and was suffering from dirt in its fuel-injection system.
Slamet pulled a rocket start in Race 1, ahead of McFadden, Westman, Rapson and Van Niekerk, who came up off the second row to join the leading group. At the end of lap two, however, McFadden outbraked Slamet into Turn 5 to take the lead and was never challenged again - especially after Slamet’s Kawasaki suddenly died on lap four - and he romped away to win by nearly five seconds.
Behind him, however, Rapson and Van Niekerk got into the dice of the race for second, swopping places several times a lap until Van Nierkerk got the upper hand in the closing stages to come home 0.214sec ahead.
The Ocean Sizzler R1 began misfiring on lap three and Westman retired on lap six, leaving the field open for Gerrit Visser and born-again racer Hilton Redelinghuys, each out for the first time on a new ZX-10R, to round out an all-Kawasaki top five.
Zane Simon - also ZX-10R-mounted - was the first Class B rider home, while Jacques Brits (BMW S1000RR) took Class C line honours.
A high-velocity van ride to the Westman workshop to clean out the old Yamaha’s fuel-injectors between races yielded the desired result as Westman blitzed the field into Turn 1 - but nothing was going to stand in the way of a rematch between McFadden and Slamet.
By lap two they were clear of the field, with Slamet all over McFadden like a rash, both machines squirming viciously under braking at the ends of the straights. Then, at the start of lap four, Slamet missed a downshift going into Turn 1 and very nearly T-boned McFadden as he ran very, very wide, losing about a dozen lengths on the leader.
But the young Namibian was not about to give up, launching into the chase of the day and circulating in the mid-1min12’s to close the gap with a little more than a lap to go. The last lap was a scorcher, as Slamet threw everything he had at McFadden but racecraft told as McFlash held him off to win by 0.087sec.
Behind them, Rapson got into it with Westman; the two went at it hammer and tongs for most of the race but Westman produced the stronger finish to take third by nearly three seconds.
Van Niekerk got a poor start and never featured in the leading bunch; he and Redelinghuys put up a brilliant dice for fifth, despite Van Niekerk's fairing coming loose, with Redelinghuys (just) ahead when it mattered.
Simon made it a double in Class B, while rookie David Endicott, on a beautifully presented Triumph Daytona 675, got the better of veteran Wayne Arendse (Honda CBR600RR) for Class C honours by 0.627sec.
Throughout 2013 the second tier of Regional racing was dominated by the 650cc twins of Powersport A - usually in the person of Warren ‘Starfish’ Guantario on the Calberg ER6. So ace tuner ‘Danie van Killarney’ Maritz, now 47 years old, hauled out of mothballs the Suzuki GSX-R750 on which he won the 1987 Regional title and upset the applecart.
He qualified second behind the aforementioned Starfish and used the Gixer’s top-speed advantage to take the lead down the back straight on lap one; after that it was game on as Guantario outbraked the older machine into almost very corner, dived inside or went round the outside, only for Maritz to outpower the Kawasaki down the straights.
After eight crowd-thrilling laps the gap at the finish line was 0.582sec in Maritz’ favour, with Brandon Storey, out for the first time on the Thruxton ER6, a distant third, ahead of Clubman Class rider Ruan de Lange (Honda CB600RR), short-circuit star Wesley Jones (standing in for Graeme Green on the Fibreprod SV650), Andrew Liebenberg and Calberg team mate JP Friedrich, after a race-long three-way battle for fifth.
The second outing was almost a repeat of Race 1, with Maritz and Guantario banging elbows and fairings at least once on every lap and Storey putting in another workmanlike ride on the bog-standard Thruxton ER6.
Five seconds further adrift, however, Liebenberg and Jones (who had not raced on the main circuit for five years and had never ridden an SV650 before qualifying!) left De Lange and Friedrich standing as they put up an epic duel for fourth, swopping places several times, but always leaving room to pull up alongside and grin at each other in what a delighted Liebenberg later described as ‘gentleman’s racing’, even though Jones was ahead when it mattered by just 0.058sec in the closest finish of the day.