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The fourth round of the Mike Hopkins Motorcycles Regional series at Cape Town's Killarney circuit at the weekend produced intensely close racing throughout the field and a number of surprises, including an outstanding performance from a young rider on an outdated bike - and the biggest jump-start yet seen at Killarney!
Sometimes the weather gods smile on motor racing. After a miserable week of wind and rain, race day was bathed in crisp autumn sunshine and, despite low track temperatures, lap times sparkled to match.
Trevor Westman put the Xylem S1000RR on pole with a qualifying time of 1min12.858, with championship leader David 'McFlash' McFadden on the Race Prep ZX-10R, Ronald Slamet (I-S Freight S1000RR) and Aran van Niekerk (Xylem R1) making up the rest of the front row.
But, when the lights turned, it was Van Niekerk on the five-year-old Yamaha who took the fight to the usually dominant McFadden while behind them, Westman and 2011 Regional champion Malcolm Rapson (Donford S1000RR) got into an equally intense fight for third.
Rapson got a poor start, then put in the fastest laps of his life early in the race to challenge Westman all the way to the end. He showed Westman a wheel more than once and pressured the younger rider into a near-disastrous mistake in Turn 5, but wasn't close enough to take advantage.
Slamet ran a lonely fifth while, behind him, Gerrit Visser on the Competition Bikes CBR600 and Brandon Haupt (On Demand GSX-R600) were as not only leading the 600 Challenge but also giving Quintin Ebden (Honda CBR1000RR) a very hard time. On lap four Visser outbraked the bigger bike into Turn 5 and shut the door on him so firmly it took Ebden the best part of a lap to get back on terms and he was unable to shake off the two smaller bikes.
A few seconds further adrift Nicholas van der Walt on the Race Prep CBR600 was holding off David Bolding's very quick PJ1 ZX-10R in much the same way - by sheer determination.
In the second half of the race McFadden showed just why this bike is leading the National litre-class championship as he effortlessly picked up the pace, recording the fastest lap of the day, a near-record 1min11.393, three laps from the end and coming home five seconds ahead of Van Niekerk, while Westman took third from Rapson by less than three seconds.
Ebden, Visser and Haupt finished within less than a second of each other, but Van der Walt lost out to the big green machine on the last lap, holding on to come home just half a secpnd behind Bolding.
Top Class B rivals Terry Smith (Eclipse CBR1000RR), Mike Wilhelmi (Fast Fence ZX-10R) and Mike van Rensburg (Bikernetics R6) got into a epic dice with Class A rider Chris Williams on the DEA R1 that saw them all come home within two seconds, while Shakir 'Shrek' Smith (Entity CBR1000RR) just managed to get the better of Cordell McQueen's Race Prep ZX-10R with a superb last-lap effort.
The second race saw the biggest jump-start in living memory as the starter held the bikes considerably longer than usual on the grid. Bolding's Kawasaki edged forward - and half the field seemed to follow suit! In the end, nine out of 28 starters were penalised 30 seconds each, completely re-writing the results.
But, on the track, it was Slamet who led the field off the line and into Turn 1, an advantage he held for two laps before McFadden moved into the lead, which he was to hold till the end. Behind Slamet, team mates Westman and Van Niekerk put up a superb battle for third.
Throughout the race they were never more than two bike-lengths apart, Van Niekerk holding off the newer, more powerful BMW by sheer force of will until Westman got by on the last lap to lead his team mate home by 0.23sec.
Visser, Haupt and Van der Walt put up the dice of the day for 600 Challenge honours until Van der Walt's tyres went off in the closing stages and he had ride the bike right to the (literally) ragged edge to stay ahead of Jan Lucas de Vos' new Kawasaki ZX-10R.
In the end Visser led Haupt across the line by just 0.151sec - about an arm's length in real terms - with Van der Walt and De Vos 0.338sec apart, five seconds further back.
Shane Nell (Honda CBR1000RR) and Terry Smith took Class B honours while 'Shrek' Smith and Jacques Britz (BMW S1000RR) fought it out all the way for third with the Honda in front by 0.149sec when it mattered.
Slamet's penalty, however, demoted him to eighth, pushing the Xylem stable mates up to second and third respectively, and knocking Wilhelmi out of contention for the Class B silverware.
After his giant-killing debut on the Fibreprod SV650 last time out everybody was expecting an epic duel between Warren Guantario and the hitherto unbeatable Carl Liebenberg's Calberg F800 - but it wasn't to be.
Liebenberg brought his best game to Killarney, qualifying on pole with a 1min21.097 effort that was half a second better than Guantario's best, but from there things went downhill for the Fiberprod rider, as the SV650's gearbox began to give trouble, finding false neutrals under heavy braking and forcing Guantario to go farming several times.
Powersport maestro Hilton Redelinghuys (Craig's VFR400) and Leroy Malan (BMW F800) made up the rest of the front row but, after Guantario miss-shifted out of contention on lap three, Liebenberg and Malan made all the running, Liebenberg coming home nearly 13 seconds clear of Malan, with Redelinghuys a further four seconds back.
Veteran Frans Maritz, riding his brother Danie's 1985 Suzuki GSX-R750, was fourth overall and the first New Era bike home, while Hayden Jonas (who'd broken third gear on his Honda RVF400) lost out to Brandon Storey's Race Prep VFR400 for fifth overall by two tenths of a second.
With Tony Sparg sitting the day out due to illness, arch-rival Tony Jones posted an emphatic Vintage-class win on the Edge Tools 650 Alazzurra.
Jonas' crew hauled out his spare bike, a second-hand VFR400 that had never been run in anger, and put his race wheels, radiator and body kit on it, while Guantario returned the SV650's gearing to stock in an attempt to alleviate his gearshift problems, but to no avail.
He got as high as second before he ran wide in Turn 1 on lap 2 and dropped to fifth, made up two places in the next two laps then went farming big time at the same place.
He rejoined eighth and concentrated on staying on the black stuff for the rest of the race, passing Liebenberg's son Andrew (Calberg VFR400) two laps from home to finish seventh.
Meanwhile, at the front, it was a Liebenberg benefit as he romped away to win by nearly nine seconds from Malan.
Jonas, by contrast, found himself aboard an unexpected jewel, running a full second quicker on the spare bike than he could on his race bike. By lap four he was all over Redelinghuys like a rash and came home 0.164sec behind him after a superb ride to claim fourth overall, with Maritz fifth and Storey sixth.
Mention must be made of two rookies, Tasnim Jack (Honda CBR400RR), who ran the fastest laps of her life after a much-needed suspension rebuild, and Mandy Peake, who stalled her Honda VTR1000 on the start-line of only her second Regional race, but recovered (after a quick push-start) to set a personal best time.
Tragically, Mark McFadden, brother and mechanic to championship leader David, was killed in a road accident on his way home from the circuit. The thoughts and prayers of the racing fraternity are with the McFadden family.