Round 6 of the Mike Hopkins Regional Motorcycles series at Cape Town’s Killarney circuit on Saturday 7 September began with the title poised on a knife-edge and ended with the series almost as delicately poised - but in between it delivered world-class racing peppered with drama, at both human and sporting level.
Veteran Malcom Rapson shook off the misery and nausea of a stomach bug to put his Kawasaki ZX-10R on pole with a superb 1min13.199 (the commentators later suggested he was in a hurry to get back to the pits!) with title rivals Aran van Niekerk (Stunt SA/DMR ZX-10R) and Ronald Slamet (Mike Hopkins ZX-10R), along with find of the season Gerrit Visser’s Honda CBR1000RR, making up the rest of the front row.
Since its last outing Slamet’s Kawasaki had been fitted with a (barely run-in) new engine and rebuilt rear shock, on which previously successful settings didn’t seem to work. That left the intensely focussed young Namibian short-changed in both the power and handling departments; he got a superb start to lead lap one from Rapson, Van Niekerk and Visser, but had no answer when Van Niekerk dived past on lap two to take a lead that was never seriously challenged.
Slamet rode the wheels off the Mike Hopkins-sponsored machine to stay in touch with his arch rival while Visser, having found fresh confidence with a new Pirelli front tyre, blitzed the tiring Rapson on lap six and began reeling in Slamet despite a supposed power deficit of about 10kW.
By the end Visser was all over the Kawasaki but Slamet shut the door firmly on him in almost every corner of the final two tours to hold off the Honda by a nail-biting 0.049sec – which was immediately rendered moot when the stewards penalised Visser 30 seconds for jumping the start, relegating him to ninth.
Rapson, despite recording the fastest lap of the day (1min748) on lap four, slowed a little in the final stages to come home three seconds adrift, 15 seconds ahead of a titanic struggle for 600 Challenge honours between Nicholas van der Walt (DMR CBR600RR) and Brandon Haupt’s MX Clean GSX-R600, which ended with Van der Walt in front when it mattered, by just 0.328sec.
Veteran Mike Wilhelmi, who is having the season of his life on the Fast Fence ZX-10R, got the best of a three-way Class B dice with Honda CBr1000RR riders Leroy Malan and Shaun de Jager that saw all three cross the line in less than 2.6 seconds.
The winning margin in Class C, however was even closer as late-charging Wayne Arendse (Honda CBR600RR) put in three superb laps to hold off Eric Everson’s similar machine by 0.03sec.
After a dismal result at the previous outing Haupt and his father Peter (who had been battling to set up the Suzuki’s fueling maps) actually took the bike to Johannesburg, where Alain at Dynojet not only sorted the fuelling out but also showed Haupt senior how to do it; to him must go most of the credit for Haupt’s electrifying start in Race 2, which actually saw him lead all the litre-class machines for most of the first lap, before Slamet, Van Niekerk, Rapson and Visser powered past him on the back straight.
Van Niekerk and Slamet kept the spectators on their feet with a world-class battle for the lead - as they have for most of this season - but Van Niekerk made the most of his power advantage to open a two-second gap in the closing stages, while Visser put in another superb ride to come home less than half a second behind Slamet.
Haupt convincingly aced the 600 Challenge, finishing four seconds ahead of a superb dice between class leader Van der Walt and Sharl Wasserfall on the Berlux ZX-6R that saw them cross the line just 0.031sec apart - but it was Van der Walt’s front tyre that was in front.
Wilhelmi stamped his authority on Class B, finishing two seconds ahead of Andre Calvert (Kawasaki ZX-6R), himself less than half a second clear of Malan’s Honda, while Arendse pulled a seven-second advantage over Everson to take the Class C silverware.
Reigning Powersport champion Hayden Jonas was hoping to celebrate his 15th birthday with a race win (or two!) but even a strong new engine in his Suzuki SV650 couldn’t put him on the pace of class leaders Graeme Green (Suzuki SV650 and Warren ‘Starfish’ Guantario on the Calberg ER6.
Nevertheless, a perfect start saw him second behind Green on lap one, but by the end of the second lap Green and Guantario had broken the tow, running consistently under 1min19sec - which would have placed them at the top of Class B in the Superbike races - while banging elbows and swopping paint in their battle for the lead.
Green held off the Kawasaki until the final corner, when Guantario outbraked him to grab the lead – and the win, everybody thought - only for Green to slingshot Guantario on the line and take the honours by 0.013sec, less than the width of a front tyre.
Jonas was nearly 12 seconds down in third, with Ayden van Rooijen (Suzuki GSX-R600) a further 15 seconds in arrears at the top of the Clubmans Class, while Kevin Spratley’s Yamaha RZ350R was the first Classic home.
The expected re-match between Green and Guantario failed to materialise when the Calberg machine blew its engine on the warm-up lap, spewing a stream of oil all the way round Turn 2 and delaying the start of the race by more than 20 minutes.
When the red lights finally went out Jonas pulled off another rocket start, leading for two laps until Green outbraked him into Turn 5 on lap three.
Even then he was unable to pull away; Jonas was less than a quarter of a second behind when Mandy Peake - who was having a superb outing, consistently running under 1min28 and enjoying all the big Honda VTR1000’s mid-range grunt - lost the front end coming out of the Kink on lap six and went down hard.
The Honda came to rest on the racing line and, although Peake was up and waving to the fans within moments, the red flags came out and the result was declared as at the end of lap five, with Green in command, from Jonas and Brandon Storey (Factory Lane SV650), and Van Rooijen leading the Clubmans Class from Jannie Stander (Kawasaki ZX-10R), Wessel Kruger (Honda CBR600F) and Lee Erasmus after a superb dice.
See Peake’s crash from the rider’s point of view in this footage from her helmet-cam.