2016 Regional title-holder Brandon Haupt is back, this time on his father’s Yamaha R1, and must start as favourite. Picture: Brandon Haupt via Facebook

Cape Town - The 2018 Western Province Motorcycle Championship kicks off in fine style this weekend with new rules, new sponsors, and a couple of born-again racers who could just turn this series on its ear.

For the first time the 1000cc Superbike classes are separated not by performance but by age. The eligibility requirement to qualify for the races remains the same – two racing or qualifying laps of less than 1m20s - but from now on riders 34 years old or younger will compete in the Superbike Class, while riders who will turn 36 during the course of this season will race in the Supermasters Class.

Riders of any age on 600cc Supersports machines will compete in the 600 Challenge Class. The Superbike races are sponsored by Suzuki South and RST bikewear.

Riders of any age, on any machine, who do not qualify for the Superbike races will compete in the Clubman Class races - until they break 1m20s for the second time, at which point they move up to the Superbike races.

Finally, the Powersport machines have their own races, sponsored by Trac-Mac and RST bikewear. Class A is open to twin-cylinder four-stroke machines of less than 650cc, while Class B is open to singles and twin of less than 410cc.

The players

Reigning Superbike champion David McFadden will be competing in the Spanish national Superbike series in 2018, leaving the field wide open for Trevor Westman on the Mad Mac’s ZX-10R, who ended the 2017 season on very strong form, to make this his year – or will it?

Not only will 2016 Regional title-holder Brandon Haupt be back, he’ll be on his father Peter’s Yamaha R1, with sponsorship from Fueled Racing and TCF Investments. If this bike/rider combination lives up to the promise shown in testing, Haupt must start as favourite. Westman will also have another problem, this time in his own team, in the shape of multiple former champion Rob Crag, out of retirement after nearly a decade and as hungry as ever.

Keeping them honest will be perennial bridesmaids Gerrit Visser, on a privately entered Yamaha R1, and Andre Calvert on the Omega Panigale, who was just beginning to find form at the end of the 2017 series and could well be a serious threat this year.

Chris Williams on the Trac-Mac 1299 will be the man to beat in the Clubman Class, with Willem Binedell’s Dog Box GSX-R600 dominating Class B - but Clubman racing is always unpredictable: Wessell Kruger (Honda SP2) or Zuhdi Abrahams (Yamaha R6) could well spring a surprise on Saturday.

JP Friederich won every Powersport race of 2017 except the final two on the GR Tax/MSD Racing SV650 - and the winner of those races, RST bikewear boss Jonny Towers, is back in the UK, leaving Friederich in command with only Chris Williams (Trac-Mac ER650) and Mike van Rensburg (Simple Maintenance Solutions ER650) to keep him honest.

Likewise, pint-sized teenager Sam Lochoff is overseas competing in World Supersport 300, leaving Powersport Class B class wide open. Keep an eye on the vastly experienced Tony Sterianos (RST RC390) and hotshot teenager Kewyn Snyman (Mag Workshop RC390) but anything could happen and probably will.