Cape Town – The 17th edition of the International Classic Tourist Trophy series came down to a thriller finale at Killarney on Saturday with plenty of close racing, a couple of big surprises and, if you discount wounded pride, not a single injury.
Former SA Superbike contender Noel Haarhoff from Gauteng, known for his ‘Never give up’ attitude to motorcycle racing, had won both Classic TT races at the previous weekend’s Day of the Champions meeting at Zwartkops on an immaculately prepared Suzuki GSX1100, ahead of a very quick and determined team of Scottish riders on a mix of Suzuki GSX-R Pre-Slings and genuine XR69s (the XR69 being the endurance racer from which the oil-cooled Gixer series was derived).
Haarhoff brought the big black Suzuki down to Killarney with the stated intention of showing the Scottish team that even if they won the series on points he was still The Man when it came classic motorcycle racing in South Africa. But, as a Scottish poet once put it, the best laid plans…
He put it on pole ahead of the quickest of the Scots, Ian Simpson and Iain Macpherson (each on a Suzuki GSX-R1100) followed by hometown Classic racing stalwart John Kosterman, who’d rattled a few cages with a strong showing at Zwartkops, and Norman, father of international Superstock rider David McFadden, also on GSX-R1100’s.
This was McFadden’s first outing in anger on the freshly-built Gixer, which he said would be as well as, rather than in place of, his usual Superbike mount.
Haarhoff and Simpson went at it from the moment the lights went out for the start of Race 1, swopping places twice in the first three laps, but from half distance Haarhoff established a small but crucial lead, to win by 1.6 seconds from Simpson, with Macpherson a distant third, ahead of McFadden and Kosterman.
Three more Scots - Howard Selby (Suzuki GSX-R1100), Robert Burns (Suzuki XR69) and Fergal McAdam (Suzuki Katana), filled the next three places in that order after a race-long battle, and Ewoud Pienaar (Suzuki GSX-R1100) beat Jason Joshua (Suzuki Katana) for ninth by the closest margin of the race, 0.033s.
There was big drama at the start of the second race as the field poured into Turn 1. Jockeying for position under braking, Simpson and Haarhoff came together hard enough to bump Haarhoff into the dirt. He kept the Suzuki upright, however, and rejoined the field stone last.
Haarhoff is at his best when faced with a mountain to climb - he got his head down and put in a stunner of a first lap, passing nine bikes to finish the lap in 10th spot. But by then he was aware that his bike was leaking oil onto his left boot; he stopped in Turn 2, to discover that the clash with Simpson had cracked an engine casing on his Suzuki, and his 2018 International Classic Tourist Trophy campaign was over.
Simpson, meanwhile, had lost only a few places in the altercation, and was back up to second by the end of lap one. He passed Macpherson for the lead on the next lap and never looked back, romping away to win by almost half a minute.
Scottish rider Gordon Grigor (Suzuki GSX 1100), had missed the first race but made up for it by getting the best of a race-long three way dice with Kosterman and Selby that saw them finish in that order within three seconds.
McAdam and Nelspruit rider Gary Edwards (Suzuki Katana) finsished just a second apart in their battle for seventh, while Leon van den Berg (Yoshimura Suzuki 1100) beat Etienne Louw (Yamaha FZR1000) for ninth by 0.367s.
Immediately prior to each Classic TT race the elder statesmen of the Historic Motorcycle Group went out for their five-lap ‘parade’ - except that everybody seemed to want to get the parade over with as quickly as possible, especially Stewart Thom on a race-prepared 1979 Suzuki GS1000S that is about the same age that he is, and Alan Turner on a crisp-sounding late-1970s Yamaha TZ250 Grand Prix two-stroke.
But for anybody old enough to remember what it was, the star of the show was Casey Wolters’ 1971 Kawasaki H1A two-stroke triple, built long before the advent of noise regulations and sounding every bit as mean as its reputation.