Quintin van Jaarsveld
The MSA National Enduro Championship got off to a pulsating start at Elandspruit Farm in New Hanover just outside of Pietermaritzburg on Saturday.
With the rain coming down in the two days leading up to the race, the track was going to make for a challenging enduro. The Natal WFO Enduro Association hosted the opening round of the six-leg national showpiece, and it turned out to be a thrilling mud bath battle.
It was Kyle Flanagan (Bidvest bLU cRU Yamaha Racing) who drew first blood, riding a superb race to take the win ahead of Scott Bouverie (Brother Leader Tread KTM) and Wade Young (Sherco SA powered by Motul), who was hampered by mechanical issues.
The 2019 national championship, fuelled by Enduro South Africa, was launched with a pre-race riders’ press conference at The Traveller’s Rest Guest House on Friday night.
The maiden presser, which kicked off a new initiative that’ll be held on the eve of every national enduro, was a major hit as a star-studded line-up of riders spoke of their off-season preparation, their goals for the year and fielded questions from fans.
Known for its challenging enduro terrain, New Hanover handed South Africa’s enduro elite a proper test befitting a national championship opener, setting the benchmark for the remainder of the year.
Race day met riders with good weather. Excitement was palpable and a large crowd was on hand to watch riders start their quests for South African titles in one-minute intervals.
A 250-metre straight saw the championship blast off in style before riders took a sharp left into a gulley and onto a motocross special, which proved extremely popular.
The 40km course was a challenging one, with uphill and downhills that were made all the more tricky by the wet conditions, and riders had their work cut out for them in the gulley section – the extreme part of the track – which some negotiated better than others.
An on-fire Flanagan, in his maiden E2 championship after winning the E1 crown last year, made an early break and led the way after the opening lap.
He was hotly-pursued by a rejuvenated Bouverie, who looked better than ever and hell-bent on making up for lost time after his 2018 racing season was cut short through injury.
Young, the pre-race favourite, had to force his way through the pack due to his grid position and damaged his radiator hose in the process. The setback saw South Africa’s world-beater stuck in the pits for quite some time before the repairs were eventually completed.
After the first lap, the race organisers took the decision to divert riders around the extreme gully section, which had endured the brunt of the 130-strong riders and was causing major problems for the inexperienced riders.
Flanagan and Bouverie had a riveting race-long battle and with riders’ times exceeding the organisers’ expectations, the flag was brought out with “Flanny” coming out on top in 4:44:50 after four laps.
Bouverie was some four minutes behind in second place, while Young had to be content with third position (the star trio making up the overall and E2 Class podiums).
For Paddock-based Flanagan, it was the perfect start to the year in every sense.
“I’m really happy with the win. The last two years, I’ve ended up injured after the season opener, so honestly, my main goal was just to finish the race and score points so that I’m not on the back foot like the last two years,” said the Bidvest bLU cRU Yamaha Racing standout.
“I started the race out in front and straight away, I felt comfortable and felt that I was gapping the guys behind me a bit, which took some pressure off and allowed me to get into a good rhythm. Scott caught me on the first lap and we pretty much raced neck-and-neck the whole way and I managed to get away on the last lap.
“The track was tough to judge with the mud making it really tricky, but all in all, I really enjoyed the race and must say, the track-setters and organisers did a really good job ensuring the track was safe. I’m really pleased to take the overall win; it’s a great confidence-booster and it’s great to leave the first race of the season on a positive note,” added the 22-year-old.
Another notable performance came from Brett Swanepoel on his Pepson Plastics Husqvarna, who came back from injury to get a well-deserved fourth place, proving that he is more than ready to be competitive in this year’s championship. He commented that the event was awesome. Luke Walker also impressed and rounded out the top five, stating his intentions for his McLarens Off Road Racing team.
There were several scintillating races within the race, which also served as the third round of the WFO regional championship.
William Oosthuizen (Pepson Plastics Husqvarna Racing) fired the opening salvo in the E1 Class, outgunning Lloyd Kirk (Bidvest bLU cRU Yamaha Racing) by just over five minutes to secure the spoils.
Dwayne Kleynhans, who was the fastest on the day on his Brother Leader Tread KTM, finished third after incurring a 15-minute penalty for missing a checkpoint. Bradley Cox, Warrick Neave and Kayde Mante fought it out for fourth, fifth and sixth place over the four laps.
In the hotly-contested Senior Class, Adrian Werner (KTM Durban) and multi-time South African supermoto champion Brian Capper (Bikers Warehouse Honda) diced flat out around the challenging course.
The experienced duo had contrasting fortunes as the new lean and mean Werner took the class win while Capper ended the day with a disappointing DNF. Rounding off the podium were Dwain Barnard and Donovan Viljoen.
Bidvest bLU cRU Yamaha Racing teammates Bruce May and Denzil Torlage battled it out in the front of the Masters Class. It was evident that May was a man of a mission and he reigned supreme rather comfortably in the end. Torlage took second and Gideon Malherbe was third.
High School Class
The varied skill levels of riders in the High School Class made for interesting viewing. Ryan Pelser (Alfie Cox Racing) prevailed in the end, and was joined in the top three by Heinrich Aust and Cayden Purchase (Alfie Cox Racing).
The always popular Clubmans Class, meanwhile, was won by Jacques Steynvaart ahead of Tristan Mackenzie and Leon Els.
The Clubmans and WOW Class riders had an eventful day as they endeavoured to complete the course. Andre Kriel in the WOW Class thanked the organisers for a brilliant event, with Robert Snyders stating it was an awesome ride. These riders had a more challenging first lap once over 100 riders had passed through the sections, making the terrain trickier.
Although the gulley section was a challenge for some, swift action by the organisers saw it removed for lap two of the race and provided an exciting track for riders to enjoy. Riders raved about the course and expressed their excitement for the remainder of the national championship under Enduro South Africa.
Top riders including Flanagan, Bouverie, Swanepoel, Kleynhans, Kirk, Neave, Mathew Green, Darren Grey, Robert Garvie and Kirsten Landman all praised the organisers for a tremendous track and an awesome event.
The general consensus among competitors and their teams was that based on the opening-round race, the 2019 championship is set to usher in an exciting new era for South African enduro racing.
Round Two of the MSA National Enduro Championship will take place in Piesangkloof in the North West on April 20.
Photos by Airbourne Media House