Riders hit Diamond Route for SA Off-Road Champs opener

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The competition in the 2014 SA National Off-road Championship for motorcycle and quad competitors is predicted to be extremely tough and the country’s finest competitors will be in action this weekend at the season opener, the Diamond Route 400 that takes place at Wolmaransstad in the North-West Province.

In 2012 the Diamond Route 400 finished as the close runner-up in the Best National Off-road Event Awards and while the Verwes Off-road Club has not hosted a national event last year, they will host this popular race for the third time on the farm Rietkuil where the local community will again go out of their way to make the visitors feel welcome.

The Diamond Route 400 will consist of two 60 kilometre loops and the motorcycle and quad competitors will tackle a different loop at 8h00 on Saturday (8 March). Riders will swop loops after completing it three times to complete the second loop three times for a total race distance of about 360 kilometres. The starting order for this event was determined by the results of a Seeding Event held earlier this season outside Bronkhorstspruit where it became quite clear that an action-packed season can be expected. Competitors from as far as the Cape, East London and Port Elizabeth, KwaZulu-Natal, Hoedspruit and the Limpopo Province have entered for the Wolmaransstad race where they will aim to score their first points towards various class championships as well as the Number One plate.

The Botswana motocross and off-road motorcycle rider, Ross Branch (Brother KTM) surprised a few by posting the fastest time albeit only 26 seconds faster than the defending OR2 (250cc) champion, Timmy Young (Kargo Racing Yamaha) with the current OR1 (Open Class) champion and title holder, Kenny Gilbert (Proudly Bidvest Yamaha) a mere seven seconds behind Young in third place. These times will however not mean anything when they take their starting positions in pairs on the startline.

Branch’s team-mates, Louwrens Mahoney – he is a double Diamond Route 400 winner – as well as the 2013 OR4 (Under 21) winner, Louw Schmidt; Juan ‘Bollie’ van Rooyen who was the fastest Senior Class rider at the Seeding Event; Jono van Wyk and Tyron Miller all finished within the top 20 at the Seeding Event and will hope to start their season on a high note. Proudly Bidvest Yamaha Racing’s two members – Gilbert and Marc Torlage – will also aim to build on their top five results at the Seeding Event while Ruan Roberts (Yamaha), who was sixth fastest, and Team Kargo Racing Yamaha’s Young and Charan Moore will be adding their support to the Yamaha camp.

Like Young, Dillon Inggs (Kawasaki) has also moved from OR2 to OR1 and posted a time to put him in the top 10 while Altus de Wet (Cargo-Tac Husqvarna Factory Racing) moved from OR1 to OR2 – his time was the fastest in OR2 and also placed him in the top 10. Riders who had a troublesome Seeding Event resulting in them starting further down the field, include Nicholas Pienaar (Base Fit Racing KTM) – his brother and team-mate, Darren, will start ahead of him – as well as Wade Blaauw (Yamaha); De Wet’s team-mate, Mark Garland who made a comeback to off-road racing after recovering from injuries; Estiaan Steenkamp (Husqvarna) and Roan Lindsay (Yamaha).

There are many riders who will have to work their way through the field at Wolmaransstad and they will be chasing those who are starting ahead of them. Riders in the top 20 include Bernard McGee (McGee Yamaha Lydenburg) who posted the second fastest time in OR3 behind Schmidt; Michael Creevy (Yamaha); enduro specialist Wesley Redinger (KTM); Jonathan Webster (Yamaha) – his brother, Chris, is not racing this season – Brandon Luyt (Yamaha) and the defending OR3 champion, Jaycee Nienaber (Manhand Ridgeway Yamaha).

On four wheels all three the Polokwane riders who dominated the 2013 season were between the first four riders with André du Plessis (Yamaha) posting the fastest time. The defending title holder, Jurie ‘Botter’ Meyer (Yamaha Race Support) was second with Brian Baragwanath (Yamaha) fourth. Jaco Moller (Portable Shade / Extreme ATV Tzaneen Yamaha) was sandwiched between Meyer and Baragwanath with Jacques Struwig (Boesman Racing Suzuki) fifth fastest and leading the Senior Class. He will however be on two wheels as he is competing in the Argus Cycle Tour.

The regulars might again be leading the pack, but behind them the field will have a new look as quite a few competitors who finished the 2013 season in the top 10, have not entered the Diamond Route 400. Three fairly ‘new’ names have already appeared in the top 10 at the Seeding Event – Hannes Saaijman (Team Rhide SA Yamaha) has not competed regularly for two years and posted the sixth fastest time (he was the fastest in Q2 for riders older than 28 years) while David Hollis (Yamaha) has made a return to the championship after a serious injury and was ninth and Franco Annandale (Boesman Racing Suzuki), who competed in Q2 last year, rounded off the top ten, just ahead of Justin Robert (Signwonder Racing Honda) who won Q2 last year and Franco’s brother Hannes, who will again also compete in Q2.

Like last year, Senior Class competitors in both categories have to complete the full race distance (like OR1, OR2 and OR3 in the motorcycle category and Q1 and Q2 in the quads) and they also score overall points. On two wheels Van Rooyen, who only started competing in the Senior Class for riders older than 38 years this year, was the fastest, but he can expect competition from the current champion, Pieter Holl and his Bert Smith All Stars Racing Powered by RAD KTM team-mate, Kobus Jonck while Justin Broughton (Kawasaki), who finished second in 2013, and former champion, Wayne Farmer (Gas Gas) will also aim for the title again.

On four wheels anyone can take the victory as Struwig, who finished second last year, as well as the defending champion, Paul Chomse, are not competing. Charles Lee (Signwonder Racing Suzuki) posted the second fastest time at the Seeding Event with PS Diamond Trailers’ Stuart Freeman (Yamaha) third – his team-mate, Russell Ferreira (Honda) could not post a time and will have to fight his battle from the back of the field – while Banie Barnard (Barnard Vervoer) and Oz Osborne (Yamaha) will also be in the mix of riders older than 35 years of age competing in this class.

Competitors in the Master Classes will now have to complete 75% of the race distance (five laps) and this will test the endurance and fitness of these riders older than 46 years. Tony dos Santos (Suzuki) was the fastest in the quad class and the battle will continue between him  and the multiple champion, Jurie Meyer Snr (Yamaha Race Support) while a newcomer like Org Geldenhuys (Abacus DIVISIONS Racing Can-Am), who was third fastest, can upset the applecart. A few competitors did not participate in the Seeding Event and the results can look totally different after the season opener.

A new name has appeared at the top of the Master Class in the motorcycle category where Garth Prost (Cargo-Tac Husqvarna Factory Racing) will hope to build on his lead. Leon Gerber (Bert Smith Racing*) won a few times last year and will aim for the title from the start. There are a few more new names in this class on the entry list and no prediction is safe.

The new High School Class for riders between 14 and 16 years has received a healthy amount of entries in the motorcycle category (12) – only a couple of entries in the quad category – and it will be interesting to see how the youngsters will do at Wolmaransstad. The new Combined Ladies Class Championship for motorcycle and quad competitors will also be implemented for the first time and while both the 2013 winners – Toni Jardine (KTM) on two wheels and Liezel Barnard (Barnard Vervoer Can-Am) on four wheels – will be in action, a few more competing ladies will add to the flair and competition of this new championship.

The Silver Class Challenge will also continue in both the categories and although not many quad entries were received, the competition in the motorcycle section will be as tough as ever. Competitors in this class have to complete five laps.

The Diamond Route 400 will also form the first rounds of the Northern Regions Championship as well as the Platinum Club Series and spectators can prepare themselves for a day filled with off-road racing action from 08h00 on Saturday morning. Competitors have to pass through the pits after each 60km lap which means that enthusiasts at the Start/Finish and central pits area at Rietkuil (GPS points: S27 12.888 E25 49.849) will experience all the action from up close.

Photos: Riaan van Wyk

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