6th Round of the National Off-road Championship for Motorcycles and 7th Round for Quads
It will be rider against rider and manufacturer against manufacturer - a serious test of man and machine on two and four wheels at the Caledon 400 (September 26 and 27), the 6th round of the National Off-road Championship for Motorcycles and 7th round for quads that will take place at Dewetsdorp in the Free State.
There are only three races on the national off-road calendar left and all the titles are still up for grabs - both the overall motorcycle and quad championships as well as the different class titles. It will be a race where the leaders would like to keep and strengthen their lead while those just behind them will fight to get to the front. And the battle between manufacturers is getting more fierce at each race - Honda is leading the overall motorcycle championship and two of the classes (250cc and Seniors) while KTM is hot on their heels and the front runner in the Open Class as well as the 200cc Class. Suzuki rules in the 125cc Class. In the quad category, it's the traditional battle between Yamaha and Bombardier - Yamaha is currently leading and strong in the top five, but Bombardier is too close for comfort.
It seems as if the 250cc riders are showing the Open Class competitors racing with the more powerful motorcycles how to score points. The first two riders in the overall motorcycle championship, Andrew Ogden and his teammate Geoffrey Wolhuter (Miller Moore/Sandton Honda) is competing in the 250cc Class and although they have only one race victory between them (Ogden won the Mafikeng 500), consistency resulted in Ogden leading both the overall as well as the 250cc Class with Wolhuter 2nd. The Open Class rider, Jade Gutzeit (Tyrolit/Cheetah KTM) won two events (Swaziland and Hluhluwe), but could not score points on two more occasions and is 3rd overall with another rider in this class, Gray Dick (Nashua Mobile Racing/Shimwells Yamaha) in 5th place and only winning the Kalahari 1000. Dick, the 2002 National Off-road Motorcycle Champion, won the Caledon 400 last year and would like to win this race, his favourite on the racing calendar, again this year and to score more points in his battle to defend his title successfully. Clayton Enslin (Enzo Chiocchi Racing KTM) has not won since 2001 and is 3rd.
The traditional battle between Yamaha and Bombardier is continuing - in the top five it's Yamaha leading and in 4th place with Bombardier 2nd, 3rd and 5th. Disaster has struck when Dallie Terblanche (Ekerold Yamaha Banshee), who is leading the championship, broke his collarbone at a recent regional off-road race. He will probably still be suffering from this injury and it would be a pity if he could not race or finish this event as he is the only rider in the top ten who finished every event so far this season. He finished the 2002 Caledon 400 in the 3rd place.
After each of the six races this season, another rider picked up the overall victory. Shaun Gunther (Speed Quad Bombardier) had his chance at the Mafikeng 500, but experienced some flat tyres at the recent Tarka 400 and finished 8th. The businessman from Klerksdorp, Charles Jonker (Speed Bike Bombardier) won the opening event of the season, the Mini Roof of Africa in Lesotho and although he is currently 3rd overall, he is within reach of Gunther and Terblanche.
Another Yamaha Banshee rider, Paul Chomse (Salley's Yamaha), all the way from Mtubatuba in KwaZulu-Natal won the Swaziland event and fills the 4th place - hot on the heels of Jonker. Hendrik Potgieter (Speed Quad Bombardier) looked promising in Swalizland when he was leading until he crashed out and later he could also not finish at Mafikeng, but he made up for it when it was his turn to win in Hluhluwe. He is 5th and would like to add another victory to his tally - he finished the Caledon 400 last year in the second place.
In the Overall Motorcycle Championship, seven riders are filling the 6th to 10th positions - Darryl Curtis (AGA/LG KTM) is just behind Dick with Riaan van Niekerk (Tyrolit/Cheetah KTM) with Wayne Farmer (Eclipse/Russell Campbell Kawasaki) on his heels. Barry Kriel (Tyrolit/Cheetah KTM) only scored twice this season, but after winning the Tarka 400, he moved up to the 8th place overall - only one point ahead of brother Spencer and Carel le Roux (Miller Moore/Sandton Honda) who is again only a single point ahead of Bernard Johnstone (Shimwells Yamaha) in the 10th place.
Curtis, who would dearly like to win an event this season, is also leading the Open Class Championship followed by Gutzeit. In the 200cc Class, Grant Wheeler (Tyrolit/Cheetah KTM) has a comfortable lead ahead of his teammate Tjaart Coetzee who shared this position with Simon Warne followed by Van Niekerk who will not be scoring more points towards this class championship (he moved to the 250cc Class) which means that the rest of the riders including Corrie van der Burgh (The Roost KTM); Craig Arnoldi (Eclipse/Russell Campbell Kawasaki); Mike Whitehouse (Nashua Mobile Racing/Shimwells Yamaha) and the young Zac Botha (Shimwells Yamaha) can all move up in this championship.
The 125cc Championship has been an interesting one so far with the Team Shimwells Yamaha newcomer, Gavin Louw, and Hylton Smith (Ramco/Cell C Suzuki) swapping places at the top during the season. Although Smith only won the class once (at Hluhluwe), he finished consistently in the second position to secure the top position followed by Louw, who won twice (Kalahari 1000 and Mafikeng 500). A horde of young Ramco/Cell C Suzuki riders is chasing each other in the top 10 - Gary Barton (3rd) and Deon Enslin (4th) as well as Cazir Noroth who is sharing the 8th place with Hendrik Kraaij (Tyrolit/Cheetah KTM). They are fighting to better their positions against riders like Bryce Adams (Eclipse/Russell Campbell Kawasaki) (5th), Gavin Welch (6th), Terry Waters (The Roost KTM) and Louwrens Mahoney (Tyrolit/Cheetah KTM) (7th).
The Senior Championship is lead by Tom Classen (Miller Moore/Sandton Honda) who won the first three events, but crashed badly at Hluhluwe. He made a comeback and finished second at Tarkastad in the Eastern Cape. Just behind him is the 2002 Senior Champion, Johnny Lochner (Shimwells Yamaha) with Wouter Mol (AGA/LG KTM) in the third place.
In the interesting Quad Championship, two more manufacturers made it into the top ten - the Polaris Predator rider, Hennie Human is currently 8th, just behind another Speed Quad Bombardier rider, Clayton du Plessis (7th), and five points behind the privateer rider, Hanru Fourie (6th) also on a Bombardier. Jacques Struwig (Southern Yamaha Raptor) made it into the 9th place in the overall championship after only scoring points at three races of which he won the recent event in Tarkastad. Struwing won the Quad Category in 2001 Caledon 400, but could only manage to finish 11th last year.
Three points behind Struwig, the Ramco/Cell C Suzuki rider, Carl Wichmann, rounds off the top ten. Although this quad showed a lot of potential, teething problems were mostly the reason for Wichmann not finishing three races, but everytime this jovial KwaZulu-Natal rider finished, it was in the top ten.
The 2001 and 2002 Quad Champion, Cornel de Villiers (Speed Quad Bombardier) broke his leg earlier this year, but won the recent Super Rock 200 regional and would use every opportunity he could get to prepare for his first Dakar (2004). He won the Kalahari 1000 in May, but has not participated since then and has only 20 points behind his name.
It is the first year that a separate Senior Quad Championship is run and, different from the Senior Motorcycle Championship, quad riders have to complete the whole race to score points. Leading this championship at the moment, is Geoff Osche (Speed Quad Bombardier) with the Southern Yamaha Raptor rider, Denis van der Merwe, in second position. Marius Becker is third.
The Caledon 400 starts early on Friday, September 26, at the Dewetsdorp Showgrounds when riders will do documentation and scrutineering before starting the 50km timetrial which will determine the starting positions for the main race on Saturday, September 27. The main race, two laps of 185km, starts at 07h00 and riders cross the R702 to Wepener three times and the S733 to Hobhouse twice on a challenging racing route. The first rider is expected at the finish at 13h00.