T his twin race series now in its 10th year of running features a host of international and local former champions all out to thrill the gathered spectators with racing machines from a forgotten era of motorcycle racing.
Mick Grant’s visiting sunshine refugees from the UK featured the Suzuki Vintage Parts Team from Steve Wheatman who fields the machines across the globe for riders like Michael Dunlop in the Isle of Man classic TT races which he won convincingly last year. They contest a race series in South Africa called the Springbok and Scots challenge sponsored by Lee Dutton with the Flying Scotsman, Ian Simpson, Howard Selby, Gordon Grigor and Ian McPhearson. They are all multiple European bike racing champions. Not to be outdone, the Springbok team of champions challenge team were ready to race their over-bored Suzuki Katana machines XR69 type bikes.
Our local quartet of riders consisted of Graeme van Breda, Noel Haarhoff, Gavin Ramsey and Peter Labuschagne, all in determined mood to wrestle away the silverware from the visiting team. Backing up these events was a full race and vintage parade track day with a full noise contingent made by bikes from as far back as the 1950s right through to the 80’s.
Race day weather at Zwartkops dawned with early morning sun and that drew out plenty of eager enthusiasts. Because of a lack of practice enjoyed by the Scots team delivered by various glitches on their bikes importation to the Pretoria track, the challenge team were tense. Gavin Ramsey left the slow starting Ian Simpson as he swept into the lead and won convincingly ahead of the pack. Another star attraction on the Day of Champions was the appearance of a Kenny Roberts Proton 3 two-stroke, three-cylinder GP bike owned by Durban enthusiast Rory Nesbitt. It delivered a glorious banshee wail from a long forgotten noisy two stroke era.
Bruce Verdon, all the way from New Zealand, posted some incredible lap times on a Summerfield MacIntosh Manx Norton. To complete the mix of big banger single racing machines and with former greats such as Alan North, Peter van Hulsdonk from Holland – who rode a super quick 250cc Aermacchi – took some crazy lines as he went around the track along with “Team Incomplete” rider Keith Zeeman. He also took to trying to impair the crowds hearing by revving up the Honda 250cc RC163 race bike to over 18 000 revs per minute to keep all concerned with their fingers firmly stuck in their ears.
The Killarney race day was to feature a stellar performance by Cape Town’s Danie Maritz who blitzed the first challenge race ahead of Gavin Ramsey and Noel Haarhof all in hot pursuit. The second race plunged the race day into depression as tragedy struck on lap three when Gary Hunter’s machine fell at the end of the main straight and his machine lay ahead of Gavin Ramsey’s bike who approached it at over 200 km/h. He pulled out to overtake a tail ender and found out he had no where to go other than to strike the fallen machine lying in his path. The former SA champion died in the crash from multiple injuries. The popular rider will be remembered for his ultimate professionalism and competitiveness. The tragic event prematurely closed the events at Killarney with a grim reminder of just how dangerous motorcycle competition sport remains at every level of the sport.
Ian Simpson did, however, end up winning the overall SA TT Trophy on points at the prize-giving ceremony at Killarney.