As the dust settled after the recent Atlas Copco Gold 400, the sixth and final round of the 2017 SA National Cross Country Championship for Motorcycles and Quads (SACCS Moto) that took place at Glenharvie on the West Rand, the points have been finalised and the championship titles have been allocated.
After a competitive season with some neck to neck racing that took riders from Lichtenburg in the North-West Province to the Battlefields at Dundee in KwaZulu-Natal and from racing for three days and completing almost a thousand kilometres in the Botswana desert back to Harrismith in the Free State, most of the titles were only finalised at the final round towards the end of October. The Drop Points system, where riders who started, finished and scored points at each of the six rounds had to drop their worst set of results, also came into play.
In the motorcycle category, the bigger bikes in the OR1 (Open) Class did not have it all their own way and the overall and OR1 champion, Ross Branch (Brother Leader Tread KTM) as well as the runner-up and the winner of the last two rounds, Kenny Gilbert (Liqui Moly Racing Husqvarna) had to be quite weary of those behind them. Ten points separate Branch and Gilbert on the overall leader board while third-placed Brett Swanepoel (Pepson Plastics Husqvarna), who clinched the OR2 (250cc) title, trails Gilbert by ten points.
Branch’s team-mate, Louwrens Mahoney (OR2), made a successful comeback to the national racing scene by finishing fourth overall, 16 points behind Swanepoel and 16 points ahead of the motocross ace and rookie off-road racer, Tristan Purdon (Bidvest Blu Cru Yamaha) who was again only eight points ahead of the newly crowned OR3 (200cc) champion, Kyle Flanagan (Bidvest Blu Cru Yamaha). The rest of the top 10 consists of Louw Schmidt (Brother Leader Tread KTM) who experienced an injury-ridden season, but finished seventh overall, six points behind Flanagan and only one point ahead of Jaycee Nienaber (Super Moose KTM) with Charan Moore (Live Lesotho Yamaha), Wilhelm Schönfeldt (BCR Arrow Yamaha Racing) and Ruan Smith (KTM Centurion Liqui Moly Racing) all on the same points, eight points behind Nienaber.
In the OR1 Championship the gap between Branch and Gilbert, who could not complete the opening round due to a crash, was even smaller as only six points separated them with Purdon, who could only not finish the final round, rounding off the podium after three earlier podium results. Ruan Potgieter (KTM) finished fourth, a single point ahead of Schmidt who fought back after crashing at the opening round and not scoring points on the second day in Botswana.
The OR2 title was also only completely signed off at the final event with Swanepoel taking his second national off-road title leading Mahoney by 12 points with Gareth Cole (KTM) finishing third, but only two points ahead of Smith who had some breathing space over Nienaber, who competed in OR1 at the final round, in fifth place.
Everything could have gone right or wrong for both the OR3 class leader, Flanagan, or second placed Moore at the final event and eventually it went wrong for both. Flanagan earned the title after a season that not only included four victories, but also various visits to the hospital due to injuries. Despite not completing the final round, a victory and two more runner-up results secured Moore’s second place, 13 points behind the winner, while Schönfeldt, who broke his leg halfway through the season, persevered to finish in third place, only four points behind Moore.
He had Ian Rall (KTM) on his rear wheel in fourth place, eight points astray while a mere four points separated Rall from Haydn Cole (KTM) in fifth place. The winner of the last round, Taki Bogiages (KTM) managed a sixth place in the standings after injuries during the season.
In the High School Championship, Stefan van Deventer (Bidvest Blu Cru Yamaha Racing) was leading the standings with four victories after the first events when he had a big scare at the penultimate event. A crash saw him not finishing the race and losing his lead to Juan-Pierre de Villiers (Q-KON EMD Basefit Racing KTM) who had a very consistent season. The defending champion fought back and claimed his second consecutive High School title with a victory at the final round with De Villiers the runner-up, a mere three points ahead of third-placed Maarten van Jaarsveld (Doorzone Bikers Warehouse Husqvarna), who finished on the podium five times.
Ryan Pelser (KTM) started the season in the 125cc Class that was disbanded after the first event. He was moved to the High School championship where he stood his man despite competing with the smallest motorcycle and finished on the podium twice. He is fourth in the class, 14 points behind Van Jaarsveld and nine points ahead of Barend Pretorius (KTM) who could not score points at the opening round.
In the Senior Class, there were six straight wins – and a huge scare after a crash at the final race – for Juan ‘Bollie’ Van Rooyen (Brother Leader Tread KTM) who scored a hat trick of Senior Class Championship titles. Hentie Hanekom (Husqvarna) finished on the podium five times, but had to settle for second place. He had Bruce Viljoen (Doorzone Bikers Warehouse Husqvarna) breathing down his neck, but despite five podium results, an unfortunate result in Botswana saw Viljoen finishing the season in third place, only two points behind Hanekom. The endurance specialist, Bruce May (Bidvest Blu Cru Yamaha) scored consistently to finish fourth with some breathing space to Willem du Toit (Husqvarna) who used the cross country season to prepare for the 2018 Dakar Rally.
The Master Class championship has been a nail biting affair from the opening race with defending champion, Wayne Farmer (Doorzone Bikers Warehouse Husqvarna) and arch rival, Pieter Holl (KTM) banging handle bars at each event. After both scored three victories each and finishing the season on equal points, it boiled down to the amount of runner-up results which then sees Holl taking the title, his second national cross country title after winning the Senior Class in 2013.
Faan van Deventer (KTM) is third after rounding off the podium at five of the six events with Lyle Roebert (Doorzone Bikers Warehouse Husqvarna) fourth and track car racer, Iain Pepper (Pepson Plastics Husqvarna) fifth in his first ever off-road racing season.
In the Silver Class Challenge, Matthew Coetzee and Ryan van Es finished the season with the same amount of points with Patrick Moore third.
KTM takes the coveted Manufacturer’s Award with Husqvarna second, Yamaha third and Sherco fourth.
In the quad category, Hannes Saaijman (Q-KON EMD Basefit Racing KTM) had also not secured the overall or Open Quad titles before the final event despite leading both. He had some trouble at the last race, but two victories and consistent scoring saw him claiming both titles for the second year running. Keenan Hammon (Yamaha), who also started the season in the High School Class, crashed at the Battlefields 400, but scored consistently after that to finish second overall, 10 points behind Saaijman with Stef Bester (VANS Racing Division Yamaha) in third, 17 points behind young Hammon, after not scoring at the opening event.
Pierre van Heerden (Honda) was the worst affected by not finishing the last event and dropped from second overall to the fourth although only three points behind Bester. Botswana rider, Motsumi Lekone (Yamaha) also scored at five of the six events and rounds off the top five, four points ahead of Attie Saaijman (Q-KON EMD Basefit Racing Yamaha) who won both events in Botswana. Behind him only four points separated the rest of the top ten with Peter Walter (Can-Am Side-by-Side) seventh, two points ahead of both Hennie Michau Jnr (Yamaha), who finished on the podium twice in Botswana and Russell Ferreira (Honda) with Gideon Jacobs (KTM) who led a few races before running into problems, in tenth place, two points further back.
In the Open Quad championship Saaijman finished 27 points ahead of Hammon who scored in the High School championship at the opening round. Only one point separated Hammon from Bester in third place. Van Heerden had to settle for the fourth place again, trailing Bester by three points with Abraham Saaijman rounding off the top five.
Junior Vardy (Yamaha) won the Silver Class Challenge (Yamaha) ahead of Fernando and Tony dos Santos (Yamaha).
Yamaha took the Manufacturer’s Award and is followed by Honda with Can-Am and KTM finishing on equal points behind them Suzuki is fifth and Polaris sixth.