Clint Seller (King Price Yamaha Racing R1) took an easy victory in the opening heat of the 2019 SA Superbike Championship, held at Dezzi Raceway on Saturday, 2 March, but there was nothing easy about his win in the second race. David McFadden (RPM Centre Yamaha R1) joined him at the front and the pair produced one of the most exciting battles at the front of a Superbike race that the large KwaZulu-Natal crowd are likely to see for some time.
Blaze Baker (JBR Yamaha/The Rossi Bar Yamaha R6) got the defence of his SuperSport 600 crown off to a perfect start with two wins from pole position.
2019 saw a new qualifying system introduced for the bikes. The quickest overall time set by each rider in any of the three sessions on Friday determined the grid. Seller signalled his intentions in the first session, topping the timesheets with Byron Bester (Hi-Tech Racing Yamaha R1) not far behind. Both Seller and Bester improved their times in the second session with McFadden moving up from sixth to third in the race for pole position.
A very hot track in the final qualifying session meant most riders were not able to improve their times, leaving Seller on pole position with Bester and McFadden completing the front row. Unfortunately for Bester, a crash in the final qualifying session left him with two broken bones in his left foot and he was not able to take up his position on race day. Morne Geldenhuis (Race Craft Motorcycles Yamaha R1) headed the second row of the grid just ahead of Allan-Jon Venter (Lekka Racing Suzuki GSXR 1000) and Lance Isaacs (LIR/Superbets Gaming Group BMW S1000RR). The Yamaha R1s of Garrick Vlok and Dylan Barnard, together with the Honda Wing Umhlanga CBR1000RR of Jade Gutzeit filled the third row with Andre Calvert, who was having his first outing at Dezzi Raceway on the Leslie’s Gifts/Omega Real Estate Ducati Panigale, rounding out the top ten.
The rain that came down after the morning warm-up session had cleared by the time the riders lined up for the opening race and Seller took full advantage of his pole position, grabbing the holeshot and controlling things from the front. With Bester out, Venter had an opening in front of him that he charged through when the lights went out, grabbing second place from McFadden, who had Isaacs, Geldenhuis and Vlok in his wheel tracks. While Seller was able to do his own thing at the front, the battle five-way battle for the remaining podium positions was a classic. Venter, McFadden and Isaacs were able to eventually open a slight gap to Geldenhuis and Vlok, but the three of them were within a couple of bike lengths of each other for the entire ten laps. Venter was able to hang on to take second, a great result for a bike that only did its first serious lap of a race track on Thursday morning, ahead of McFadden and Isaacs. Geldenhuis and Vlok came home in fifth and sixth with Gutzeit and Barnard rounding out the top eight.
Race 2 looked like it could be a repeat of the first with Seller able to open up a gap at the front of the field early on, but McFadden had other ideas. He slowly chased the multiple former champion down, and by the final lap, the large crowd was in its feet. It all came down to the final corner of the last lap where McFadden tried a move up the inside but realized that both of them would probably end up on the floor if he went through with it. He backed off, settling for the points for second place, leaving Seller to take the win although McFadden did have the satisfaction of setting a new lap record. Behind the leading duo, there was a four-way battle for the final podium position between Venter, Geldenhuis, Vlok and Isaacs. This became a two-way fight when Vlok fell in front of Isaacs, resulting in the veteran losing contact with the other two. Venter took his second podium of the day with Geldenhuis in fourth. Isaacs ended in a lonely fifth place with Barnard and Gutzeit in sixth and seventh.
The overall win on the day went to Seller with McFadden and Venter joining him on the podium.
Both Baker and Malcolm Rudman (M-Projects Kawasaki ZX6R) are based in KwaZulu-Natal and spend a lot of time racing at Dezzi Raceway so it was no surprise when the pair of them traded fastest laps all through Friday’s three qualifying sessions. At the end of the day, it was Baker who had the upper hand, grabbing pole by just 0.036”. Jared Schultz (ASAP Yamaha R6) was next up, just ahead of Kewyn Snyman (Hillbilly Racing Team Yamaha) with Dino Iozzo (King Price Yamaha Racing R6) not far behind. Dian Nelson (TRD Motorcycles Yamaha R6) just got the better of Ricardo Otto (Otto Racing Team Yamaha) to take the final spot on the second row of the grid. Aiden Liebenberg (Fercor Construction Yamaha) and Taric van der Merwe (Hi-Tech Racing Yamaha R6) completed the third row of the grid with Luca Balona (Armadillo Construction/Fibre Technologies Kawasaki ZX6R) and Brandon Staffen (AJH Cooling/RPM Centre Kawasaki ZX6R) completing the field.
Rudman grabbed the lead from the start and went on to cross the line eight laps later comfortably ahead of Baker, but he was adjudged to have moved before the lights went out at the start, incurring a 30-second penalty and handing the win to Baker. Nelson got off the line well and was running in third before dropped to the back of the field. By the time he rejoined, his chances of a decent finish were gone. This left Schultz, van der Merwe, Otto, Iozzo and Snyman to fight it out for the remaining podium positions with Iozzo grabbing second place when he got past Schultz on the final lap. Otto took fourth from van der Merwe with Snyman in sixth. Rudman’s penalty dropped him to seventh ahead of Balona, Staffen and Liebenberg, who crashed out on the final lap.
Baker didn’t let Rudman get to the front at the start of the second race, grabbing the holeshot and controlling things to take a measured win. Rudman had to settle for second, but all the action was behind him. Otto led the chasing pack for much of the race but first Schultz and Snyman, and then Iozzo got past. Schultz just managed to keep Snyman behind him to take his second podium of the day. Iozzo had to settle for fifth ahead of Otto with Nelson in seventh. Van der Merwe, Balona and Staffen rounded out the top ten.
Baker topped the overall standings on the day from Schultz and Iozzo.
The SA Superbike championship in association with Pirelli now heads inland for round two, which takes place on 6 April 2019 at Zwartkops Raceway in Pretoria.
For more information about SA SBK visit: www.sa-sbk.com