The 2009 national enduro championship kicked off in spectacular fashion with the 34th Castrol Winterberg Enduro setting several new records, and maintaining its status as the premier event on the calendar.
2010 Castrol Winterberg Enduro – 15 16 October
Boasting an unprecedented 313 entries, the popularity of this spectacular endurance race, which has been sponsored by Castrol for a remarkable 31 years, was raised to entirely new heights.
Traditionally filling the season-closing slot, the shift to Saturday 7 February for the opening round of the 2009 championship dramatically changed the dynamics of the event, with high temperatures and dust playing a significant role in the final results.
Accompanied by the Eastern Cape's driest period in over 40 years, ambient temperatures hovered around 35 degrees Celsius, with a peak of some 46 deg C being recorded on certain sections of the route.
Nevertheless, the competition was as fierce as ever at the sharp end of the field, with reigning enduro champion Altus de Wet powering his ECS Natro Freight Alfie Cox Racing KTM 250 to victory, and notching up the fastest time on the special test, thereby kicking off his title defence in dominant fashion.
"It's fantastic to get the season off to a winning start, and to do so on the Castrol Winterberg Enduro makes it even more special," De Wet said. "The heat certainly made it a challenging event, and the route was a lot more technical than last year.
"The Winterberg has always been one of the best events of the season, and this year was no different. The organisers did a superb job with the entire race, and I thoroughly enjoyed riding this enduro."
Despite his best efforts to claim that elusive Winterberg victory, Darryl Curtis once again had to settle for the runner-up spot on his DCM Chrome AGA LG Red Bull KTM, losing out to De Wet by a scant 42 seconds. This, even though he finished the race with a penalty-free score sheet – a feat that only he and Riaan van Niekerk (DCM Chrome KTM) managed.
Although Curtis indicated that the excessive heat didn't impact too severely on the top competitors, it hit the rest of the field very hard. "For the average rider, the conditions were nothing less than extreme with the excessively high temperatures," he said. "This made the challenging uphill sections very tiring, with lots of riders dropping out due to dehydration.
"But the organisation, the marking and the route was superb, and the Winterberg still remains one of my favourite events, and the best race of the year."
It was an impressive enduro debut for BMW in South Africa, with the independent Regent BMW team's Jade Gutzeit (a double Winterberg winner) scoring a convincing third overall on the brand new G450 X. Team-mate Gray Dick finished a solid seventh overall and fifth in the National Open class.
KTM rider Riaan van Niekerk came home fourth overall and won the National 200 cc category, with Port Elizabeth rider and 2006 winner Bollie van Rooyen ending fifth overall on the Sadiba Russell Campbell Kawasaki.
He was followed home by Red Yamaha's Marc Torlage (sixth overall and second in the 200 cc class), BMW's Gray Dick, 2004 winner Lourens Mahoney and Bradley van Aswegen (Ekerold Yamaha), with Errol Dalton (Groovebar GBR250) rounding out the top 10.
The National Senior class was won by William Gillitt (Red Yamaha), ahead of Gary Sox Smith (Honda) and Brian Bader (The Roost Kawasaki 450).
Of the 313 starters, 167 riders completed the race, with the majority of the non-finishers succumbing to exhaustion and dehydration.
The impressive number of entries and the fantastic organisation by the Rover Motorcycle Club remained the talking points around the Loerie Russkamp (formerly known as the PPC grounds, which has staged the Winterberg for the past decade), with the ongoing and much-valued support by the Hankey community and the local farmers remaining the hallmark of Castrol Winterberg Enduro.