4 September 2013

by Laren van der Westhuizen

The 2013 FIM Africa motocross of Nations was held at the iconic Syringa Park MX track. The tight and twisty track, built in the 70's, had all the riders scratching their heads, as modern day MX has become a little more accustomed to bigger and more flowing tracks. Figuring out a flow here was going to be key.
Warm weather has graced JHB for the days leading up to the event, but falling snow around the country, made this one of the coldest weekends this winter and the riders had to draw on all their experience to keep warm and block out the cold.
The 50cc class was a 2 way battle between the 2 SA team riders, Camden McLellan and Jono Mlimi. Camden was in form, winning heat 1, but heat 2 saw Camden suffer some mechanical issues and pull off the track briefly. He re-entered the circuit in 6th place and made his way back to 2nd. Jono was able to win heat 2. That meant it would come down to the wire in heat 3. Camden holeshotted and never looked back. Jono had to settle for 2nd. The Swazi rider riding under SA, finished a strong 3rd, putting SA 1, 2, and 3. Zimbabwe had a strong 50cc team and finished 4th, 5th and 6th.

The 65cc class was one of the best battles. The top 3 were clearly ahead of the rest. The wildcard entry, Dalton Venter was riding like we had never seen before. With Wikus Van Sandwyk and Cam Durow freshly back from the junior world champs, Dalton knew he would have to pull out all the stops and that is exactly what he did. Cam Durow finished 2nd in every heat and Wikus 3rd, but a disqualification for them in heat 2 for a technical enfringement, meant they would have to settle for a lower order overall. This left Ethan Segal in 2nd and Cam Durow doing enough for 3rd. I must say, I was impressed with the Ugandan rider Fotune Sentamu who is clearly their best prospect.

The MX lites class was a 2 horse battle between 2 wildcard riders, Marco DeVrye and Justin Thompson. Justin has had a bit of an indifferent year on the back of 2 exceptional years prior. This was his time to shine however and rode to a 1st, 2nd and a 1st. The best race of the day was his 2nd place, where he rode through the field to fight his way to 2nd. Marco DeVrye was 2nd overall and Josh Mlimi for team SA was 3rd. Great ride also from Jannes Van Sandwyk for team SA in 4th. SA occupied the top 6 places in this race, with Zimbabwe's Wade Ashwell in 7th.

The 125 high school class was impressive to watch. These young guys were circulating at the speeds of the very top guys. Nicholas Adams had just returned home from a season in Europe and the experience he gained there showed. He was fastest in both practice sessions and won all 3 heats. He was 2 secs a lap quicker in the beginning to get away from the pack and then just matched them for pace from there to maintain the gap. The ever impressive Brad Cox was 2nd overall, but was in a dog fight with Dirco VD Westhuizen all day. Dirco finally beat him in heat 3, but Brad had done enough for 2nd. Once again, SA occupied the top 6 places, with Zimbabwe's Tafadza Mawarire in 7th.

The MX1 class was the highlight of the day. With Africa's elite and thrown in or good measure was former world champ, Grant Langston. From the first practice, it was clear that Sacha Naude from SA and Jayden Ashwell from Zimbabwe, would be the men to beat. Sacha was just formidable on the track and won 3 out of 3. He was pushed by SA team captain, Ross Branch in heat 1 and Zimbabwean Jayden Ashwell in heat 2, but always had things under control. Jayden Ashwell was looking for a battle with Ross Branch in heat 3, when he had a big get off. He remounted and did enough to finish 3rd overall behind Branch. Lloyd Vercueil was 4th as a wildcard rider. Grant Langston was 5th in heat 1, but never looked comfortable. Suffering from jet lag and some nagging old injuries, he decided to call it quits after heat 1.

This year saw the inaugural event of the ladies class for FIM Africa. Zambia sent an official team and SA had 7 wildcard entries. There was a massive battle between Brittany Cuthbert from SA and Leah Heygate from Zambia. It came down to the final lap of the final race to determine the winner and that was Brittany Cuthbert. Amy Sawyer was 3rd and battled with another SA rider, especially in the final heat, Taye Perry. Anais Steenkamp is a talented off road rider, but this was her first MX race and did a great job to finish 4th overall.

The MX2 class saw 4 riders a fair bit quicker than the rest, Brad Fenton SA, Kerim Fitzgerald SA, Brad Lionnet Zambia and Dartagan Lobjoit SA. Kerim Fitzgerald was leading heat 1, when Brad Fenton reeled him in and made the pass for the win. Kerim could not make the rest of the races, with a broken bike. Brad was able to go out and win the next 2 relatively unchallenged, except for a nagging Brad Lionnet who shadowed him until a mechanical issue. Brad Lionnet did enough to finish 2nd with a surprise finish for Justin Barret from Zambia in 3rd. Justin really pulled out all the stops to help his team and he had one of the rides of the day. Wild card rider Cam Odendaal was 4th.

The vets class was an Zambian affair. SA's lonely rider, Billy Flanagan found himself in a Zambian and Zimbawean sandwich. Dale Holiday has been around for a long time and this must be his proudest moment to win a title in SA. Billy Flanagan, despite the lack of support, was 2nd overall and Zimbabwe's Trevor Thixton was 3r. A mention has to go to Gavin Love who lead the first 2 heats and finished 3rd in those to heats, who had a big crash in heat 3, causing him to DNF and loose valuable points for Zambia.
Ultimately, Gavin's crash was the telling point between Zambia and Zimbabwe. It was so close, that if he had stayed on the bike, Zambia would have finished 2nd to SA, but as it would be, Zimbabwe was able to beat them by just a couple of points.

It was great to have a big team from Kenya and Uganda there. It was also the first time we had representation from Angola and a development team from Botswana.

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