South African Superbike champion Greg Gildenhuys and his brand new BMW Motorrad S 1000 RR came through their first test with flying colours with a promising performance in the opening round of the championship at Zwartkops Raceway near Pretoria on Saturday. A third place in race one and second in race two saw the 22-year-old from Boskruin in Johannesburg sound a clear warning to his rivals that when the new BMW is fully sorted it is going to be hard to beat.
A new, slim-line Gildenhuys – he’s shed four kilograms over the break between seasons and now weighs in at a modest 66 kilograms for a man who measures 1,9 metres – qualified third, just two tenths of a second behind Chris Leeson (Ducati) and a tenth behind 2011 Supersport champion Dave McFadden (Kawasaki).
BMW S 1000 RR privateers Nicolas Grobler (Jonway Motorcycles) and Ryan Ottens (Northside Motorcycles) qualified fourth and fifth, with Gareth Davidson (BMW Umhlanga) ninth and Etienne Nelson (Cabac Engineering), competing in the Masters’ category, 15th.
Gildenhuys was fourth into the first corner behind McFadden, a fast-starting Grobler and Stephen Steenkamp (Honda). By the end of the first lap of the 10-lap race the reigning Superbike champion was up to third and on lap five took second place from Grobler.
Struggling with a lack of traction out of the corners, he was unable to match McFadden’s pace and came under pressure from a recovering Leeson, who had a bad start and dropped to seventh on lap one. Gildenhuys managed to hold off the 2011 championship runner-up until the last lap, when Leeson slipped through to take second place by six tenths of a second.
Grobler finished fourth on the first of the privateer BMWs with Ottens sixth and Nelson 14th. Davidson only completed four laps before retiring.
Gildenhuys made a perfect start off the line in race two and was first into turn one, only to have McFadden pass him before the end of the first lap. Although his pit crew made adjustments between races to the rear suspension to improve the traction, he was still suffering wheel spin in the corners and was unable to mount a serious challenge to McFadden. This time, however, he was able to hold off a charging Leeson, who followed him across the finish line in third, two tenths of a second in arrears.
Grobler scored his second fourth place of the day ahead of an improving Ottens. Nelson finished 13th, a lap down, and Davidson retired after completing five laps.
“I’m obviously disappointed at not being able to really challenge for race wins today,” said Gildenhuys. “But there was no point in pushing too hard and taking risks to stay with McFadden. We have to be realistic. Our bike’s brand new and, although it has loads of power, there’s still room for improvement in the set-up. There was very little time for testing before this weekend’s races and we’re still learning. Before this season’s much older, we’re going to be right there!”
The next round of the Superbike Championship is at Killarney in Cape Town on March 31.