Despite the issues caused by Covid-19 restrictions, the 2020 Livingstone Baths 8 Hour endurance race for lightweight motorcycles at Killarney International Raceway’s Karting Circuit on Saturday 12 December was one of the most successful in the 38 year history of this iconic annual event.

Conditions were perfect, with bright sunshine and a light south-easterly wind, and the circuit itself was clean and stayed that way throughout the event. Despite the usual crashes – dozens of them! – just one rider required hospital treatment (and he was back before the end of the race) and only three short safety-bike periods interrupted eight hours of dynamic racing, filled with epic comebacks, dramatic changes of fortune and heart-warming camaraderie.

International SuperStock star David ‘McFlash’ McFadden put the Honda CBR150 of pre-race favourites Team RST, led by British rider Jonny Towers and including Kewyn Snyman and short-circuit hotshot Jason Linaker, on pole with a 48.780 second qualifying lap. A scant quarter second slower were the similar machines of Team IMI (Aran van Niekerk, Nicholas van der Walt, Mike du Toit and Sean Powell) and Team 60 (8 Hour veteran Trevor Westman, short-circuit champion Slade van Niekerk, Michael White and Greg Geldenhuys).

Van der Walt got the best of the traditional Le Mans start and grabbed the early lead with McFadden all over him like a cheap suit, followed by the Team HSC CBR150 shared by Nicholas Hutchings, Franco Flach, Max Mandix  and Abigail Bosson (one of only two ladies in the race) and White on the Team 60 machine.

White, however, set off like a man on a mission. He passed Hutchings for third on the third lap, took second from Mc Fadden on lap eight and was reeling in the leader when he threw it away big time in the Pits Esses on lap 14, changing the entire shape of the race after only 11 minutes.

In addition to the usual handlebar and footpeg damage, for which the team were well prepared, the Team 60 CBR150 bent its front suspension in the crash, forcing crew chief Allan Westman to rush home and fetch a spare set of forks from another bike. All in all, White’s mishap cost them almost an hour and a half and they rejoined stone last, 100 laps behind the leaders.

Two laps later, Allan Kessell crashed the Jack Hamnmer’s CBR150 , injuring his elbow and reducing the team to just two riders, Rob Boyd and Craig Rabie.

Meanwhile, McFadden took over the lead on lap 19 and held it until the crew was forced to pit to replace a flat battery near the end of the first hour. At that point they were just 1.5 seconds behind IMI after 71 laps. The International CBR150 of mountain bike racer Kris Joss (Wiesbaden, Germany), Jean-Baptiste Racoupeau (Lyon, France) and locals Donovan Le Cok and Justin Priday was third, a lap down but only five seconds ahead of the Team No Rush CBR150 of veterans John Craig (who has taken part in every edition of this classic event since its inception in 1983) and Jimmy Pantony (who has missed only one), sharing with father and son Gerrit Visser Senior and Junior.

Five laps into the second hour, Team RST took over the lead and stretched it to five laps during that hour, having completed 141 laps in 120 minutes including the battery swop, refuelling and rider changes. Second were IMI on 136 laps, just one lap ahead of the Powerflow CBR150 of Chase Herholdt, Paul Medell, Nian du Toit and Richard Bate, the International machine and No. 50.

At this point HSC were nine laps down after a couple of mishaps, but determined to fight back.

They put two laps on Team No Rush during the third hour to move up to fourth behind Powerflow, IMI and Team RST, who posted their 208th lap on the hour, eight laps clear of IMI.

By the halfway point of the race at four hours, however, their lead had narrowed to five laps, with 273 tours on their tally to the 268 of IMI, Powerflow’s 267, 264 for HSC and 261 for Team 111 (Willy van Niekerk, Arie Willem Kort and Brandon Storey). Amazingly, Jack Hammer’s Boyd and Rabie, with the support of crew chief Mandy ‘Steel Bender’ Peake, had completed 258 laps, riding turn and turn about, and were lying seventh, two laps behind the veterans of Team No Rush.

Team 60, however, were out to prove a point. They were the fastest team on the circuit, having posted a best lap of 48.22 seconds during the fifth hour and made up four laps on the RST machine.

Twenty-two minutes into the second half of the race the Powerflow machine stopped on the circuit, victim of a broken coil wire. Crew chief Dick Bate had the bike up and running in a matter of minutes but the team had dropped five places, moving HSC up to third.

At the end of the fifth hour Powerflow were down in eighth on 316 laps, behind Jack Hammer’s (323 laps), the No. 49 CBR150 of Andre Calvert, Michael Wahl and Derek Davids (324), Team 111 (324), Team No Rush (325), HSC (328), IMI (334)  and RST on 341 laps.

Just before the six-hour mark HSC briefly surrendered third to Team 111 as they pitted with mechanical gremlins, but on the hour they were back on track for a podium finish with 394 laps completed to IMI’s 404 and RST’s 411. Team 60, however, still 93 laps in arrears, were causing all sorts of excitement as they outpaced everybody else, setting a new ultimate lap record for this circuit of 48.023 seconds during the sixth hour.

They refused to let up as the leading teams settled down to the final two-hour grind, pushing the pace relentlessly until teenager Slade van Niekerk finally became the first rider ever to lap the karting circuit on a motorcycle in less than 48 seconds (47.863, to be precise) – on tyres that had already done more than 440 laps!

The final hour saw IMI make up three laps, cutting RST’s lead from 14 laps to 11, with HSC’s Nicholas Hutchings riding the final stint, seven laps further adrift. With just minutes to go however, he lost the back end out of the Pits Esses in a huge tumble that saw the bike come to rest almost below the timekeepers’ booth.

Four laps later and furious with himself but still in third place, Hutchings managed to get the bike started and back on track despite some serious damage and held it together just long enough to finish.

But the honours of the day went to RST as team principal Jonny Towers took the flag after a near-record 551 laps in eight dramatic hours. Second were hard-working IMI on 540 laps with HSC third on 529 and making history as the first team in the 38 year history of this endurance classic to put a lady on the podium – Abigail Bosson, 15-year-old daughter of legendary racer and exhaust designer, the late Chris Bosson.

Team 111 finished fourth on 523 laps, just 11 seconds ahead of the Team No Rush veterans, who recorded their best tally ever for this event, and 38 seconds ahead of the Jack Hammer’s riders, who hadn’t spoken to each other all day since one or other of them was always out on track.

Powerflow finshed seventh on 518 laps, well ahead of Hillbilly Racing (Peter Hill, Mitch Robinson, Jacques Ackerman and Robin de Vos) on 506, Team 111 on 505 and Team 11 (Raymond Alexander, Juan Coetzee, Wynand Donaggi and Anton van Wyk) on 504.

The leading two-stroke machine was the Yamaha TXZR85 of Juan Liebenberg, Tiaan Terblanche and Andrew Liebenberg, 16th overall on 448 laps after a late stop to MacGyver a broken gear linkage. The only other two-stroke, the Yamaha YZ85 motocrosser of Brad Fenner, Kyle Hallick and David Vismer, seized during the first hour, dropped right out of the results as the crew rebuilt the engine using parts from a spare motor and fought its way back to 18th overall on 404 laps.

But perhaps the most surprising result was that after eight hours of flat-out racing, crashing, bashing and breaking, all 20 starters were still running at the end.