World Superbike's return to South Africa in 2009 after an absence of seven years was to be the first attempt to restore the long history which South Africa has with international motorcycle racing. The initial race at Kyalami was judged to be a success - with the exception of Regis Laconi's terrible injury on his first full lap out of the pits - and the paddock and fans were all eagerly anticipating further visits to the spectacular South African circuit.
Their pleasure is to be short-lived, however. The 2010 round of World Superbikes at Kyalami will be the last visit the series pays to the South African circuit for the foreseeable future, it emerged last week. The culprit - as ever - is the global economic crisis. The financial meltdown has forced the Gauteng economic development to cut costs, and one of the areas it decided to cut was in the investment the council had made in international motorsports through the Gauteng Motorsports Company. According to reports in the South African newspaper The Star, the contracts with the organizers of the World Superbike round and the V8 Superstars races had been settled amicably, with penalty payments totalling 115 million Rand (US$ 18 million). By canceling the contracts - due to run through 2013 - the Gauteng province would reportedly save 796 million Rand (US$ 109 million).
"Such costs could not be absorbed at provincial level without having an adverse impact on other priorities such as education and health care," Gauteng MEC Firoz Cachalia said, explaining that he felt that the original decision to support the motorsports events, taken by his predecessor Paul Mashatile, had been a mistake. "In retrospect, it might have been a mistake," Cachalia told a media briefing.
When asked for comment, an Infront Motor Sports spokesperson told MotoMatters.com: "The Gauteng government has completely changed and revised their approach towards motorsports. The 2010 SBK event is confirmed but they don't want to continue in the future in the same direction."
The loss of the South African round is a blow both to the international profile of World Superbikes and to motorcycle racing in South Africa. In 2002, South Africa had a MotoGP round at Welkom and a World Superbike round at Kyalami, losing WSBK that year and MotoGP in 2005. After two years of World Superbikes, the African continent is to be left without a race again for the near future.
The decision also leaves World Superbikes with a largely European race schedule again, the only overseas forays being the season opener at Phillip Island and the US round at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. The other 11 rounds of World Superbikes are all based in Europe, with three of them in Italy. Although budgets are much tighter in World Superbikes than in MotoGP, another overseas round may be desired to make the series a more global affair. As yet, no plans have been announced for a replacement for Kyalami, with spokesperson for IMS declining to comment on the subject.