Defending champions in the Special Vehicle category Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen got themselves back on the championship trail with a timely victory in the Vryburg 450, round six of the eight-round Donaldson Cross Country Championship, in North West on Saturday.
Three DNFs (non-finishes) to date and fifth in the recent Force Fuel 450 at Sun City in North West had them on the back foot going into the latest round and nothing less than a win was required in the Class A Motorite BAT Viper.
Like the true champions they are – Kyalami Estates, Johannesburg resident Hutchison is aiming for his fifth overall national drivers’ title, while Nelspruit businessman Stassen is looking at a third successive title with Hutchison – they fought hard and achieved the win they needed.
The 25 points pulled Hutchison back from sixth in the drivers’ championship to third and Stassen from fifth to third in the co-drivers’ championship. They are now 37 points behind the leaders, son/father combination Quintin and Kallie Sullwald (BAT Venom), with two rounds and a maximum of 50 points available.
Second-placed Laurence du Plessis in a Zarco and third-placed brother Gerhard in a Jimco are only seven and three points respectively ahead of Hutchison in the drivers’ championship, so a second or third place overall at the end of the season is definitely on the cards. Stassen is only one point behind second-placed Hardus du Plessis in the co-drivers’ championship and has a five-point advantage over Gielie le Roux in fourth place.
“The Vryburg 450, held in the area that is generally regarded as the birthplace of off road racing – or cross country as it is now known internationally – was another tough challenge,” said Hutchison. “Lots of dust and rocks, as usual, but also particularly fast and very hot. The average speed in Friday’s 100-kilometre qualifier was 97 km/h and we saw temperatures in the high thirties (degrees Centigrade) during Saturday’s race.
“We qualified second behind Quintin and Kallie and did well to hang on to second place throughout the first of Saturday’s two 170-kilkometre loops that made up the actual race. Our strategy was to stay out of trouble and avoid punctures – difficult in the dusty and rocky conditions – and to try and pressure young Quintin into making a mistake. As it turned out they had a puncture and we didn’t and that was the difference at the end of the day.
“This was a win a long time in the coming, our first victory of the season. It was our turn to enjoy a little bit of luck. This is how it goes in cross country racing. In the opening round in the Free State in March it was us who had a puncture while leading – just 40 kilometres from the finish – and came home second to Quintin and Kallie.
“This has been one of the most competitive seasons I have experienced, with five different winners in seven races,” Hutchison added. “Only Quintin and Laurence have won twice. We must equal and even better this if we want to take the title and we’re confident that with luck on our side we can do it. We’ll certainly be trying our very best right to the end,”
The next round is the Ford Dealer 450 in the Free State on October 24 and 25.