Hutchison/Stassen win Special Vehicle category on RFS Endurance

Multiple South African champions Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen made the perfect start to this year’s Donaldson Cross Country Championship when the Motorite BAT Viper crew won the Special Vehicle category at the opening round of the national series, the RFS Endurance, in Harrismith over the weekend.

On a difficult weekend for competitors Hutchison and Stassen overcame often treacherous conditions to eventually run out comfortable overall Special Vehicle and Class A winners ahead of Lance Trethewey and Geoff Minnitt in the LTE BAT Venom. The final margin between the two cars was a comprehensive five minutes and 57 seconds with the Motorite crew taking control on the first of the 251 kilometre laps that made up the race.

“We could not have asked for a better start to a championship campaign, but it was a very difficult weekend,” said Hutchison. “An early championship win always provides you with a major boost, and we will carry a lot confidence into the rest of the season.

“The new endurance format with a 196 kilometre qualifying race and 500 kilometres of racing meant it was always going to be a tough weekend and wet, muddy and slippery conditions provided for additional challenges.”

The qualifying race to determine grid positions saw Hutchison and Stassen finish one minute and 50 seconds behind the Century Racing CR3 of Colin Matthews and Rodney Burke. The Motorite pair, in turn, were three minutes and 45 seconds clear of Coetzee and Sandra Labuscagne (ChemSystems Porter) and nearly five minutes clear of Trethewey and Minnitt.

“The qualifying race was one of the toughest days I have spent in a race car,” said Hutchison. “Finding and staying on the right route was not easy, and we kept swapping positions with Matthews/Burke and Trethewey/Minnitt.

“Danie and I took a little time to get our rhythm and the end result, although it had been a frustrating day, wasn’t too bad.”

Matthews and Burke were caught and passed on the first lap, and that put Hutchison and Stassen into the race lead. The Coetzee’s and van Biljoen hit trouble and at the compulsory 20 minute service halt at the end of the loop, Hutchison and Stassen had a three minute and 43 second advantage over Trethewey and Minnitt.

“It was an interesting and technical route and by the second lap it had started to dry up, but there were wet and slippery patches that could easily catch you out,” said Hutchison. The biggest scare for the Motorite team, however, came 140 kilometres into the route when the car suddenly cut out.

“There were no warning signals, the egine just suddenly cut out,” said Hutchison. “We spent a few tense moments before the engine restarted, and we were a little apprehensive when we started racing again.

“Fortunately the car ran like clockwork to the end, and we have no idea what caused the engine to suddenly cut out.”

Over the last lap the Motorite crew gradually edged away from Trethewey and Minnitt, and were more than 50 minutes ahead of third placed Jimmy Zahos and Zaheer Bodhanya in the Cobalt Stryker. The tough route and the tricky conditions took a heavy toll on competitors with only seven Special Vehicle entries making it to the finish.

 “With a mixture of sprint and endurance races and the marathon event in Botswana, it is going to be an interesting season,” said Hutchison. “We have got just the sort of start we wanted, and now the task is to maintain the momentum in terms of both pace and reliability.”

The next event is the Sugarbelt 450 sprint race at Eston, outside Pietermaritzburg, on May 8 and 9.