Reigning South African cross country racing champion in the Special Vehicle category, Evan Hutchison, is philosophical about the ups and down of his sport.
A year ago he and co-driver Danie Stassen won the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race. Last weekend their hopes of a second successive victory in the longest and toughest round of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship were dashed when they were force out of the three-day race with gearbox problems in their Motorite BAT Viper while lying second.
“I don’t know what it is about this race, but I’m beginning to believe there’s a spirit in the Botswana desert that doesn’t like us,” he said. “Last year we thought we’d managed to catch and bottle it. It seems not,” he added with a wry smile.
The long race weekend started well enough with Friday’s 62-kilometre qualifying race to determine the start order for Saturday’s 480-kilometre first leg. Hutchison and Stassen were confident about their chances in the main race when they clocked the second fastest time among the special vehicles.
“With the route favouring the production vehicles, we started Saturday’s race with seven of them ahead of us on the road. The dust was very heavy in the opening stages of the race and overtaking was extremely difficult and risky,” Hutchison commented.
He and Stassen managed to stay out of trouble in the tricky conditions and had passed four of the production vehicles by the time they reached the compulsory halfway pit stop at Kumakwane at the end of the first of Saturday’s two loops. They were happy to still be second special vehicle behind prologue winners Colin Matthews and Alan Smith in a CR2.
“The car was performing well and Danie was doing a great job of keeping us on the route in the very dusty conditions. We were driving very conservatively and staying in the middle of the road to avoid rocks and other trouble.
“Unfortunately the gearbox input shaft broke 150 kilometres into the route and that was the end of our race. It was disheartening, but that’s off road racing. You have to take the good with the bad and we’ll be back for the next race to try and restore the championship lead we enjoyed at the start of the weekend.”
He and Stassen were not alone in feeling the bite of Botswana’s Kalahari desert. Of the 56 competitors who started the three-day, 1 000-kilometre race in the village of Kumakwane on the outskirts of Gaborone on Friday afternoon, only five of the 25 Special Vehicles and 13 of the 31 Production Vehicles reached the finish at Kumakwane.
Among the casualties was the Motorite BAT Venom of Nick and son Ryan Harper, winners of the race in a BAT Spec 0 in 2006.
They were happy with their fourth place among the special vehicles in the qualifying race on Friday, but had to start behind 10 faster production vehicles. They encountered electrical problems on the first loop and had to be towed back to the service area at Kumakwane. Their pit crew worked until late into Saturday night trying to find and repair the fault, which turned out to be the wire to the alternator.
They started Sunday’s final leg under the rules that allow for this but which offer only half points. Their bad luck continued and another electrical problem in the form of a short in the dashboard forced them to call it a day.
“It was not a great weekend for the team, but we’ll bounce back. We have a great car and it performed faultlessly in all other respects,” said Harper Snr.
The next round of the championship is the Sun City 400 in North West Province on July 26 and 27.
Motorite Racing is the motorsport division of Motorite Administrators, the largest independent mechanical breakdown insurance and full maintenance plan service provider and administrator in South Africa.