Eston, Saturday – Reigning South African champions Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen gave the new Motorite BAT Viper a fairytale debut when they won the Special Vehicle category at the Toyota Dealer Sugarbelt 400, round three of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship, which ended here today.
For Hutchison and Stassen it was their first win of the season, and one that took them to the top of the Special Vehicle and Class A championships. With early season championship leaders Clint Gibson and Gary Campbell (Dirt Sport Component Porter) only managing fifth overall, Hutchison and Stassen moved to the top of both championships after a dominant performance in the new car.
Former South African champions Quintin and Kallie Sullwald (Elegant Fuel BAT Venom) continued their good form to finish second, and another father and son team in Nick and Ryan Harper completed a good day for the Motorite squad by taking the final podium position in the BAT Venom. For both teams it was their best result of the season, and in unofficial scoring left them third and fourth in the championship behind Hutchison/Stassen and Gibson/Campbell.
“We had a clean run and it was the perfect start for a new car,” said Stassen. “It was a route where it was easy to make mistakes and we had to work hard for what was a great result for us.”
Hutchison and Stassen survived a whack up the backside from Production Vehicle crew Duncan Vos and Rob Howie, in the Castrol Toyota Hilux, at a road crossing on the first of the four loops that made up the race. The Motorite crew then took control of the Special Vehicle category when prologue winners Colin Matthews and Alan Smith (Century Racing CR3) were put out of action with steering failure after being hit by Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy in the second of the Castrol Toyotas.
Local crew Lance Trethewey and Carl Wichmann (LT Earthworks BAT) were running second at the end of the first loop, but the winners of last year’s Sun City 400 were headed for retirement with gearbox hassles. Gibson and Campbell, who were third on the prologue to determine grid positions, also slipped back with the Sullwalds and Harpers slotting in behind Hutchison and Stassen.
At the finish there was a 70 second gap between Hutchison/Stassen and the Sullwalds with the Harpers a further three minutes and 23 seconds adrift. A third KwaZulu-Natal crew, Daniel Brookes and Gavan Gray in the Ducatis Property BAT, bounced back from a disappointing non finish last time out and a solid display moved them ahead of Gibson and Campbell.
Philip de Vries and Johan Viljoen (Conqueror Porter) were another crew to bounce back from a disappointing result to come home a steady sixth. Behind them Coetzee Labuscagne and daughter Sandra (Raysonics Zarco) took advantage of the demise of Matthews/Smith to finish seventh and win Class P.
“It was very slippery but we kept it clean and never got out of the car,” said Labuscagne. “When that happens you usually get a good result.”
Bloemfontein crew Pieter Ruthven and Leander Pienaar (Ruwacon BAT) put a disappointing prologue behind them to finish a solid eighth with the top 10 rounded out by two other Class P crews. Jeremy Wood and veteran co-driver Ashley Thorn (K9 Racing Aceco) finished around 20 minutes behind the Labuscagnes and, in turn, were a little more than five minutes ahead of Nic Goslar and Andrew Massey in the SA Clinics Zarco.
The next event on the Donaldson Cross Country Championship calendar is the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race in Botswana from June 21 to 23. With the only marathon event in the series carrying points and a half it could have a huge bearing on the overall championship.