Hutchison and Harper fifth and sixth in Nkomazi 400 cross country race
Motorite Racing’s Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen and team-mates Nick and son Ryan Harper were made to work hard for their fifth and sixth places in the inaugural Nkomazi 400, round two of the Donaldson South African Cross Country Championship, which was held in the Mpumalanga Lowveld on Friday and Saturday.
The race was won by Colin Matthews and Alan Smith in a Class P Century CR3 from Hermann and son Wichard Sullwald (Class A Cobalt Stryker) and Quintin and father Karl-Heinz Sullwald (Class A BAT Venom).
The brand new event brought the national championship cross country circus to the normally hot and humid Mpumalanga Lowveld for the first time and was headquartered in the town of Malalane, close to the southern boundary of the Kruger National Park. The local Nkomazi community led by event sponsors Malalane Toyota rolled out the red carpet and provided one of the best venues and races the series has enjoyed for many years.
A technical 66-kilometre prologue run in unseasonably cool and cloudy conditions on Friday determined the start order for Saturday’s race, held over two loops of a 155-kilometre course that included some 90 kilometres in bluegum forests in the mountainous area near Barberton.
Hutchison and Stassen were the quickest of the Class A cars in the prologue and finished second among the special vehicles behind the eventual race winners. The Harpers were seventh with co-driver Ryan not feeling well as he was taking pain medication for a twisted ankle.
Gear selection problems that started just 10 kilometres into Saturday’s race prevented reigning champions Hutchison and Stassen from making the most of their good prologue result and they struggled into the halfway compulsory service stop in Malalane in fourth place. They lost a further half an hour in the pits as the team battled to identify and fix the problem. They managed to make up some time in the second loop despite the fact that the gear selection was still not right.
Ryan Harper felt progressively worse as the day wore on and overcame dizziness and nausea to guide his father to the finish.
The 10 points scored for sixth place saw reigning champions Hutchison and Stassen retain their overall second place in the Special Vehicle championship with 29 points and they are now eight points behind current leaders Clint Gibson and Gary Campbell (Class A Porter), who were fourth in Saturday’s race. The Harpers moved up a place to fourth overall with 22 points after their second successive fifth place finish.
“It turned out to be a tough weekend for the team for quite unexpected reasons,” said Hutchison. “It seems a gear selector spring broke, a small but important component, and we had no chance of challenging for a win today. This wasn’t the result we were hoping for, but we’ll happily take the points scored. We’re still second in the championship and there are another six rounds to go, so there’s still everything to fight for.”
Nick Harper was full of praise for his son. “Ryan was in a lot of pain and the medication he was taking made him sick,” said Nick Harper. “He toughed it out and we did well under the circumstances to finish where we did and score enough points to improve our position in the championship.”
The next round of the championship is the Toyota Dealer Sugarbelt 400 in KwaZulu-Natal on May 17 and 18.
Motorite Racing is the motor sport division of Motorite Administrators, the largest independent mechanical breakdown insurance and full maintenance plan service provider and administrator in South Africa.