Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen gave the Motorite Racing team almost the perfect start to the 2012 Absa Off Road Car Championship when they won Friday’s 58 kilometre Donaldson prologue and finished a close second in the special vehicle category of the season-opening RFS Magalies 400 near Magaliesburg on Saturday.
It was the two-time former champion’s first outing in the brand new BAT Venom and but for a puncture on the first of three 110 kilometre loops that made up Saturday’s race route, Hutchison would have scored a remarkable debut win in the impressive Chev V8-engined special.
As it was, he and Stassen crossed the finish line at the Tarlton International Raceway just 15 seconds behind race winners Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson (BAT Spec 5) and more than 14 minutes ahead of third placed Colin Matthews and Alan Smith (Century CR3).
Motorite Racing team-mates Nick and Ryan Harper had their first outing in the four-wheel drive Revo campaigned by Hutchison and Stassen in 2011 and did well to finish eighth after starting the race in 11th position.
Hutchison sounded a clear warning to his rivals for the championship with a faultless performance in Friday’s 58 kilometre prologue that determined the start order for Saturday’s race. The Chev V8-engined Motorite BAT Venom struck the first blow of the weekend by finishing almost a minute ahead of the next special vehicle, the BAT of David and Gary White, and 70 seconds in front of the race-winning BAT of Van Staden and Lawrenson.
Despite having to open the route for the rest of the field, which numbered a total of 53 special and production vehicles, as first car on the road, Hutchison pulled away from his rivals in the first 50 kilometres on a dry and windless day with thick dust hanging in the air and making overtaking difficult. Then they were delayed by the puncture and dropped back to third place overall behind Van Staden and the leading production vehicle, the Ford Ranger of Chris Visser and Japie Badenhorst.
A frustrated Hutchison battled for the rest of the opening loop and throughout the second loop to pass the Ford. “The dust was so bad there was no way I could overtake Chris without taking a chance and risking another puncture or even worse on the rocky route,” said Hutchison. “I was worried about Johan getting away from us ahead of the Ford, but there was nothing we could do.”
He and Stassen arrived at the compulsory service stop at the Tarlton Raceway at the end of the second loop in third place on the road, 3 min 49 sec behind Van Staden and just 17 seconds after Visser.
The Harper father and son combination arrived at the service stop in ninth place after a relatively trouble-free run, 17 minutes behind their team-mates.
Soon after the restart Hutchison passed the Ford and set off after Van Staden. In an impressive performance by both the car and crew, they whittled down the gap to the leader kilometre by kilometre and fell just a few metres short in a close and exciting finish.
“It was a great start to the season for the Motorite Racing team,” said an elated Hutchison. “We only managed to complete the new car shortly before the first race after working flat-out since the beginning of January. It’s very different to the Revo which we used for the past two seasons. It ran faultlessly throughout the weekend and I’m confident we can challenge for the team’s fourth national title (a class B title and three overall championships) since we first entered off road racing together in 2005.”
The next round of the championship is the Toyota Dealer 400 in Mpumalanga on April 13 and 14.
Motorite Racing is the motor sport division of Motorite Insurance Administrators, the largest independent mechanical breakdown insurance and full maintenance plan service provider and administrator in South Africa.