Tarlton, Saturday – The Special Vehicle category turned into a race of firsts for the Atlas Copco crew of Johan van Staden and Mike Lawrenson at the RFS Magalies 400, round one of the Absa Off Road Championship, which ended here today.
It was a maiden Class A victory for both van Staden and Lawrenson who were out in the Atlas Copco BAT Spec 5. For Lawrenson, the reigning Class P co-drivers champion, it was also his first race alongside van Staden and his second RFS Magalies 400 triumph.
Lawrenson won this race two years ago with Archie Rutherford in a Class P car and, ironically, van Staden also has an overall race win to his name in a Class P entry. Pretoria based van Staden and James Rossouw became the first Class P crew to win an Absa event overall when they won the Toyota Dealer 400 in Mpumalanga a couple of seasons ago.
“We never had to get out of the car, and that was the secret,” said van Staden. “It was a really tough route with plenty of rocks and hidden lurkers.
“The dust also made life difficult but Mike did a great job, we stuck to a game plan and hopefully we can now keep the momentum going.”
A close finish saw van Staden and Lawrenson finish just 15 seconds ahead of the impressive Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen in the new BAT Venom which was having its first outing. Hutchison and Stassen won the Donaldson Prologue to determine race grid positions, but by the end of the second of three loops that made up the route had dropped to second courtesy of a puncture.
“That was pretty much the story of our race because conditions made it very difficult to overtake,” said Hutchison. “The positive is that the new car behaved impeccably and the potential is there for a good season.”
An impressive performance took Colin Matthews and Alan Smith, in the Century Racing CR3, into third place and gave them the Class P honours by a wide margin. It was a promising start for Matthews and Smith who have suffered from reliability problems in the past.
Wolmarransstad pair Laurence and Gerhard du Plessis made a successful return to racing with a solid fourth in a Zarco Magnum. They were only 22 seconds behind Matthews and Smith and had more than a minute to spare over veteran Nardus Alberts and his son Louis in the Wrapsa BAT.
A solid performance took KwaZulu-Natal crew Clint Gibson and Gary Campbell (Gibson Racing Porter) into sixth place ahead of Quintin and Kallie Sullwald (Elegant Fuel BAT). For Quintin Sullwald it was his first event as a driver after sitting alongside his father on the way to South African championships in 2007 and 2010.
The top 10 was rounded out by Nick and Ryan Harper (Motorite Revo 4×4), Marius and Jolinda Fourie (PHB BAT) and brothers David and Gary White in the Ruwacon BAT. For the Fouries it was their first Class A outing after moving up from Class P.
Reigning SA champions Hermann and Wichard Sullwald, in the Elegant Fuel Porter, got their season off to a disappointing start. The Phalaborwa based father and son team just missed out on a top 10 finish after a race full of little niggles that hampered progress.
The domination that Matthews and Smith placed on Class P can be gauged from the fact that second placed John Telford and Jaco Swart (Calcamite BAT) were nearly an hour in arrears. Telford and Swart, in turn, had more than half an hour to spare on Coetzee Labuscagne and daughter Sandra (Raysonics Zarco) who were having their first Class P outing.