Defending special vehicle champions Evan Hutchison and Achim Bergmann (Motorite Racing BAT Spec 3) led the Sun City 400 at the halfway point last weekend and looked to be heading for their first win of the season in round five of the Absa Off Road Car Championship.
A puncture five kilometres from the start of the second of two 180-km loops that made up Saturday’s race dropped the Motorite Racing pair to second place behind the BAT Spec 4 of Karl Heinz and Quintin Sullwald. A quick wheel change saw the champions back in the race with minimal delay and they caught and passed the Sullwalds to regain the lead.
At the 80 km mark the Motorite Racing BAT hit a rock and punctured both front and rear right-hand tyres, with the rear wheel also badly damaged.
“With 100 km to the finish and no more spare tyres (we only carry two spares on the back), we considered our options and the fact that we are no longer in championship contention and decided to go back to the main tar road and wait for our service crew,” said a dejected Hutchison. “We fitted a new tyre and drove back to the service point at Sun City.
“It was very disappointing. The Motorite BAT performed faultlessly and we knew we had the speed to stay in front to the finish.
“We had a reasonable prologue on Friday, finishing fourth and 31 seconds behind the Harpers in first place,” said Hutchison. “We started Saturday’s race in 10th place overall, behind the three specials and six class SP production cars (including Alfie and Hennie in the Ford Ranger). This wasn’t ideal as there was a lot of dust despite the one-minute dust gap and no wind in the early stages.
“We had a great run on the first loop and reached the halfway point in front with a couple of minutes in hand,” said Hutchison, who is also team manager of Motorite Racing. “We recorded the quickest lap time of all the specials. Conditions were very tough, with lots of dust and very dangerous terrain, dotted with rocks, tree stumps and holes hidden in the grass and short bush.
Motorite Racing team-mates Alfie Cox and Hennie ter Stege were also out of luck in the ex-factory Ford Ranger. The pair was sixth quickest among the class SP production cars in the prologue and was having a strong showing on the opening loop on Saturday when Cox misjudged the slope of a river bank and the Ford slid into a gully, immobilising the two right-hand side wheels.
“We were only about 30 km from the compulsory halfway stop and the Ford was going like a train,” said Cox. “We were unfortunate. Coming out of the river, I was a little hasty and the car jumped into the air as we came up the bank. It landed on the right side in this gully and the engine stalled. We battled to restart it and then, despite the best efforts of several helpful people, including fellow competitors, it took us an hour and a half to get the Ford out and back on four wheels.
“We had to dig the bank away and jack the car up to get it out.
“It was a great pity. We were having an excellent run and making good progress. The Ford is much improved after all the work the Motorite team has put into it. I love the Sun City event and Hennie and I were looking forward to having a good result.”
The next round of the championship is the Limpopo 400 on September 12 and 13.
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.