Former champions Evan Hutchison and Danie Stassen took full advantage of the window of opportunity offered by the Toyota Kalahari Botswana 1000 Desert Race, round three of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship, to take control of the Special Vehicle championship at the halfway mark of the season.
The iconic desert event, the only marathon race on the Donaldson calendar, again provided teams with a means by which to either consolidate or kick start their championship aspirations. With 60 points at stake over the two heats teams stood to prosper or lose ground and Hutchison and Stassen, in the Motorite BAT Viper, took full advantage of the situation.
After going into the event level on points with Lance Trethewey and Geoff Minnitt, in the LTE BAT Venom, a full house of points for Hutchison and Stassen leaves them in good shape for the remainder of the season. They headed for home with a 27 point advantage over Trethewey and Minnitt with Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr (Century Racing CR5) a further 35 points in arrears.
Second place on the qualifying heat and comfortable wins in both races also exorcised a ghost of the past. Last year the Motorite crew were leading with three kilometres remaining when the car caught fire.
As has been the case throughout the season reliability emerged as a major factor among the Special Vehicle brigade. There were only six classified finishers in race two, and only four teams managed to see out the full distance on both days.
Apart from Hutchison and Stassen former winners Mark Corbett and Juan Mohr (Century Racing CR5), Trethewey/Minnitt and veteran Richard Carolin and Andrew Massey, in a Zarco Magnum in Class P, managed to see out the full distance in both heats. Losing ground to the Motorite crew now means the Trethewey/Minnitt and Corbett/Mohr championship hopes are on life support.
The failure to see out the distance in both heats dropped Brett Parker and VZ van Zyl, in the Sizanani Plastics Jimco, down to fourth in the overall and Class A championships. Behind them in the overall stakes Matthews/Burke, John Thomson/Maurice Zermatten (Zarco), running Class P entries, and Coetzee Labuscagne and daughter Sandra, in the ChemSystems Porter, were other crews to finish one heat only.
Jimmy Zahos and Zaheer Bodhanya (Cobalt Racing Stryker) left for home after race one while Sarel van Biljon/Philip Herselman (Atlas Copco BAT), Grant Watkins/Mark Irvine BAT, local crew Keith du Toit and Robbie Coetzee (White Star Racing BAT) and Keith Makenete and Moalosi Borotho (Transnet BAT) also fell victim to the one race syndrome.
While the Desert Race cleared the deadlock at the top of the overall and Class A standings, there is still a stalemate situation in Class P. Former champions John Thomson and Maurice Zermatten (Zarco Magnum) and Matthews/Burke, each with a win and a second this season, are locked together on 53 points – but behind them the 60 points available over the race weekend created a situation that borders on fairytale.
Carolin won the Desert Race overall 20 years ago with his brother Buks and last drove a race car in 2012. The veteran Carolin teamed up with Andrew Massey and fourth on day one was followed up by a win on day two.
That has catapulted Carolin and Massey into second place in the Class P championship only eight points behind Matthews/Burke and Thomson/Zermatten. James Watson and John Thompson (BAT) drop to fourth with a cracked gearbox – discovered as they were off loading the car – forcing them to withdraw from the race, while Ian Boshoff/Martin Hermida and Gene Boshoff/Alan Keyser, in new CR-T cars, were among the band of one race finishers.
The next round of the Donaldson Cross Country Championship will be the Nkomazi 450, in Malalane in Mpumalanga, on August 7 and 8.