• Rusbatch takes the weekend overall
• Fast farm course tests racers
• Southern titles decided
Otago 'local' Donald Preston hammered his big Porter Chev two-seater V8 race car to a well-earned victory in Sunday's Can Am 200, the endurance race that capped a huge weekend of racing at the Southern Dirtfest on Slim Slee's Kurow property.
It was the maiden win for the American-designed and built Porter car he imported more than a year ago, and signals the car is now sorted and well capable of winning in the big, fast endurance events that match conditions in its home market.
Preston made heavy going of the first day's 'short course' heats, his bigger car more suited to the high speed, open going of American desert races while the smaller cars he ran against were more agile on the demanding 1.2-kilometre track.
“Saturday was hard because the course was very tight for a car this size and I was constantly in low gear, trying to find grip," he said.
But on the Sunday he qualified sixth and was in the leading bunch from the flag drop, using his car's V8 torque on every straight to hunt down and pass the cars ahead of him.
The race quickly became a 'sprint enduro' and Preston found himself closing in on North Island driver Mike Fraser, Christchurch's Daniel Powell and early race leader John Morgan.
Powell had dropped back in the opening lap but was rising fast to the front; pole man and early front-runner Brendon Midgely disappeared and momentarily property owner Slim Slee was leading his own race in his Can Am X3. Then Slee too was out at the end of the second 20 km lap.
The new leader was John Morgan who lasted just one more lap before his 6.2 litre Chev LS2 engine dropped a valve and he too was out.
Daniel Powell then grabbed the lead in his Mazda turbo powered single-seater and led until he had to stop for fuel on lap six.
While his crew refuelled the car Powell had a grandstand view of Mike Fraser and Donald Preston racing across the farm course to overtake him, and he emerged third overall.
Confident he had sufficient fuel to finish, Powell went out to chase down the time he had lost in an epic endurance drive. He finished third and set fastest lap of the day, a 15:45.826.
Christchurch's Jacob Brownlees had a dismal weekend. He says he is starting to think he needs to join the V8 ‘arms race’ in the unlimited class. Where his tough Evo-powered single-seater was good enough to win punishing enduros and stay with the front runners in short course two seasons ago, the arrival of high powered V8 race cars from the USA and Australia seem to have taken the unlimited class to a new level.
After striking niggling mechanical issues on the first day’s short course races, Brownlees ran as high as eighth in the enduro but the car’s transmission developed a noise and he decided to withdraw to avoid damaging it further.
Fortunately for Brownlees family racing honour, son Jack was in winning form in the Kiwitruck junior classes, something Jacob’s pitlane and social media ‘friends’ took great delight in pointing out.
Motocross racer and debutante offroader Dan Fisher opted to start all the short courses from the rear of the unlimited class grid on the first day, needing to learn both the car and the lines to run over the big jumps. In the first short course heat he found the car sliding due to over-inflated tyres and posted better lap times once this had been adjusted for heat two.
In the third and final heat, the team found themselves into a melee at the first couple of corners and then a rock jammed the throttle wide open over the big jump.
“A quick shut down on the kill switch, we managed to dislodge the rock, and off we went but a lap down. All good until that same jump and another stone jammed it on full throttle again..she was a hot trip into that next corner!”
On the Sunday, the team went out to learn the car and log serious seat time and were rewarded for their efforts with fifth overall.
Bryan Chang of Christchurch lifted the southern trophy for unlimited race trucks, winning two of three short course heats and winning the class in the enduro. Cam Stratford of Nelson pushed Chang hard on the first day and was seeded fifth for the enduro, but then blew a bearing in his car’s transmission and was out after one lap.
Blair Prebble, the other entrant in the 4WD Bits unlimited class 8 trucks, wrong-slotted up a hill and then went over a steep bank in the enduro. He was third truck home in the enduro, completing six of the ten laps.
Daniel Rusbatch, meanwhile, brought his tiny class five (1.3 litre) single-seater home in a clean sweep of in-class heats on the first day and won his class for the enduro to take the overall weekend honours.
A total of 42 cars contested the event, which is the southernmost round of the 2018 ORANZ Offroad Racing Championship. North and south meet next month at West Melton near Christchurch to do battle for the outright and class national titles.