Consistent speed, a strong team and the right race car took Pukekohe driver Carl Ruiterman to the 2018 ORANZ Offroad Racing National Championship title on Sunday at West Melton near Christchurch.
Ruiterman, who won the northern title in 2016 in a highly modified Yamaha UTV (side by side) race car, went for a stock class car for this year’s championship, noting that results and overall lap times were little different between the modified (S) class and the stock (U) class.
The national championship attracted a 62-strong entry across 13 classes, one of the biggest fields of the year. Racing was held on the Canterbury Offroad Racing Club’s Can Am Speedway on Saturday and used both the track and massive sections of the adjacent pine forest for a 247 km enduro on Sunday.
Going into the weekend, Ruiterman brought 92 points through from the northern regional rounds. He then won all three of the JG Civil U class (standard UTV) short course heats on Saturday at the newly-upgraded race track at West Melton and won the 247 km endurance race on Sunday outright. In the first short course race he set fastest lap and a new lap record of 1:19.225; in the second he set fastest lap of 1:22.090, chased home by Dion Edgecombe of Morrinsville (Polaris), and in the third Edgecombe was again second behind Ruiterman and set fastest lap: 1:22.751. The first heat set a new class lap record for the track.
Ruiterman followed his short course clean sweep with a tactically perfect drive in the247 km Sunday enduro, circulating in the hot dusty conditions near the front of the field and in the closing laps drawing steadily closer to leader Ricky Lane’s big Chev truck. On the final lap the Chev went missing with mechanical damage and Ruiterman surged through to take the win. The margin was so close that he didn’t know he had won until he crossed the finish line.
“That’s proof positive you don’t need a big-banger high tech unlimited class car or truck to do this. I’m rapt!”
The enduro had decided the title but dashed the hopes of a procession of unlimited-class racers. Greg Winn of Nelson led for several laps but also tore a corner off his Scorpion Chev race car. Silverdale’s Joel Giddy led from pole, but tore the wheel off his Yamaha on the start straight and was out on the first lap within sight of the start line.
Aucklander John Morgan had his car’s alternator fail, losing charge while dicing with the leaders. Nathan Moore and Dion Edgecombe damaged their suspensions in the dusty going. Brendon Midgley ran in the leading group until his car lost its air filter – a quick way to destroy a race engine in such dusty conditions.
Polaris racer Ben Thomasen had stopped mid-race with a blown fuel injection controller fuse, got going and then had his suspension fail – a legacy of a hard hit the previous day.
In 4WD Bits class two for production trucks and 4WDs, Ron Crosby (Mitsubishi Pajero) took his second title in a row.
“I went out to drive the course sensibly – had a great time chasing the big trucks on the first day – and made sure of the class title today,” he said after the enduro.
Likewise, fellow Christchurch-based driver Bryan Chang won the 4WD Bits class 8 for unlimited trucks in his GT Radials Chev Silverado despite a series of mishaps and mechanical issues. Chang won the first heat on Saturday then rolled while leading the second but landed on his wheels and continued on.
In the enduro the truck broke an engine mount and lost a substantial section of its body panels to the constant battering from fist-sized river rocks.
“By that time things were pretty dire – but we’d done enough to be sure of the class title,” he said afterward.
But the weekend and the day belonged to an elated Carl Ruiterman, who had stormed to the title with outright victory in Sunday's enduro. he finished with a points tally of 236, 12 points clear of second-placed Mark Goldstone, new NZ2 and Challenger class winner. Jarrod Marwood won class three, amassed 221 points in the process and was a clear third in the overall standings.
2018 ORANZ Offroad Racing National Championship
The strongest field of unlimited class race cars in several years assembled for the final round this year. Prevalent in the class are US-built or US- inspired single- and two-seaters with massive V8 engines.
The expectant crowd were on their feet for the start of each heat, and were not disappointed. Daniel Powell and Jacob Brownlees came together in the first heat, there were minor bumps and scrapes through all three heats and the Tony McCall was disqualified in the last heat for making contact with the car of Powell, who was forced into Mike Fraser and off the track at high speed immediately before the front straight’s big tabletop jump.
That first heat was won by McCall, who set fastest time of 1:16.828 ahead of Greg Winn in1:17.487 and Mike Fraser who was third overall on
Then in heat two it was Powell, John Morgan and Greg Winn, Powell setting fastest time of 1:17.556. McCall tore off a front wheel at the race start.
The final heat went to Greg Winn with fastest time of 1:20.074 ahead of Dan Fisher and Trevor Cooper.
In the forest the next day, Jacob Brownlees won the class from Mike Fraser and John Morgan. Only four of the big banger race cars were classified finishers.
Eight entries, new West Melton lap record by Tony McCall, a 1:16.828 in heat one.
4WD Bits class two
Christchurch driver Ron Crosby had the class all to himself, setting a new lap record for class two of 1:34.879. On the second day Crosby went out gamely to tackle the rocks and dust and completed
One entry, new West Melton lap record to Ron Crosby, 1:34.879 in heat one.
Midgley masterful – Brendon Midgley has raced the southern regional rounds of the championship this year, and was on a charge toward the title in the short course hetas. He set the new class three lap record for West Melton, a 1:18.749, in the first heat, and was chased home by Fergus Crabb and Grant Adamson. Crabb was second in the following heat with Clim-Tristan Lammers third in his new class three car. In the third heat Brendon Old got past Fergus Crabb to be second, Crabb third. Like most classes, the lap times got slower as the track cut up. Northern racer Jarrod Marwood won the class and was third overall in the enduro.
11 entries, new West Melton class 3 lap record to Brendon Midgely, 1:18. 749 on lap five of heat one.
Class five (engines up to 1.3 litre)
Daniel Rusbatch dominated class five, taking three wins from three starts and setting the class lap record in the process. In each short course heat he was followed home by Regan Swensson and Todd Graham.
Four entries, new West Melton class 5 lap record to Daniel Rusbatch, 1:22.267 in heat two.
Two young guns went wheel to wheel in class seven: Jack Hellier in the car that took his dad to a national title more than a decade ago and Connor Nicklin. Nicklin scored first blood in heat one, Hellier setting fastest lap of 1:31.054. In heat two, Hellier turned the tables, Nicklin in second place setting fastest lap of 1:34.678. The last heat saw Hellier assert dominance, winning and setting fastest lap of 1:38.197.
Two entries, new West Melton class 7 lap record of 1:31.054 to Jack Hellier in heat one.
4WD Bits class 8
He rolled, he won, and he retired New Zealand’s first ProLite race truck all in one weekend. Bryan Chang’s GT Radial Tyres Chev has been a familiar fixture of offroad racing and took him to the southern regional title a month before the nationals.
At Christchurch, on his home track, Chang was once more in winning form.
Though Cam Stratford and Ricky Lane fronted with their high output Ford and Chev trucks, Chang knew he had to finish in front of Blair Prebble in the turbo Toyota Hilux of Blair Prebble.
In the first heat, Chang held out ORANZ President Martin van der Wal for the win, with Prebble third. Lane set fastest lap, a cracking 1:19.292. In heat two Lane was again fastest with 1:23.292 and set the time in battle with Cam Stratford. Where was Chang? He had started alongside Lane and gone side by side over the big tabletop jump on the start-finish straight, then in the entry to the subsequent right hander muscled through to lead. Then disaster struck: the truck was dragged sideways into a soft patch, flicking into the berm as it straightened and rolling once. It landed on its wheels and before the flag marshals could react Chang had grabbed a gear and headed round to the restart.
This time Lane surged through to win, Chang came home second and Martin van der Wal was third.
In the final heat Lane once more took the win and set the fastest lap of the race, a 1:22.592. The time was set in battle with Cam Stratford, while Chang came home third.
In the next day’s enduro, Ricky Lane came through to lead and completed nine of ten laps to be classified a finisher, ending up 21st overall.
Five entries, new West Melton 4WD Bits class 8 lap record of 1:19.292 to Ricky Lane in heat one.
Sam Aitkens became offroad racing’s first female national class 10 champion when she took out class ten, setting the class ten lap record for West Melton in the process: 1:38.231.
Tauranga’s Mark Goldstone has made Challenger his own. He leapt from P8 to the lead in the first heat in just one lap; Ian Simcox following and Andrew Knight third. Simcox set fastest lap, a 1:25.615. In the second heat, Goldstone won again and set fastest time, a 1:28.261. Simcox was second again and Sam Jury third. Johnstone and Brooke Storer did not finish the heat. In the final heat, Goldstone won again and set fastest time of 1:32.470. Second was Ian Simcox, five seconds adrift, and Nelson racer John Strickett was third.
Goldstone was the only Challenger driver to complete a full ten laps of the Sunday enduro, finishing seventh overall.
Eight entries, new West Melton class lap record of 1:25.615 set by Ian Simcox in heat one
JG Civil U class
Carl Ruiterman had a ‘pretty good’ run through the heats, arriving with top points and adding to his tally with a clean sweep of wins, setting the class lap record for the new track in the process: 1:19.226.In heat one he was followed home by Dion Edgecombe and Brian Rutgers. In heat two Edgecombe once more chased the black Yamaha of Ruiterman home, Rutgers was a DNF while Ruiterman leapt from P3 at the start to lead by the end of lap one. Rosco Gaudin was third in heat two. The third heat saw the same names on the podium: Ruiterman, Edgecombe and Gaudin.
Four entries, new West Melton U class lap record to Carl Ruiterman, 1:19.226 in heat one.
JG Civil S class
Defending champion Ben Thomasen started well with a second place followed by two wins. Joel Giddy won the first heat from Thomasen, with Slim Slee third. Thomasen fought back to win the next two, with Giddy second and Nathan Moore third in each heat.
Andrew McFedries was the first DNF when he rolled on one of the midfield corners, bending his suspension.
Nathan Moore (Polaris RZR) had a tough weekend ‘in the chair’ picking up a flat tire on the second lap of heat one on the Saturday; ignition switch issues in race two and then shouldering his way through the field in the dusty enduro on the Sunday to within a sniff of the lead but crashing out at lap seven in a slow-motion tip-over. He got upright and was 12th overall in the enduro, third in class 3 for the weekend and also for the championship.
Nine entries, new West Melton S class lap record to Joel Giddy, 1:15.11, heat one