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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.