When Bob Uttridge claimed the chequered flag in the mud and carnage at Fielding last month, he had no idea where he had finished, and getting the double was nowhere in his thinking.
With the most cars to pass in the final, because of some pretty tough handicapping and a start line fumble with the launch control, Uttridge didn’t realise he had won till I was told after the race. “It was a bit of a surprise really,” says the racer.
The transition into offroad racing has been a big learning curve for the Christchurch-based 51-year-old Repair Manager for Ando. He is becoming more professional in his approach and relaxing into the sport.
“Ben (NZ1 Ben Thomasen) and Polaris really set the bar for professionalism and teamwork, and we work hard to follow that strategy.”
Part of that strategy has been the ongoing relationship with Luke Busch, who has been with Uttridge since the winch challenge days. Luke is a mechanic, who Uttridge describes as “a very clever boy who makes things work.”
“If Luke is happy with the car, then I am confident that it’s OK,” he said.
Talking about the winch days brought us to Uttridge’s racing career, going back 39 years, to a 12-year-old starting off in Motorcross in 1979. “Even back then it was all about giving it 100%,” he remembers.
But a shattered ankle four years later put a very premature end to two wheels, and a move to quads — “I didn’t have to put my feet down” — and time spent racing in Europe. Time that culminated in Uttridge being part of a three-man kiwi team that finished third out of 84 international teams, in the 1999 Pont de Vaux teams championship.
Then followed a stint in the US racing the GNCC series, with such events as the Rocky Mountain and Mason-Dixon ATV cross country titles. The series is hugely popular with American competitors, with over 2000 racers contesting an average event, but Bob admits he struggled in the heat of the desert.
Returning to NZ and still with a passion for racing a few more NZ titles were added before deciding a different form of motorsport was required.
Uttridge and Busch first teamed up in the Suzuki Winch Challenge truck, taking the NZ1 Clubmans title three years in a row, then moving to the Lexus V8 powered Landcruiser Ute that won them a South Island series Championship.
It was in this extreme 4×4 competition with Luke that the importance of preparation, strategy and teamwork really sunk in. “I learned a lot from Sav (Andrew Satherly – longtime trials and winch competitor)” It was a lesson well learned, because in the three years competing in the Suzuki, the team never suffered a DNF.
You cannot win if you do not finish…
But the attraction for the quads never waned in that time, with the odd foray back into that area of racing. Several appearances in the “Race to the sky” saw Bob take out second in the open class in 2009. “And the UTV is like a big Quad.”
The current UTV is a Yamaha YXZ1000SS that Bob has raced since April this year. It has proven to be a very strong basis for a competition vehicle, the suspension arms, transmission etc are all standard, with a Chrome Moly Cage added by E&H motors in Pukekohe.
Carl Ruiterman of E&H is not only Uttridge’s Yamaha teammate but is responsible for much of the car’s engineering. Uttridge reckons Ruiterman is “probably the cleverest Yamaha guy in New Zealand.” He is also responsible for the suspension set-up, with revalved shocks, and custom spring rates. Uttridge himself has a mechanical background and is constantly tinkering with the Yamaha. He reckons this has given him a good knowledge of, and so confidence in, the vehicle come race day.
The motor is all his work, with head modifications, oversized valves, and an E&H computer reflash. Uttridge has stayed away from the ubiquitous turbo that is the go-to power boost in the class, believing the much greater fuel economy of the naturally aspirated more than compensates for the speed advantage the turbo gives.
In the Nelson Enduro, Bob had issues with a malfunctioning helmet visor after six or so laps, but was comfortable to come in and change it, because he knew his position in the race, and that the guys ahead all had to make one more fuel stop than him. Staying with the strategy he kept to his planned lap times, avoided getting involved in battles with other competitors and just drove into the lead where they were never challenged.
The South Island is different terrain, and a tyre set-up for the enduros has also been developed in association with Christchurch’s Elite wheels, who supply the Raceline Wheels fitted to the Yamaha and now used by most of the class competitors. They were also involved in some serious R&D into an NZ tyre package.
As well as the determination to stay with a pre-race strategy, Uttridge reckons a good memory for laps plays a big part in a successful outcome as well. In the winch challenges every stage of every event was a new challenge, but in offroad racing, especially the enduros, after the first laps he has a good idea of what’s going to be coming up and can be thinking an hour ahead.
“The enduros are what really do it for me,” he confirms. Which brings up the next question, what about the long distance races in Australia. With the exploits of Raana Horan, Richard Crabb and John Morgan over there, is he tempted?
“There is certainly an attraction for some of the iconic races, like Finke but there would need to be a roll cage dispensation sorted out,” says Uttridge. “At the moment they have a requirement for an extra bar because they don’t have to get out during refuelling like we do.”
Uttridge rates Auckland based Morgan as his most respected enduro opposition. “His races are planned, and he is very calculated. He’s got a good crew and very good car prep. And, apart from that is just a really nice guy. Teamwork wins races and driver skill makes up 50% of the day, so the importance of the guys and girls around has a huge bearing on your day.”
Then there are always the guys behind the scenes. Bob was keen to acknowledge the support of E&H Motors, Elite Wheels, Roscos Milford Kayaks, Bairds Collision centre from Christchurch, Yamaha NZ, and Motul NZ.
Check out more photos from Bob Uttridge in the gallery above.