PHOTOS BY DENA PLUMRIDGE
The day following the final round of ORANZ’s South Island Championship decider, the Otago Offroad racing club held a special endurance race for the survivors. By extending the short course track out into the surrounding farmland at Slim and Janina Slee’s Timaru CamAm Offroad Park, at Curow, they were able to produce an exactly 20km circuit across open paddocks and farm roads.
Following some carnage the day before, the field was a bit reduced from the initial entries, especially in the glamour Class 1 numbers.
Missing were Nelsons Greg Winn, out with suspension damage, Christchurch’s Mark Brown after his massive rollover on the tabletop, and Class winner from the previous day, John Morgan, who discovered engine issues following the short course races.
Another Nelson driver, Nevill Basalaj, started from pole position, from Auckland’s Mike Fraser, both in big V8 Class 1 buggies, followed by a clutch of Aucklanders: Joel Giddy and Carl Ruiterman in identical S-Class Yamahas, then Brendon Midgley in his Class 3 Mobil 1 Alumicraft buggy.
Class 3 leader in the SI Series, Taranaki’s Brendon Old rounded out the top 6.
From the start however it was farm owner Slee, from position 10 who set the fastest time for lap one, and in the process, rocketed into the lead.
Basalaj dropped back to second to last before retiring on lap two.
Giddy had come up to second, and then passed Slee in lap two to take the lead. He held on to take the top step of the podium, leading home Midgley by eleven minutes.
Fraser dropped back to sixth, leading Class 1, Ruiterman had held on to fourth, Midgley fifth, and Old had dropped to dead last, and also retired on lap two.
For Midgley, it wasn’t quite so comfortable. By lap four, after a couple of ‘moments’ learning the track, he had been as high as third, but a very slow lap five dropped him back to 11th.
But he was having a blast. “I absolutely loved it mate” he enthused when asked about the circuit, “both the Short Course and the Enduro were absolutely awesome”.
“I was able to push harder as I got into the track”, he added when questioned about Sunday.
He also credits crew chief Grant Barrow for the rise back up the field, “He kept telling me to pick the pace up, I was being pushed along a bit by third placed Scott Munro, and Carl was coming as well. It was getting a bit close there toward the end”.
In the end, he was able to hold onto his second place, just over a minute ahead of Munro, who in turn, was just over a minute ahead of a very fast finishing Carl Ruiterman.
Munro had driven a copy-book race, working his way up through the field in the Yamaha to put himself into contention for a podium, with a couple of laps to go. Holding second briefly when Preston went out, he was relegated to third when Midgley came through with one lap to go!
Following on from the Short Course the day before, Ruitermans crew ran out of time in servicing and preparing the Yamaha before the start of the Enduro, and on lap five, the 2017 NZ champ was forced to pit from second place with a loose steering rack.
By the time he rejoined, he had dropped down as far as 13th, with a lot of work to do. Just a few laps later he was back up to fifth and closing in on the front runners.
At that stage, the battle for the minor money was between two of the top Class 1 V8s Mike Fraser and Wintons Donald Preston, but when they both went out about the same time on lap 10 the picture changed again with Ruiterman up to fifth and the sprint to the finish was really on.
With two laps to go Midgley got inside Munros time to move up into second, and then on the final lap Ruiterman pulled out a blinder to set up the fastest lap of the day to finish fourth, and relegate Slim Slee to fifth.
Kevin Clive was the best of the remaining Class 1’s, picking up 10 places during the day to finish sixth, with Grant Plunkett and Dyson Delahunty seventh and eighth.
Delahunty, fresh from four wins the day before dropped from his seventh place grid to as low as 16th, recovered back to seventh before the icy rain and hypothermia started to take its toll, and he was forced to make a couple of pit stops. “I couldn’t really focus,” he said afterwards, “it was so cold I kept making mistakes.”
He wasn’t the only one suffering from the increasingly bitter weather. Jamie McKinstry needing to be helped from his buggy during one of his pit stops and time to warm up before returning to the fray.
Another Class S driver, James Dickson was ninth, and Don Preston had done enough to be classed as a finisher, and round out the top 10.
With the first round of the 2020 SI Series, both Short Course and Enduro, scheduled for the Timaru CamAm Park in mid-February, all roads will be leading to Kurow.
Among those making the trip down will be Midgley, who has confirmed rumours he is joining the Class 1 ranks, having bought the Jimco, Australian champ Brad Prout drove to win the Taupo 1000 in 2011.
“It’s been sitting in a shed since then,” said Brendon, “we found out what was happening with it, called Brad, and made a deal.”
“It’s due in NZ about now, so I will definitely be in Kurow” he promised.
But before then, the 2019 season moves to Raglan for the NI titles and rounds off in Hawkes Bay for the NZ Championship finals.