He came south ready to give it everything, and Pukekohe Yamaha racer Carl Ruiterman scored big-time. Consistent speed, a strong team and the right race car took Ruiterman to the 2018 ORANZ Offroad Racing National Championship title over two days of racing at Labour Weekend.
“We made the trip down prepared to push myself to the limit as I knew Dion [Edgecombe] would be doing the same and gunning for the U class title as well.
Ruiterman, who won the northern title in 2016 in a highly modified Yamaha UTV (side by side) race car, switched out to a stock ‘U’ class car for this year’s championship, and says the step helped hone his driving to outright championship level.
“We spent the last 2 seasons in U class which was the best thing I could have done for my driving and for our development of the YXZ1000 at E&H Motors. I’ve been pushing myself in the stock race car trying to achieve similar lap times to my rivals in the modified S class and concentrating on the suspension at work to achieve this.”
The national championship final was held at Canterbury Offroad Racing Club’s Can Am Speedway, West Melton, over two hot, sunny and dusty days. Short course racing on Saturday was followed by a 250 km endurance race the next day that used both the track and massive sections of the adjacent pine forest.
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 the 250 km Sunday enduro.
“The enduro was always going to be a hard one for us to win. W run the stock 112hp Yamaha Whangarei YXZ1000 competing against cars that have over 600hp. We are also not allowed an extra fuel tank like the other class cars so would be forced to make at least one pit stop for fuel,” he said
The initial plan was to go out hard and stay with the fast unlimited class cars but by lap two Ruiterman could see his UTV would use too much fuel, forcing an additional pit stop, so he dropped his pace slightly.
“We made the five laps [half way point] with only two litres of fuel to spare, while maintaining a pace quick enough to hold a good position. As the race went on and got rougher I started to see the lots more cars crashed out or broken and the race changed shape for us.”
Ruiterman was keeping tabs on the developing battle for the lead between Greg Winn, Ricky Lane and others, receiving updates from his crew via pit radio.
He was circulating in the hot dusty conditions near the front of the field and in the closing laps drew steadily closer to leader Ricky Lane’s big Chev truck.
The front-runners had struck problem after problem: Joel Giddy tore a wheel of his car on the start-finish straight; Ben Thomasen had electrical issues; Greg Winn led for three laps then tore a corner off his car; and Ricky Lane took over on lap six, looking likely to take the chequered flag until on the final lap the Chev went missing when a suspension arm bolt broke 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. 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 recovered from his electrical fault but 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 his clean sweep of the short course heats and outright victory in Sunday’s enduro.
“Spending the past two seasons in U class was the best thing I could have done to hone my driving. . I have been pushing myself in the stock car trying to achieve similar lap times to my friends in the modified S class concentrating on the suspension at work to achieve this. Joel Giddy was kind enough to let me have a go in his turbo Yamaha at the Peter Howell race in Maramarua a month ago and I’m hooked – I’m sure he knew that was going to happen!”