Rentsch powers through to solid Loveday lead

Shannon and Ian Rentsch have enjoyed a perfect start to the Loveday 400 after finishing the opening two sections with a clear overall lead of just under four minutes.

With a high attrition rate the main talking point for the first race day of the Polaris Motorsport Australia Off Road Championship’s fourth round, the nine-time AORC champions were in a league of their own throughout the day, setting the fastest time across all five laps.

Ending the day with a time of just two hours, seven minutes and 43 seconds, the duo finished almost four minutes ahead of 2019 AORC runner-up Roydn Bailey and Dean Ellbourn.

Rounding out the top three for the day was young gun Tom Owen and Damon Bennett, with the duo just 44 seconds behind the Pro Buggy of Bailey and Ellbourn, having reduced the gap after a solid final lap.

Photos: Brett Lehmann and Tony Donoghue

Although both Bailey and Owen were highly consistent and impressive across the day, they couldn’t compare to Rentsch, who was pleased with his performance.

“We are happy – the car’s been running pretty smoothly and there have been no issues, so we’ll just give it a bit of a check over this afternoon and it should be good for tomorrow,” Rentsch said.

“I’ll probably just try and set a fairly fast pace tomorrow. Sometimes if you slow down too much, it can be worse and you start making mistakes, So I’ll just try and set a good pace and and get to the finish hopefully.

“The track is getting pretty rough now. I imagine by the last lap tomorrow, it’s going to be event harder. But it’s a good fun little track. Because it’s a little shorter, you can remember most of the course.

“As for the car, we haven’t had a clean run with it at all, so hopefully everything can keep going the way it is now.. Would be great to get a good result and a bit more confidence back. It’s sort of going forward and we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Behind the top three were a pair of local crews, with Matt Curtis and Brad Traynor finishing the day in fourth outright, more than three minutes ahead of Brenton Forsyth.

As both crews are registered solely for the state-championship and are not eligible for an AORC result, officially occupying fourth for the national component of the event were Luke Erceg and Daniel Ziembinski.

The South Australian pairing also lead the Sportslite class as a result of their strong opening half of the event, while their class rivals Josh Gaskin and Lee O’Grady sit just one minute behind them and outright fifth in the AORC.

Just 13 seconds off the second ranked Sportslite crew was another South Australian crew – Lachlan Bailey and Nathan Sracek also going into the midway point as the official leaders in the SXS Motorsport Australia Championship – the closest SXS Pro being that of Greg and Lachlan Campbell four minutes adrift.

In between the two SXS Pro cars was the fastest AORC Prolite car of Alan Dixon and Zachary O’Bree, and West Australians Travis Robinson and Andrew Pinto.

It was a highly stressful two sections for the championship leaders, after they had overheating issues with their torque converter cooler fans in the morning. The Jimco then split the same cooler in section two, coupled with water temperature dramas.

Fortunately, their multiple mechanical issues did not cause too much damage to their title aspirations, as they finished Saturday 11th outright and eighth in the AORC. With both of Robinson’s title rivals in James Cook and Mel Brandle also not enjoying the best of days, they remain on track to potentially securing the outright AORC title this weekend.

Brandle and co-driver Emily Brandle were the first of the title-contending trio to have issues, with a puncture on the opening section. Cook and Mitch Aucote had a horrid second section, which included a broken manifold and a broken differential, resulting in more than 15 minutes in lost time.

Other notable crews to have issues during the day included Prologue winner Toby Whateley and Simon Herrmann, and Daniel and Charlotte Hughes, both of whom broke axles. Section one third-place getters Nic Hicks and Christian MacIntosh lost power steering, and 2022 Sportslite champions Simon and Lucy Tucker had front-end issues.

Class leaders to complete all five laps outside of Rentsch, Erceg, Bailey and Dixon included Super 1650 drivers Connor and Peter Corrigan, Eden Evans and Thomas Swinglehurst in the SXS Sport class, and Sean Beck, who leads the Performance 2WD class with Daniel Fahey as his navigator.

View the full results here.

The Loveday 400 continues tomorrow with section three to begin at 8:30am ACST.