Character-building…in PR-speak that’s the best way to describe the past weekend for Richard Leeke and Henry Köhne - aka the ATS Motorsport Young Guns. The Harrismith 400, which ended just outside the Free State town of that name on July 29, didn’t deliver on expectations.
But the fourth round of the South African Cross Country Series did have a genuine silver-lining: for the first time they can look back knowing that their Ford Ranger is in the ballpark as far as outright race-pace goes and when they were forced to retire well into the first loop, they were leading the class.
They had qualified second fastest, 30 seconds off the pace of the Class S 'pole'.
Some of this deficit during Friday’s prologue (which determined the start order) could be attributed to a broken front shock absorber mount, which slowed the duo towards the end of the section.
Repairs were carried out overnight and they started fast on Saturday morning, their normally-aspirated straight six petrol powerplant revelling in the cool conditions. With about a quarter of the first of two loops completed they had clawed back their starting deficit and were chasing hard. With two-thirds of the ‘stage’ run, they had made up a similar amount, putting them in the lead on corrected time.
But any hopes that Köhne was going to bookend his 30th birthday – which had occurred on Thursday July 27 - with wins in national championship motorsport events disappeared soon after that. The front differential cradle cracked, immediately throwing the entire drivetrain out of sync and forcing Leeke to stop alongside the route.
“Are we disappointed? Yes, of course we are,” admitted the 21-year-old. “But we’re also encouraged by our speed and I really felt that we could press harder than ever before – the work we did on the rear shock absorbers has definitely taken us in the right direction. We’ve now got a decent gap until the next round – at Sun City in mid-September – so with the handling now sorted we will be able to go through the bakkie from end to end and try identify areas of weakness.”