Off Road

Tragic accidents overshadow AORC, Ultra4 races

3 Mins read
Credit: Rufus Racing

Even on opposite ends of the Pacific Ocean, motorsport is a uniting factor for all to enjoy. Unfortunately, it is also a dangerous sport that can be deadly.

This weekend saw two separate fatal crashes during the Ultra4 USA 4400 class event at Crandon International Raceway in the United States as well as the Australian Off Road Championship‘s Rainbow Desert Enduro. Zandy Willems died in the Ultra4 accident, while two others were killed in the AORC race.

Ultra4 was to cap off Championship Off-Road‘s Saturday championship deciders on Saturday as the final races of the day, dubbed the “Rage at the Rocks”. The SxS and EMC (Every Man Challenge) races proceeded without much issue, but the 4400 saw major crashes that necessitated medical attention. The race was red flagged before being cancelled entirely. The sanctioning body did not release details immediately out of respect for those involved.

On Sunday, Rufus Racing announced Willems, who served as owner/driver, had succumbed to his injuries. Despite the tragedy, the team requested for Ultra4 to proceed with Sunday’s races in his honour.

“It’s with extremely heavy hearts that we share that Zandy passed away last night after a crash during the Crandon race,” said the team. “Words really can’t describe our shock and pain, but we are beyond thankful to everyone who has showered our team and family with prayers since last night. We see and hear them all and are so grateful for them.

“Once more information becomes available about services we will let everyone know. Please know that if he had to pick a way to go, it was doing something he loved. Racing. Ultra4 asked us if we wanted the race to go on. Of course we do and tonight’s race will be for Zandy.”

Ultra4 USA owner Jason Robinett penned the following letter:

“The sun came up and reality set in on the tragic events that unfolded yesterday evening. By now most have heard Zandy Willems has passed doing exactly what he loved. There simply are no words to express the sorrow and pain his friends and family and myself are going through.

“Last night, like so many, I went to bed broken. I woke up broken and still at a loss for words. How do you move forward when tragedy of this magnitude presents itself? How do I properly represent and honor this man that unfortunately I didn’t know that well? Thankfully as the day goes on and the calls come in, this task has become much easier. I feel I know exactly the man, the friend, and the family Zandy is and always will be to so many. I am honored to have been able to be a part of his world. I have been shown how respected and loved he is. Zandy will always be a part of us all. He has given us moments that leave purpose in all our hearts.

“This is a larger than life moment. He is a larger than life man and to honor that we will do as Zandy would. We will race!

“Today we do it for you my friend. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all.”

Crandon paid tribute to Willems during pre-race ceremonies for the World Championships and Red Bull Crandon World Cup with a moment of silence. Chaplain Steve Hanson eulogised Willems in his invocation.

“The reason the off-road community is so great is we’re a small, tight-knit family out here, and when one of us is hurt, we all hurt,” said Hanson. “Last night, losing Zandy was a complete gut punch to this community. We’re devastated today, but we take refuge in the life that Zandy lived and the example he set. Zandy wasn’t afraid to live life to the full. He wasn’t afraid to go full throttle or hang it all out. So today, with tears in our eyes and broken hearts, we’re going to do the same. We’re going to come out here, and we’re going to live life to the fullest, full throttle, put on a good show for you guys out of respect for Zandy.”

In Australia, the Rainbow Desert Enduro was the penultimate round of the 2022 AORC calendar. Per reports, a single car carrying a driver and co-driver drove off the course before impacting a tree and catching fire. The race was halted for first responders to attend to the scene before being abandoned two hours later.

Specifics of the crash such as the victims were not immediately disclosed.

“Motorsport Australia confirms that a double fatality occurred on Sunday 4 September 2022, during the second day of the Rainbow Desert Enduro in Victoria,” announced sanctioning body Motorsport Australia. “Motorsport Australia extends its condolences to the family and friends of the deceased.

“Motorsport Australia is currently providing support to event organisers and those at the event, with Victoria Police currently in attendance at the scene.”

“As these investigations remain ongoing, Motorsport Australia is not able to provide any further comment or detail at this time.”

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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