The ‘old school’ rules

The offroad racing championship has turned into a battle between old school, tried and trusted race designs, and a new wave of innovative cars.  The older established designs seemed to be under threat as the 2012 Mickey Thomson New Zealand Offroad Racing Championship got underway at Manukau in March, but in the end the wave of innovation sweeping the sport fell short of its pre-event promise, leaving a four-way points tie with four “old school” race teams sharing top points.
The youngest champion in the sport, Taine Carrington, is back to defend his class 7 title, and came away from the muddy Manukau weekend with a maximum 72 points.  Now 14, Taine won class 7 last year, becoming the sport’s youngest class champion in the process. 
A few weeks later at Mangawhai, Carrington was the only one of four to consistently win his class in short course heats and the 160km enduro at the second round, netting him the championship points lead.
Counties-Manukau club’s opening round at Prices Road set the tone for 2012, with Carrington, Nick Leahy, Grahame Steedman and Klem Christensen scoring top points to share the championship lead.
Challenger VW racer Nick Leahy wowed the crowd with his kamikaze attacking, winning every heat to likewise take home top points.
The new wave was represented best by Tony McCall, who has been developing his BSL Terra Chev single-seater class one car in the off season and now has what may still prove to be the championship winning package.
He has some work to do though - at Manukau the bellowing BSL car came off the back of the grid in the first heat for the unlimited class and despite minimal grip in greasy conditions had carved its way through to second behind Malcolm Langley before McCall’s Mendeola transmission jammed in gear, pushing him back to third in that heat.
“Frustrating!  We’ve been tweaking the thing’s handling and hook-up and it is really showing its potential now, but I wasn’t prepared to risk the trans if there was metal floating around inside so it was best to park the car,” he said afterwards.
With the cause of the problem unknown, McCall opted to sit out the rest of the day and support son Ollie, who was making his motor sport debut in the M-class of the Kiwitruck youth category.
Also feeling frustrated on the day – but enjoying himself nonetheless – was West Harbour’s Gregg Carrington-Hogg, who has an all-new 2-seater car built by Tim Ackers at ShoresNZ.  The car had some teething issues at the Woodhill sprint day just before the national round, and with little time to sort its gearshift, the decision had been taken to go for plan B, a class 5 car Carrington Hogg had bought recently with a view to making a transition for son Taine.
The car, previously campaigned by Darren Rollinson, proved quick enough to give Carrington-Hogg a good day out in the mud and clay and some promising results.
Tim Ackers had lengthened the car while Carrington-Hogg was away on business – second in class for the weekend was the welcome reward for the effort.
Overnight and early morning rain had turned much of the track greasy for the first heat of the weekend, and Whakatane’s Clive Thornton was one of those who quickly found out just how little grip was available, spinning twice in the first Whakatane Commercial Spares class 1 heat and losing valuable track positions.
The big Desert Dynamics Chev 2-seater seems on paper better suited to endurance races, and Thornton has enjoyed major success in longer distances in recent years, but as the day went on and the track dried he quickly got to grips with the big car and scored a win at the third start for the unlimited class, which is sponsored by his company, Whakatane Commercial Spares.
The unlimited-class cars were the second most numerous on the day, with 11 cars gridding up including three entries from the Lammers family; one for Whangarei’s Melvin Rouse; two for Bay Offroaders teams (Thornton and Malcolm Langley), one for Colin Meredith in Thornton’s previous car, the V6-engined Southern Cross, one for Paul Eayrs with Nissan RB25 6-cylinder power, and the turbo Eagle of Hamilton’s Paul Smith.
Malcolm Langley won two heats, his Bakersfield Evo single-seater well dialled into the conditions; Thornton won the third and then Clim Lammers held off the assembled might of class 1 to win the final heat, which put all the class 1 and 3 cars on the track at the same time – meaning there were waves of cars flagged off at the start and a field of more than 20 in the track in muddy conditions as the rain returned in full force.
Langley brought the Exide-backed Bakersfield car home fourth in the heat won by Thornton, two of the three Lammers entries separating the Bay Offroaders cars, but in the mud and rain of the final heat Langley was unable to chase Clim Lammers, leaving the pursuit to Thornton and a flying Paul Smith.
In the production truck class honours went to Mike Hay, who gave a strong showing in the championship debut of his new Toyota Hilux.  Anthony Hewitt made the most of 4WD and V8 power in his big Dodge Ram, the truck’s weight helping get power to the ground in the slippery conditions. 
Hamilton’s Nigel Newlands, always a front-runner, found the short wheelbase of his Mitsubishi Pajero V6 made it a handful in such greasy conditions, but went faster as the track dried out.
Hay won the first three heats, Hewitt posting a third and two seconds; then the big red Dodge forged to the class win in the all-in, placing second in class for the day. 
Consistency counted for Nigel Newlands who was third on points for the day, having taken a second, two thirds and a fourth in the Pajero.  Diversity rules in production class racing: in addition to the Hilux, Dodge and Pajero there was a Range Rover, an Isuzu Bighorn and a current-model Nissan Pathfinder V6 racing.
The most hotly-contested class of the day was Leader Products class 3 for Super 1600 cars, where the entry hit 14, though the start grids lost Richard Crabb when the Albany racer was unable to get his new engine sorted on the dyno in time for the weekend.  Like Tony McCall, Crabb ended up pit crew for his son who was racing in KiwiTrucks.
The class was looking set to be a walkover for Pukekohe’s Nick Hall after he took two wins in a row and the track became fast and grippy.  Lee Bailey lost a wheel, Ernie Hogg was slowed in the first heat in his Southern Cross when he found the conditions made the car understeer in the corners, and Devlin Hill’s new American car did not finish a race all day.
Then in the third heat Hall spun his US-built single-seater on the infield hairpin, losing a place. He got back on the track but on the next (white flag) lap he suffered a flat left rear tyre and was forced to limp the car around a whole lap to make sure of a finish, ending up fourth. 
A charging Steven Stokes won that heat and then hammered home the advantage in the rain-swept final heat, winning after a race-long battle with Hall.  Ernie Hogg had recovered his form in the second and third heats, leading the second until bested by a flying Nick Hall and taking fifth in the third race, but he suffered a flat tyre and did not finish the final heat.
The points tally in Leader Products class three went in Hall’s favour with 64 for the weekend ahead of Stokes on 56 and James Buchanan on 54.
Tauranga’s Jason Delahunty admitted to feeling a tad lonely in class 6 last year with so few North Islanders to race against, so this year he re-registered his Toyota in class 4 and found himself wheel-to-wheel with Rex Croskery and Wellingtonian Glenn Turvey – the latter in his US-built Toyota ute.
The 3-way battle seesawed back and forth through the C4 heats, with Delahunty taking the wins in the first three heats and Turvey winning the final one.  Turvey had struggled with a persistent misfire all day but he and Croskery shared the second and third placings in those first three heats as the track dried out.  The points battle went to Delahunty with 70 ahead of Turvey with 64.
Though Nick Hall had fought his way through 2011 with minimal fields in class five, the class attracted five competitive entries this year for the opening round, including Alistair Manning who came all the way from Wellington and was rewarded with three wins and a second placing.  Dean Graham of Hawkes Bay scored a second overall in the first C5 heat, but did not emerge for any further racing as the day progressed.
Gregg Carrington-Hogg’s race record across the four heats showed consistent improvement – fourth, third, second and then a win in the final heat.  He is second on points for the class with 60, ten points behind Alistair Manning (70).
Going into the weekend it seemed that North Island support for class six – which caters for road registered winch challenge vehicles – had completely collapsed.  By closing date for entries there were no class 6 trucks on the programme.  It was Taupo racer Klem Christensen who filled that gap at the last minute, and by doing so and racing all the truck heats, he took home maximum points – and had himself a big day of racing, as the four truck classes all ran together, creating a huge show for spectators.
Christensen made the most of his truck’s four wheel drive and ploughed his way up through the field of battling class 2 and four trucks in each heat.
Class eight was a similar story.  Grahame Steedman has a new truck build under way and hadn’t intended to race – but decided to bring Big Black 1 out for a run. 
“Luckily I hadn’t robbed anything off the truck for the new build, so it wasn’t too hard to get it ready to race,” he said.
The Nissan was the class of the mixed truck field, taking the chequered flag from the front in every heat.
Challenger class, for cars with 1.6-litre VW engines, was well supported in what may signal a strong resurgence of interest.  First to enter the event was seasoned campaigner Geoff Matich, a wily and strategic racer whose presence in a race grid or at the start line of an enduro can never be taken lightly by others in the class.
Likewise Trevor Brooks always makes the most of his car, racing hard at every event he enters; and Glenn Goosens of Hamilton, Peter May and Ricky May and Wayne Rowe also show good speed.  But the class of the field on the day was Nick Leahy, whose attacking style saw him able to win from any grid position in the nine-strong field.
Taine Carrington was started in each heat with the Challenger field and ran all day on his own in class 7, playing tag with the mid-field cars.
Offroad racing’s governing body, ORANZ, has made two major steps to secure the future of the sport this year: it has promoted the youth category, Kiwitruck, to championship status; and it has approved “side-by-side” or UTV vehicles to join the sport on an evaluation basis.
Counties driver Mike Small was the first to bring out a Polaris at championship level, racing with the Challengers and showing the teams and spectators what the purpose-built machines can do.  UTVs have been approved – with safety additions – by CAMS in Australia, and are part of the Australian Rally Championship this year on a demonstration basis.
Also new to the championship, and with full championship status this year, is the Kiwitruck youth category. 
Eight young racers turned out to do battle in two classes: J class for the youngest drivers has simpler controls and doesn’t require drivers to change gear; M class runs a 200cc motorcycle engine and gearbox and is a transitional step toward full-on off-road race classes.
The racing was closest in J class, where experienced racers Fergus Crabb, Jasper Ryder and Dyson Delahunty met new drivers Alexandria Bleakley and Marcus Runciman.  Over four heats, the wins went to Dyson Delahunty (first race) and Fergus Crabb (races 2,3 and 4) but the points lead rewarded consistency, with Marcus Runciman (second, second, fourth and fourth) and Jasper Ryder (four third placings) sharing the lead.
In M-class Jack Hawkeswood, Colby Langley and Ollie McCall raced for the points, with Langley taking three wins but a DNF in the last heat, Jack Hawkeswood taking two second places before injuring his arm in a tangle during heat three and newcomer Ollie McCall getting quickly to grips with the sport to take the top points for the class.  The truck went better, he said, “once Dad got the rest of the throttle working”.
Round 2 at Easter
Fine weather over Easter offset a track surface at Mangawhai that was in many parts boggy, and where the 64-strong field chewed up the grass cover quickly, drawing up thick, viscous mud on many parts of the track.
In the smallest, least-powerful race car in the championship, and at the tender age of 14, Taine Carrington became the youngest driver to lead the national championship when he had a clean run through short course and enduro racing at Mangawhai over Easter.
His strongest competition was likely to come from Nick Leahy in Challenger class, but Leahy fell victim to fuel and mechanical issues, spending most of the first day grappling with a gearbox that would only allow him two forward gears. 
Leahy, who designed the farm-based Mangawhai course and organised the event, had been hoping to grab the outright points lead but fell behind Carrington with his Saturday issues, which allowed Ben Howard to take the final heat victory. Then on the Sunday Leahy’s luck turned worse, when he barrel-rolled his Challenger race car on a downhill section of the track and spent more than five minutes getting the car back on its wheels and going.
Carrington, in his 1.2-litre VW engined class 7 car, just kept reeling off the laps, making sure he stayed out of the way of the faster classes and focussing solely on amassing enough laps to be classified a finisher.  That meant he was also the class seven winner, and handed him the championship lead with 129 points.
Klem Christensen hadn’t had a clear run through the class 6 heats on the first day. Rolling a tyre off the rim and getting bogged in the third heat, he too was down on points, while Grahame Steedman couldn’t repeat his first-round performance, having dismantled Big Black 1 to feed components into his new ProLite race truck project.
So it was Carrington who drove into the championship lead, while the bigger classes saw the greater level of competition.
Whakatane Commercial Spares class 1 witnessed the return of Tony McCall to winning form when he took the BSL Terra Chev to three short course wins from three starts. McCall then qualified on pole for the enduro by more than four seconds and led the race until he was sidelined with a blown cv joint. 
Clive Thornton damaged his car’s engine, Malcolm Langley found his car overheating due to the extreme stresses placed on engine and transmission by the thick, deep mud and Clim Lammers rolled his car in the final heat on the Saturday.
Hard-charging Lammers took over the lead the following day when McCall’s car went out and he scored a comfortable win that was marred only by watching his son Jardyne crash at the start-finish line as Clim drove down the hill to take the chequered flag. 
Lammers junior was unhurt in the rollover  but the location of the car forced the organisers to put out both the red flag and the chequered flag.
In Leader Products class 3 a record field of 15 cars fought out the Saturday heats, with Nick Hall dominating but not managing to clean-sweep the heats.  Hall’s car had an electrical fault that switched on an oil pressure warning light, forcing the Pukekohe driver to exit the course on the first lap of the second of three heats.
He returned for the next heat and won, and was back out for the enduro the next day as well.  On the Sunday Hall was not able to consistently challenge Devlin Hill in a new US-built single-seater; Hill won the weekend outright with strong showings on both days despite rolling in the enduro.  He banked 69 points to kickstart his championship year.
Martin van de Wal won class 8 in his V8 4WD truck, finishing second for the weekend with 65 points.
Clim Lammers’ never-say-die approach netted him third for the weekend and the class one win on 58 points.
Tony McCall’s short course domination netted him second in class for the weekend and fourth overall, just one point behind Lammers.
Taine Carrington’s championship-leading and class seven winning performance handed him equal points with McCall for the weekend: 57.
Nick Hall was second in class three and sixth overall with 54 points, equal with Jason Delahunty who won class four – both racers took 54 points.
Taine Carrington’s dad Gregg brought his class five car home eighth overall and won the class for the weekend with 49 points.
Jared McGillivray won all Saturday’s class two heats for production trucks but Daniel Hill ran out the winner when the McGillivray Pathfinder was unable to start the enduro, Hill scored 49 points for the weekend.
Glenn Turvey rounded out the top ten for the weekend in his Toyota Hilux, finishing second in class 4 with 48 points.
The weekend started with 64 entries, which were whittled down on the Saturday to 41 runners to start the following day’s racing; just 14 were classified finishers of the Sunday enduro.
Kiwitrucks back in force
The youth category was once more present in force, with eight entries including all but one of the racers at the first round.
Though the first heat was cancelled after a string of first-lap incidents that saw one of the little trucks tipped over, the racing went smoothly with Jack Hawkeswood taking the M class win and Fergus Crabb winning the J class.

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