New race cars and trucks are bringing a whole new look to New Zealand motor sport’s most spectacular series, the Mickey Thompson Tires Offroad Racing National Championship, and racers from one end of New Zealand to the other have invested more than $1-million in building or importing new vehicles.
And to add extra spice, 10-times champion Tony McCall is making a comeback with an all-new vehicle.
The championship was planned to roar back into action on March 11 (after we went to press) with a high profile one-day short course (stadium style) event kicking off the series at Manukau on a spectator-friendly 1.1 km track at Colin Dale Motorsport Park, part of the Auckland Council-managed farm off Prices Road near Auckland Airport.
During 2012 as many as six all-new race cars will join the sport’s unlimited class and contest the championship, each valued at more than $150,000. Half of these have been locally built, with the others imported from the USA to take advantage of the favourable exchange rate.
Between six and 10 new class eight (unlimited) race trucks with values in excess of $60,000 each are also expected to make their championship debuts this year. Most of these trucks are imported, coming out of the USA’s ProLite series.
A New Zealand evolution of ProLite rules and specifications has been developed to guide the teams now preparing to enter the championship.
In addition full championship status for the increasingly popular Kiwitruck youth category will add excitement to off-road racing’s premier series when it begins in March.
Front-runners at the Manukau event included Nick Hall (Pukekohe), 2011 North Island outright champion, who steps up from last year’s class five Super 1300 race car to the ultra-competitive class three for Super 1600s; Devlin Hill in a class three racer recently imported from the USA; west Auckland father and son race team Gregg Carrington-Hogg and Taine Carrington, Mt Albert’s Alan Butler in his Chenowth Millennium with Mitsubishi Evo power, and Whakatane racers Clive Thornton (Desert Dynamics Chev), and Malcolm Langley(Bakersfield Evo Turbo), with Jared McGillivray and Mike Hall in production class.
The event was also expected to see the return of 10-times national champion Tony McCall (all-new BSL Terra Chev) as he sets about his assault on the 2012 championship with the national title firmly in his sights.
The second northern event is at Mangawhai north of Auckland, where Challenger-class racer Nick Leahy has built an all-new farm course for a two-day championship event with short course and enduro racing on separate days.
His race event is set for Easter weekend (April 7-8) and has already attracted strong interest from truck and race car class teams including Thornton, Butler, Langley, Tony McCall, McGillivray and Gary Baker (Nissan Pathfinder V8) who are all confirmed, as is Mike Hughes in his Ford F150 desert truck.
Many teams are planning to camp at the track or are booking holiday homes in the seaside town for the whole Easter break.
The third northern region round sees the welcome return of the Woodhill 100 to the championship. New Zealand’s oldest off-road race takes competitors into the forests for the first time this year and is always hotly contested. It once more takes its traditional date at Queen’s Birthday weekend (June 9-10)..
This year organisers plan to hold qualifying sprints the day before the race and closer to Auckland, enabling the race to be held at the top of the forest on the Sunday of Queen’s Birthday with an earlier start time.
In recent years the Woodhill has been plotted over faster tracks, eliminating some of the narrow sand track choke points that have caused problems for vehicles with less suspension travel and power than the class one, class three and class eight racers.
West Auckland racer Raana Horan has won the Woodhill for the past two years but may miss this year’s race as he plans to take his massive Nissan Titan 4WD race truck to Australia to contest events in the Lucky Country’s national championship.
Southern rounds this year are at Nelson, Christchurch and Dunedin. Nelson’s endurance race on April 21 opens the southern regional points battle, with Canterbury club running its short course/enduro Mainland Challenge on June 23/24 and Otago club running the final South Island regional round on August 25.
The national final takes place over Labour Weekend at Hawkes Bay, October 20/21.
New race cars complete or nearly complete add excitement to the championship this year, with a range of builds nearing completion and other cars finishing final tuning after shake-downs at one-off and stand-alone events in 2011.
In the south a new car build continues at Andrew Thomason’s Christchurch workshop for Aucklander Chris Whyte. Formerly a class three driver, Whyte has commissioned an all-new V8 class one car based on an evolved version of the championship-winning Jimco Chev formerly campaigned by Kevin Charles.
Christchurch driver and former national champion Daniel Powell is also working towards a new class one car, which will be a “New Zealandised” version of a Tatum desert racer and is likely to feature a rotary engine – the first time a rotary has been used in the sport in this country for more than 10 years.
Multiple national champion Tony McCall of Manukau has spent the past few months refining his new BSL Terra Chev and now has the car at championship pace, reliable and tractable.
West Harbour’s Gregg Hogg will debut his all-new race car this year after first showing it at the 2011 Full Throttle Festival; likewise Devlin Hill has a new class three car imported from the USA that will have its first championship outing.
Challenger-class racer Troy Tufnell is moving up to class three for Super 1600 cars with a new car powered by a high output VW-style flat four engine.
In the truck classes the big Ford F150 of Mike Hughes makes its return in the north; Raana Horan’s Nissan Titan V8 will make appearances at selected rounds in between contesting Australian Offroad Racing Championship rounds; and there are up to eight new class eight trucks built to a US specification set to arrive on the championship scene this year.
Similar to the new class eight GT Radials Ford Falcon truck of Bryan Chang, the trucks are based on the American ProLite regulations with tweaks for New Zealand conditions. They will be one or two seaters with V8 engines and are mostly rear-wheel drive. All the trucks built to New Zealand regulations will be rear-wheel drive V8 versions.
Import/build programmes are underway in both islands including an import for Rotorua racer Mike Cox, who has his Jimco Subaru class one car up for sale to make way for the new project.
The driving force behind the new trucks is Drury’s Kevin Hall, who has developed a series-within-a-series specification for the new trucks that potentially creates a close-fought one-make competition within class eight.
Trucks are being variously built or imported, with Hall’s own Elf-sponsored truck the first to approach completion. He showed the truck for the first time at the 2011 Full Throttle Festival at Manukau and is now finalising installation of its V8 engine.
Embracing social media, Hall has established a Facebook page for his truck build, posting images and information about the spec of the new trucks as a guide for teams building them.
Class two for production-based trucks has become a popular way to enter the sport, offering close racing without requiring – or allowing – significant spending on performance modifications to engines or transmissions.
Whakatane racer Jared McGillivray will give his current-model Nissan Pathfinder 4.0 its championship debut at Manukau, then come north to Mangawhai at Easter. The left-hand-drive US-spec Pathfinder contests production class and has undergone a progressive suspension development programme since it first raced at the 2011 Asset Finance Taupo 1000..
The total value of the new race cars and trucks entering the sport this year is estimated at more than $1.2-million, with the big class one “unlimited” cars accounting for much of that total.