It has become the North Island’s — if not the country’s — most popular winch event, and with this year’s field including several South Islanders who had made the trip North, the 2018 Novawin Battle of the Palace reached new heights.
With 11 teams entered, the field of 33 trucks was probably the biggest seen at this level of competition this year.
For some, like Dave and Jacob Brett, it was their first taste of the sport. Others, like Owen Fillery and Dave Morrison, brought experience from competing at this level right from the beginnings of winch competition in this country.
Possum Palace is on a privately owned farm block in Northland and has been playing host to this event for a number of years, gaining a reputation for slick organization, tough competition and tracks, and above all an enjoyable two days of mud and mayhem.
The leader of the winning team, The Punisher’s Tim Fensom said “It really was a great event, right up to the end it was anyone’s game. It was all about finishing!”
“It was our time, over the last two years we have been third, then second, then this. We’ve won the timed stage the last two years, and this time it was enough to give us the win.”
Fensom and his co-driver, Richard Hall, driving a Suzuki Vitara, along with teammates Neville Mather and Richard Verner, Lexus V8 Vitara, and Mike Gibbons and Roger Donaldson, Lexus Hilux, had led the event right through but did not have the result confirmed till prizegiving.
Points are given to the teams for completing each of the stages, with a timed stage included in case of a points tie at the finish. The Punishers set the fastest time early on, and went on to finish in a tie with second-placed Hot and Heavy (Owen McLeary and Jayne Wilson, Aaron Smythe and Aaron Blomfield, Scott Withers and Jess Gunton) but had a 13 minute buffer to take the overall win.
Hot and Heavy’s second place came at the expense of eventual fourth-placed team Ricochet Racing, who were a comfortable second place at the end of day 1, but dropped points on the second day when Roger Urwins clutch failed on Stage 11, to finish just 10 off the podium.
Third place getters Loud and Loose held the place right through, initially behind Ricochet racing, before overtaking them, only to be overtaken by Hot and Heavy on the second day.
It was not an easy run to victory for the winners, who had to deal with a blown diff, broken brake line, and a faulty fuel pump through the stages.
“We were able to finish all the stages” commented Fensom, “everything that went wrong did so at the most convenient places and we were able to get the broken trucks through. We swapped the diff over in less than 20 minutes!”
“We’ve done the last three Palace Challenges, and we’re the only team to have done every stage on every event.”
Loud and Loose’s Mike Holmes from Nelson had issues with a broken winch drum, on Saturday afternoon, and by the end of the event was having serious Trans concerns, just getting through, though it was getting a bit touch and go. Their third place was well earned.
The Punishers team make up reflected the changes seen in the new generation of winch trucks. Both the NI teams events and the Mainland series, are seeing smaller lighter trucks coming to the fore.
“Comps are different now,” agreed Fensom, “Electric winches have improved, and are still getting better, and suit the trucks. There was some pretty steep stuff in there we really had to stop and think about, but, even though all three trucks had electric winches, we had no problems.”
As usual Possum Palace was pretty tough on competitors and vehicles, with mechanical casualties coming thick and fast. The Grieves Bros team had one truck out with a broken PTO shaft, and another with a broken CV Joint. Not to be beaten, the lone surviving Suzuki went out and completed the last stage on its own.
Leigh Cossey from team Lexus lost his power steering on Saturday afternoon but continued to manhandle the truck through the Sunday till it smashed a steering arm on the timed stage, finally putting him out.
But the award for the most eventful stage has to go to the Top of the South team, who had a winch break, and an alternator fail in stage 8 (the 401” bog) requiring a double recovery.
Plans are already underway for the next Battle at the Palace, over Easter 2019. Organizer Ben Blyth tells us interest is already strong, he also tells us it won’t be any easier. You can count on both!
2018 Novawin Battle of the Palace Results
1st: The Punishers – 540pts – 4:09:05
- Tim Fenson & Richard Hall
- Neville Mather & Richard Verner
- Mike Gibbons & Rogan Donaldson
2nd: Hot & Heavy – 540pts – 17:39
- Owen Mcleary & Jayne Wilson
- Aaron Smythe & Aaron Blomfield
- Scott Withers & Jess Gunton
3rd: Loud & Loose – 440pts – 11:52
- Mike Holmes & Andrew Dempsey
- Malcom Wells & Rob Harris
- Richard Stec & Jacinda Reed
4th: Ricochet Racing – 430pts – 6:30
- Roger Urwin & Sean Urwin
- Dave Obery & John Harvey
- Mike Boston & Kieran Boston
5th: Team Lexus – 420pts – 45:26
- Ray Leemeyer & Daniel Leemeyer
- Owen Fillery & Dave
- Leigh Cossey & Karlan Zink
6th: Team Huntly – 390pts – 28:21
- Tim Randall & Carol Le Gallais
- Luke Vitasovich & Nathan Murray
- Matt Clay & Chad Vitasovich
7th: Grieves Bros & Co – 320pts – DNF
- Matt Grieve & Mark
- Corey Haywood & Matt
- Mark Grieve & James
8th: Cruisaf Racing – 270pts – n/a
- Jacob Brett & Zane Hargreaves
- Dave Brett & Chris Linton
- Karl Martinovich & Jackson
9th: Top of the South: 200pts – n/a
- Richard Gifford & William Gifford
- Pete Leslie & James Bishell
- Leigh Jones & Leigh Kirby
10th: Team Manukau – 190pts – 43:15
- Dean Currie & Ash Goddard
- Nathen Phillips & Campbell Phillips
- Rohan Hooker & Roy Hooker
11th: Electric Dream – 170pts – n/a
- Nick Holthuisen & Sam West
- Joe Wheeler & Dylan Dryfhout
- Daniel Smith & Jeremiah Smith
The 2018 Novawin Battle of the Palace Teams Challenge was Supported by Force4 & Novawinch, Southern Spars, 4WDBits, Motortech 4×4, NZAD, DM Standens (Winch rope), NZ4WD Magazine, Battery Bills and GME.
Check out more action in the gallery above. Photos by Dena Plumridge.