2021/22 National Trials Series, Round 3: THE SERIES COMES ALIVE
Freedom: The country was out of lockdown, the competitors were free to travel, and the hosting clubs were able to plan events with some level of certainty.
But certainly not normality!
Some restrictions were still in place. Competitors were basically forced to stay in their own groups, spectators were not permitted, and Sam Thomsen wasn’t on the podium.
From first and third placings in the rounds to date, and leading the championship, Thomsen and Co-driver Mitch Caldow were forced to withdraw after only 3 hazards with technical issues and were virtually pointless for the day.
“We had damaged the ring gear, and it had a few teeth missing” explained Thomsen, “so we had to manually turn the motor over to where the remaining teeth could mesh with the pinion.”
“Then it started stalling, which made the whole thing too sketchy, so we decided to give it away.”
Following the end of lockdown several drivers missing from the first and second rounds were able to rejoin, including the defending NZ1 and NZ2 Biggs brothers in their Team Nitro Trucks buggies.
But with the advantage of seat time in the first two rounds, and the confidence from a couple of good performances in those rounds (including 2nd in Round 1), it was Kevin Hermansen and Nicholas Hamilton in their radical Cowper Truck who led the field by the midday break, including taking the fastest time on the speed section.
Right behind them were the father and son team of Dave and Reece McKie, in a more traditional Cowper, with only the speed section times being the gap, followed by Phil Cameron and Beau Taylor after a stand-out performance in their Nitro Truck.
Leading C-Class, and 7th overall were Glenn and Jacob D’Ath, just ahead of Nathan Fogden and Mike Gibbons.
D’Ath has returned to the sport after a four year break, and making the step up from E-Class to C.
“I took some time out to sort some projects and other stuff” he says, “but when you are away for a while you realise how much you enjoyed it!”
The Buggy D’Ath shares with son Jacob has been 6 years in the making, “I started it while I was still in E-Class,” admits Glenn, “It’s my own design, but I’ve had lots of ideas from other people, and I’ve bounced a lot of my own ideas around too.”
Glenn competed in E-Class for 4 years, in an upgraded A-Class, but reckons C-Class is “something else again.”
“I knew it was going to be different, but probably not this much.”
The new buggy has a lot of “different” built in too. Powered by a 996cc Suzuki Alto motor, with an AMR 300 supercharger, Glenn and Jacob are giving away over 1,000cc to most of the other C-Class entrants, and 5,000 or more to the top D-Class V8’s.
To help compensate for all those missing cc’s, much of the design attention was on weight limiting, and the buggy comes in at just on 700kg’s. “Some of those big motors and transfer cases weigh damn near that much,” Glenn reckons.
The diffs and axles are also unique, with VW Reduction Hubs fitted, which means the Ford Diff heads had to be installed upside down to allow for the reverse rotation of the axles required for the reduction gears.
But in the end it was a broken axle that cost them the class win.
“We were having a ball” says Glenn of the morning performance that had the 60 points ahead of Fogden and Gibbons at the halfway point, “and it just kept getting better.”
“We were right in there, even scored a Zero on one hazard that no-one else in the class did, and then the axle let go, and we copped over 80 penalties on the last 3 stages.”
The team had dropped back from the previously fitted 33” tyres to a set of second hand 31’s just to see if they made any difference to the performance and were a bit surprised by the way it went.
“Who would have thought a 1000cc motor would bust axles?” Glenn grinned. “We’ve only got a very few things to tick off the to do list now,” he went on, “and axle materials is one of them, but the 31’s will be staying at this stage.”
Fogden and Gibbons retained some major bragging rights for the morning, their Gibbons built 2.4 litre Mitsi powered them to a stunning 3rd overall in the morning speed section, against the 6litre plus V8’s of the D-Class monsters.
Another C-Class team impressing in the morning speed section were Hayden McGill and Jarrod Moss, who brought their 2.4litre “Avatar” home in 10th overall. Moss is the regular navigator for Caleb Adlam, and is a previous A-Class and E-Class champion.
McGill credits the young blood in the navi seat for pushing him to go much harder than he normally would and produce the outstanding speed section results.
However the pair could do no better than 4th on points for the session, behind another returning C-Class competitor, John Hawken, with Blair Harrison co-driving, in his superbly prepared buggy.
Behind Cameron and Taylor was the first of the returning Auckland teams, defending NZ2 holders Jarred Biggs and Fleche Crawford in their Nitro Truck, with Ryan Bold and Graham Hibberd in the Bold Built-6000 in an unfamiliar position rounding out the top 5.
Another team in an unfamiliar position were Stuart and Liam Earl, the father and son combo coming in to the event second on points after a 2nd and 4th in the opening rounds, back in 17th overall.
In the afternoon Fogden and Gibbons really upped the pressure in C-Class, putting in a performance that gave them 6th overall for the session, and just past the D’Aths to take the Class win by a mere 7 points.
McGill and Williams were once again the speed kings, hammering the C-Class field, and finishing up 6th overall in the afternoon speed stage.
For the top runners in D-Class, it was all about the McKies, who held their nerve to take both the session and the round win, as Hermansen and Hamilton could only manage 10th for the session, dropping back to 4th overall for the round.
“It was just one of those days” commented Co-driver Reece. “It just went everywhere we pointed it.”
“The conditions were quite different, and we found we could get on the power earlier, and it just seemed to respond.”
It is the McKies first win in the National Series, the previous best result being 4th four years ago, “but we do aim for the top 10 each round”.
“It’s got to be one of the most reliable rigs on the circuit” he added, “It’s only about 500HP, and we try very hard to keep it on its wheels.”
This is the father and son team’s seventh season in the truck, “It’s a basic generic Cowper that we bought with an LS1, which we replaced with an LS2 the second year,” said Liam. “It’s the only truck we have competed in.”
“Dad had an old Bush Truck Safari he did club stuff in, but a trip to watch a National Round 8 years ago brought out an unexpected competitive streak.”
As the McKies moved into the lead, Biggs and Crawford followed them up the leader board, overtaking both the Cameron/Taylor and Hermansen/Hamilton teams, with second for the session being good enough to take them into second for the round.
But big mover of the afternoon was current NZ1’s Scott Biggs and Jamie Taylor in the 6litre Nitro #1, who scrambled from 8th overall at the break to 3rd by the end of the day.
Chasing them all the way were Reuben and Shane Mason who climbed from 10th to 6th, and going a couple better, Rowan Huckstep and Hendrik Hofstee who charged up from 11th to 5th in the afternoon session in their 6.2L LS3 powered “Mad Cow” Cowper Truck.
“We didn’t do anything special,” a happy Huckstep commented. “We just pulled one out of the bag.”
“It was a great course for us, we could have a go without worrying so much about breaking stuff.”
The Opunake dairy farmer was pretty close to home, “I’m sort of getting to know my way around” he grinned, “but then I have to be careful not to screw up on the smaller stages.”
The “Mad Cow “is an 8 year “generic Cowper” with an LS3, and an ARB air locker in the front diff. “I think it’s Cowper Truck #5” says Rowan, who has owned the buggy since new.
For Reuben Mason, it was a big result for a couple of reasons. Having been away from the sport for seven years, Mason says “I always knew I was coming back, there was a lot of unfinished business.”
The Masons buggy was defending champ Scott Bigg’s first truck, and as Reuben says, “When I first saw it, I said I was going to own it one day.”
The 6Litre LS2 Chev V8 has been recammed, and according to Reuben is “absolutely insane”. “It’s got a Nitrous Kit, but I never use it. It’s too scary.”
“The old reactions aren’t what they are used to be,” he admits, “but, I’m loving it. It’s indestructible, wide and stable, and got big horsepower, just what I wanted!”
For Mason the biggest buzz is just being back. “You know, I really enjoy just getting out there, and so far the Wanganui Club Champs has to be my favourite event.”
For Hermansen and Hamilton the afternoon was a disaster, 9th overall for the session dropping them from the lead to 4th overall, and off the podium, although they added the afternoon speed section to their morning’s win.
Neal Turner and Wade Alexander moved up to from 8th to 7th overall, just 20 points ahead of C-Class leaders Fogden and Gibbons, whose afternoon score was good enough to put them 5th overall for the session, and 8th overall for the round, just 4/10ths of a point ahead of round two winners Neville Mather and Richard Verner.
Cameron and Taylor plummeted 6 places in the afternoon, their 15th for the session, dropped them to 9th in class and 10th overall, just 3 points ahead of The D’Aths.
Craig and Nicola Potter made up the final spot in the D-Class top 10, just ahead of the fast finishing Earls, whose 5th in the afternoon session brought them up to 11th.
Further down the field Brent and Michael Ward made no competition of K-Class in their 350 Chev V8 powered homebuilt truck, beating home Stuart Mickell and David Crawford in their 3L V6 ‘Magot’.
Sean Cushing and Geoff Butcher split the top running K-Class trucks in the 2 litre ‘Dirty Evo’ to take J-Class, while Cody Fogden and Jacob Muir in the little Zuke 413 beat home Mike and Ben Black in the 350 Chev V8 Landcruiser, to win E and F-Class respectively.
So at the midway point of the series, the Hermansen and Hamilton pair move into the lead, and the points from their 11th place moved the Earles ahead of Thomsen and Caldow to retain their second place, with the Masons moving up to third.
However, this is only hypothetical as it doesn’t take into account how the series organisers will put together the final classifications, to try to even up the playing field for those who were forced to miss the first couple of rounds.
Maybe it will be a bit clearer by the time we get to Round 4. Watch this space.
Images thanks to Sam Bolton Photography and Kaye Hobart