NZ TRIALS SERIES 2019/20 – ROUND 1 (Eastern Bays Twin Diff Club)
The BOP towns motto is “Everything under the sun,” and as the host of round 1 of the NZ Trial Series for 2019/20, Whakatane lived up to its hype, throwing hill climbs, sidlings, dust, rollovers, mud and sunshine, lots of sunshine, at the series entrants.
With temperatures hitting 30deg, competitors faced very dry conditions that caught most of them out at some stage of the day, with numerous rollovers keeping the marshals occupied, and spectators entertained.
Photographer Sam Bolton summed it up, “I think that’s probably the most rollovers I’ve ever seen at one event” she commented. And there were a lot more close calls, with some great skills pulling several crews back from disaster.
Stage 10 alone caught out over a quarter of the field, a very tricky exit depositing a number upside down on the access track, or back on their wheels in the ditch across the road.
As always, the day was divided into morning and afternoon sectors, with scores added at the end of the day to determine the overall winner.
Main contenders for the overall win usually come from the Class D unlimited horsepower V8 buggies, but by lunch, it was locals Shayne Towers and Tony Hadland in their SR20VET Turbo Nissan powered C-Class rig leading overall, having cleared all the morning stages with no penalties.
Twelve points in arrears and leading D-Class were Greg and Chris McDell, in their extensively remodeled 6-litre Chev LS Powered Cowper Truck.
It was the Hamilton based brothers first outing following an extensive offseason rebuild “we were still putting it together at the motel on Friday night”, says Greg.
The McDells had been 8 seconds faster than Towers and Hadland through the speed stages, after the locals dropped a power steering belt, but picked up a penalty on stage 9, costing them 20 points.
Behind Towers and the McDells were the Dargaville pair Aaron Guest and Garry Preston in Guests D-Class Howat Biggs truck, the only other crew scoring less than 100 points.
Second in Class C, but 120 points behind Towers, was the Turakina based Cowper trucks builder, and ex NZ1, Dan Cowper, driving the Cowper buggy of Ian and Jenni Templeton, with Jenni co-driving.
Holding 3rd place in C-Class were last year’s champs Nathan Fogden and Mike Gibbons, just inside the overall Top 10.
Defending D-Class champions Scott Biggs and Sam Thomsen from Auckland were 4th overall just behind Scotts brother Jarred, with Fleche Crawford in the co-drivers seat, the brothers both running their factory V8 Nitro Trucks.
Confirming his dominance over the morning, Towers took fast time in the first speed section, but lost 12 seconds to NZ1 Scott Biggs in the second when he lost a power steering belt, and was reduced to backing up to make a couple of three point turns during the stage. He limped the truck out of the stage having run 23rd.
Scott Biggs however was flying, almost 3 seconds ahead of second placed Jarred through the stage.
For Towers and Hadland, the afternoon plan was to try to hold on to the overall lead, but the main focus was the class win. Shayne was returning to the sport after a seven month layoff from a broken collar bone, and his hardest job was “trying to keep my brain in gear”.
Built by Towers and Tom Baeriswyl, who is now part of the Biggs bros Nitro team – their lightweight #402 Tombuilt00-2.0 seemed perfectly suited to the conditions, and cleared 5 of the first few stages after lunch to hold on to lead.
The ‘Giant Killer’ win was not to be, however. Halfway through the afternoon the team “lost oil pressure on a hill climb,” according to Shayne, “and Chernobylled the turbo. Bits went right through the motor.” Shayne tried to ease the truck through the next couple of stages, taking the penalties to keep it going, but it soon became obvious the damage was terminal, and they had to withdraw, collecting over a thousand penalties for not finishing the day.
Although registered as finishers Towers and Hadland dropped to last position. Towers was philosophical, “we’d had a great run, and really enjoyed ourselves, now we just have to find a way to get to the next rounds.”
This left Cowper and Templeton in the Class lead, which they held till the end, equal low scoring the afternoon stages with Fogden and Gibbons who finished second in class.
Cowper was pretty satisfied with his days work, “It’s the first time I’ve driven the truck since we delivered it to Ian and Jenni three years ago. We just called in and picked it up on the way through.”
“Its been a great day,” he added, “nice and dry so we were able to sneak around without any drama.”
Fogden who had dominated the class last season was happy with his day too, having to adapt to several modifications to his Cowper truck, including a new hydraulic front diff lock, and altered suspension settings.
He wasn’t too happy about having been beaten by a “bloody Hilux,” referring to the standard 2.7 litre Toyota powering Cowpers truck.
“Mind you” he added “Dan Cowper could have a shopping trolley with a lawn mower engine and still win, he’s that good!”
C-Class is looking really interesting for this season, an overall round win for one of the top three is a distinct possibility.
In the D-Class battle, the afternoon was all about the Biggs/Thomsen NZ1 team. Clearing 11 of the 15 afternoon stages they were dominant. With a 110 point advantage over both the McDells and Jarred Biggs to leapfrog them and Guest, and take the round win, starting their title defence in the best way possible.
Greg and Chris McDell dropped back to second in Class and overall, Greg commenting that they “really enjoyed the afternoon especially. We had to be really precise, they were great stages!”
With much more horsepower after an offseason rebuild of the 6 litre chev LS engine, and extensive chassis, brake and suspension development, the brothers were delighted by their immediate competitiveness.
“Probably the reason we enjoyed it so much, was that it went so well straight out of the box. It did everything we asked of it,” said Greg.
Jarred Biggs and Fleche Crawford held on to their third place through the afternoon stages, 2nd equal with the McDells, after repairing a leak in the oil pressure gauge line during the lunch break.
Guest and Preston dropped a couple of places in D-Class, but brought the Howat/Biggs buggy home in fourth overall.
Biggest casualties of the afternoon were the Wellington duo of Mark Stockler and Peter Osborne in Marks MSR X2 buggy, who went to the midday break 5th in Class but struck disaster in the afternoon.
It all started on the problematic stage 10 when they lost drive to the high side wheels. “It was like someone popped a pogo stick under us” said Mark, and they rolled heavily, damaging the rear steering ram.
After repairing the ram, Stockler and Osborne returned to the stages, but found an issue with the transmission that had probably caused the rollover.
A couple of stages later they totally cooked the trans, and withdrew, picking up 1400 penalty points from the stages they missed, dropping 31 places to 36th overall.
Despite the rollover rate, competitors were unanimous in their rating of the stages, enjoying the highly technical day. They now have almost 3 months to rebuild and prepare for a two-day event in the Central N Island at the end of January.
Last word goes to Greg McDell, “We really can’t wait for the next one, let’s see if we can go one better.
PICS BY SAM BOLTON AND DENA PLUMRIDGE