A new format combining winch challenge and offroad racing was introduced to the NZ 4WD competition scene at the 4×4 Events promoted Novawinch King of Canterbury extreme off-road race, just up the road from Methven.
Although a number of pretenders to the throne turned up, and it got close at the end, none of them were able to match Christchurch’s Brent Holden and his Gorilla Racing Ultra 4 warhorse in the jousting to take home the crown in NZs first 4 Wheel Drive race.
Held on the site that will host the 2019 NZ1 Winch Challenge at Alford Forest, the race was broken into two x 2-hour sessions, providing separate morning and afternoon winners, then the total laps were added together to get an overall winner.
Holden hits the water splash
The track included some high speed grass paddock sections, rough, rocky areas, a big hill climb, and lots of tight sections, hacked through areas of gorse the weekend before with a tractor mounted flail mower.
Broken into Truck and Unlimited Classes, the event attracted a number of Mainland Winch Challenge Series top runners, and a couple of new driver/co-driver combinations.
With his very late entry, Holden turned up with Daniel Tray Swift, Nathan Hammond’s usual co-driver stepping in to replace Aaron Bloomfield, who couldn’t make the trip in time, and Timaru’s Malcolm Wells was in the silly seat with Blenheim’s Mike Holmes in the Hilux V8.
Holmes in the mud
Sporting a new set of 40” Trepador Tyres fitted the day before, Holden was totally dominant in the first race, completing a full two laps more than second-placed Brock Welsh and Nick Scales in the Mamba Racing Jeep Wrangler, who won Truck Class, two laps ahead of Holmes and Wells who were second in Truck Class.
After a slow first lap, Damion Veitch and Kerry Williams in the V8 Hilux settled into a steady 14 minute lap pace and were comfortably second in the Unlimited Class behind Holden, but in the pits when the two-hour mark passed.
Third in Unlimited Class were Andy Reeves and Tom Rose, who finished the first race fourth overall in Reeves ‘Fugly’ Nissan powered buggy.
Only six of the original entrants started race two, such was the carnage from race one, with Holden blasting away from pole, to lead Holmes by just over two minutes after the first lap, and 15 by lap five, when it all came so close to coming unstuck.
With an hour to go, the pinion bearing in Holden’s rear diff expired from lack of oil, and he was forced to retire, at that stage with a four-lap lead over the consistently lapping Welsh, who still had an hour to make up the deficit.
Welsh exits swamp
It had become a real case of Hare vs Tortoise.
Welsh and Scales consistency was incredible, they completed lap five of race one on 1:39.42 elapsed time, and of race two on 1:39.09. Lap 6 of race one was completed on 1:55.35 giving 1 minute 25 seconds from cut off, to allow them to complete a seventh lap, and in race two, 1:58.06 gave 1 minute 54 seconds to repeat the feat.
These last two laps were completed in times just 35 seconds apart.
But in the end it wasn’t enough. Welsh took the overall and truck class wins for race two, and matched Holden’s 14 laps total, but Holden had completed his an hour faster and was declared the overall winner, and Novawinch King of Canterbury.
Welsh showing strain after his epic chase
Holmes and Wells started their seventh lap with seven seconds to spare from the two-hour cut-off time, but failed to complete it when the drive shaft universal failed. They had done enough to take second overall and in class in race two, 23 minutes ahead of Reeves and Rose who were third overall, and first in Unlimited Class.
Holmes and Wells held on to third overall for the combined results, on 11 laps, ahead of Reeves and Rose who were second for the day in Unlimited Class.
Veitch and William’s run came to a dramatic end halfway through lap one of race two, a broken ball joint from heavy contact with a tree collapsing the front suspension and stopping the Hilux in its tracks, but their laps from race one gave them third in unlimited class for the day.
Andrew Witty and Callum Hunter completed lap one in their Landrover V8, but an injury to Hunter saw him transported to hospital and the team DNF lap two.
Reeves was lucky to finish the day, with an engine fire breaking out during the race two refueling stop requiring a trip to the pits for repairs, while Welsh and Scales scored a big moral victory after being the only team to complete the whole event without a single pit stop.
With most competitors needing to use their winches more than once during the day, but the top runners getting through without winching or needing outside assistance, it appears that organisers had set a good level of difficulty for the event.
The date clash between the next round of the South Island winch challenge series, which he is leading, and the countries first ever true Ultra 4 race in Auckland, means Holden has had to make the difficult choice to stay in the south to defend his series lead.