It’s getting interesting at the top of the NZ National Trials Series.
Derek Smyth is starting to show keen form at the sharp end of the season. From a mid-field 20th at round 3 Smyth and co-driver Paul Chapman bought their 6.2 litre Nitro truck home just off the podium in 4th at Manawatu and took the top spot at round 5.
The Counties Club Event, sponsored by McKie Contracting, and held at Ohinewai, saw the return of the dry, dusty hazards that have dominated the series this year. “It stayed quite dry and hard,” said Smyth, “there were a couple of bogs, but they weren’t too difficult”.
Smyth and Chapman headed home the super consistent McDell brothers, followed by an ever-improving Russell Luders and Chris Tomalin in their 5.7 litre V8 Cowper truck, ‘The General.’
In C-Class, Nathan Fogden returned after missing Round 4 for a come from behind win over Michael McGiven and Joel Hobart.
Fogden had his usual co-driver, Mike Gibbons, beside him for only the second time this season.
For all the C-Class competitors, it was a real day of mixed fortunes. Going into the midday break, Fogden and Gibbons were back in third after an uncharacteristic error on a reasonably easy hazard 5 copped him an 80-point penalty, after zeroing the stage before.
“The 80 on hazard 5 was as a result of a last-minute change of plan as we lined up”, admits Nathan, “we got the line wrong, and smoked the 80 peg.”
In the lead at midday, McGiven and Hobart could only manage third in the afternoon session behind Fogden, and Round 4 Class-C winners Dan Cowper and Jenni Templeton.
Cowper and Templeton dominated the afternoon. From a distance sixth at the halfway point, 120 points behind McGiven, they came through to third with a very controlled run.
A superb 20 penalty run on stage 8, where Fogden and half the field collected maximum 100s was partly negated by Fogdens zero on #16, where Cowper and the rest of the field all scored 60.
According to Nathan, “you needed both the power, and to suck up your nuts, and hit a lip about halfway up the hill as fast as you could, to jump up and over, to have a chance at getting the rest of the hazard. It was definitely an up and down day, but great to get another class win” he added.
Despite their disappointing afternoon session, McGiven and Hobart had enough of a lead to hold off Cowper and Templeton for second, by a mere 20 points.
A smooth and consistent morning session saw Smyth and Chapman with a 20-point buffer over round sponsors Dave and Reece McKie, with Stuart and Liam Earle just one point back in third.
The McDell brothers sat in fourth, 40 points behind Smyth, with a bit of work to do to protect their lead in the championship series.
Smyth and Chapman would have had a bit more of a cushion but for a rear steering error on stage 25, netting 60 penalties, where the rest of the top half of the field ran clear, or scored the minimum 20.
“It was a pretty technical rally”, says Derek. “There were lots of tight and difficult stages where vehicle placement was critical”.
“Having a new navi has been a real learning curve” he added. “Paul was with me back in the 90s, but this is a whole new ball game”.
The afternoon session was incredibly tight at the top for D-Class, with less than a point between the top 3.
The McDells came charging back from 4th to win the afternoon and take second for the round. They won both the Speed Sections for the day as well.
“The Speed Sections were long and fast, and Greg was on fire in the afternoon!” Says Derek.
Russell Luders and Chris Tomalin 5th at the halfway mark, were formidable in the afternoon session, finishing just half a point behind the McDells, and leapfrogging McKie and Earle into third.
Smyth and Chapman were 25 behind, to hold their lead and take the round win.
“We’re pretty happy with the result” says Derek. “The season has been a process of developing the trucks’ power and suspension, and learning how to work together again”.
“Paul and I were a pretty good team a few years ago, and we are really starting to jell again”, according to Derek, “he’s only been used to one set of brake levers, and has now had to get used to using a set for both front and rear.”
“We’re not doing anything different than we have been, it’s just that we are working together better. We’re not taking any risks, so we’re not spending time in the pits either.”
The McKies dropped a couple of places to finish 4th, while last round winner Jarred Biggs, and co-driver Fleche Crawford recovered from 8th at halfway to finish 5th.
The Earles, Neville Mather, Scott Biggs, Kevin Hermansen, and the Hobarts rounded out the top 10. Biggs and co-driver Sam Thomsen recovering from 11th at the midway point.
Round 2 and 3 Winners, Philip Walton and Brendan Austin were looking good for a top 5 finish but struck real problems on the last two hazards of the day. “Yeah it was an up and down day with a few more mistakes than we would have liked, but we were still in with a shot for 5th or maybe 4th?” Then on the last two hazards of the day they picked up 180 points from a max of 200!
On the first, the engine just stalled at the 80 marker, “probably clogged with dust” thinks Phillip, then on the last stage of the day, “we were sitting on the high line when my trailing arm folded under and threw us off the hill. Didn’t roll, but took out our A-arm, almost did the shock and the left lower trailing arm was banana’d. It must have been on the hazard or two before as there was nothing in it.”
“Failing to get out the end of that hazard meant 100points and that was our day. Bit of a bummer.”
Walton and Austin finished the day just out of the top 10 in class and overall.
An even more disastrous afternoon saw Ashley Tomlin and Audrey Johnson drop from 9th to 29th.
“The front came down onto a bit of hard ground, and we broke the front output shaft.” Says Ash. Game over!
Caleb Adlam and Jarred Moss beat home Daniel Howat and Cole Stockler in E-Class. Paul Taylor was the only entrant in F and completed the round, and Daniel Morris and James de Cleene in the 2.8 litre Toyota won J-Class ahead of Clarrie Vasey and Jaden Magee.
Stewart and Jack Mickell won K-Class from Brent Ward who was out after 3 stages, so did not finish the day.
With the series in limbo due to the Covid lockdown competitors and fans will have to wait for the final round, to see how the series ends. “I hope I haven’t forgotten it all again!” Commented Derek Smyth.
Both Jarred Biggs and Greg McDell have a mathematical chance of becoming next year’s NZ1. Both have won the series in the past, it’s going to be a long wait to see who takes it away this time!
IMAGES THANKS TO SAM BOLTON PHOTOGRAPHY