Pemberton Corner. Never heard of it? This is where the Pemberton family set up home and established the Manawatu’s northernmost village way back in the late 1800’s.
The village has gone now, but the corner remains, and about 100m down the road was where the NZ4WD Association Northern Zone held the Rangiwahia round of the National Trials Series.
Just like Decembers’ Round 1 in Whakatane, Round 2 was held in searing heat, on a very dry, dusty, course. Technical hazards changed as the day went on, and the surface was chewed off.
But it produced a far different result than the “business as usual” scrap between the D Class Buggys of the Biggs and McDell brothers. Phillip Walton, making an emphatic return to the driver’s seat, taking a very tight 20 point win over the Mitzi Evo powered C-Class truck of Nathan Fogden.
After taking a break last season to co-drive for championship winner Scott Biggs, and overhaul his own 7-year-old rig, Walton returned with virtually a new truck, planning on better reliability and more results.
“Sitting beside Scott”, he said “I realised just how much I needed to do to the truck to get it right. We probably should have started again from scratch as it would have been quicker”.
“But having discovered from the champ what needed to be done, what better way than to get him to do it. Tom at Nitro Customs has made a massive effort to keep the old look, but change it up completely from what we had”.
Fogdens 2nd was the first overall podium for a C-class team since January 2018, when Dan Cowper took 2nd overall in the same truck. What made it even more impressive for Fogden however, was that, in the absence of his usual brakeman Mike Gibbons, co-driving duties were being handled by his son Cody, in his first-ever National Competition event.
“We had a few practice nights the week before the round”, said Cody, “and that was it”. Previously his only competition experience was in a club competition driving Nathan’s old E-Class, with a mate in the passenger seat.
“I was really looking forward to it” he claimed, but admitted, “I was a bit nervous about the potential for rollovers once I had seen the hazards”.
By the end of the morning sections, Walton had already established a 40-point Class lead, ahead of Neville Mather and Richard Verner in their Nitro Customs truck, who were tied with Fogden for second overall.
Fogden appeared totally dominant in Class C. But although his margin to second-placed Michael McGiven and Joel Hobart, was a massive 80 points, it was made up of a series of small gains, in particular, four cleared hazards where McGiven had collected the minimum penalty.
D-Class top runners Kevin Hermansen, Greg McDell and Wayne Buckthought were locked together on 140, right behind Mather. Jarred Biggs was another 20 behind, having collected the maximum 100 penalties after rolling on hazard 13.
Caleb Adlam and Daniel Morris led Class E and J respectively.
The afternoon belonged to Jarred Biggs and Fleche Crawford, who with the low score for the session, and a win in the speed section, came back strongly to pick up 3 places and move up to 3rd in Class and 4th overall.
The Fogdens were again in a class of their own in winning C-Class, scoring half the number of penalties as McGiven. Firing back from a disappointing morning Mitchell Caldow and Jamie Elms claimed 2nd in Class C for the afternoon, but a maximum on stage 23 in the morning session had squashed their chances of a podium.
McGiven and Hobart were beaten back into 4th for the afternoon, behind Steven and Colin Thomasen, but had done enough to take 2nd in Class.
The Thomasens came in ahead of Dan Cowper and Jenni Templeton in their Cowper Buggy.
D-Class, and overall competition, was even more chaotic.
The Fogdens heroics put them third overall for the afternoon, behind Biggs and a hard-charging Russell Luders/ Chris Tomalin driving a Cowper buggy, the 5.7 litre powered “The General”.
Coming from a 3-way tie for 17th at the midway part, the pair finished the afternoon less than 1 point behind Biggs and climbed their way back to 9th for the day, passing nearly half the field.
Heading the other direction, almost as rapidly, Wayne and Rachel Buckthought plummeted from 6th in the morning to 14th overall at the end of the day, with a near bottom 26th place for the afternoon total.
“We knew we were doing pretty well by the halfway point”, says Wayne, “but when we arrived at 16, our first hazard of the afternoon, one of the crash helmets fell between the seats onto the Difflock switches”.
“We thought we had reset them correctly, but we had turned the air to the front one-off, so had no front locker for the whole afternoon. Something we didn’t realise till the next morning”.
Meantime Mather and Verner kept their nerve, outscoring Walton by just 2 points for the afternoon, to hold onto second in Class and third overall.
Kevin Hermansen and Nicholas Hamilton lost a place to Biggs on his way back up the field, but came out ahead from their mid-event tie with the McDells, to end the day 5th overall, from McDell in 6th.
Further down the field, Adlam beat home Daniel Howat in E-Class, Paul Taylor won F-Class, Daniel Morris took out J from Hayden McGill, and Brent Ward won K from Stewart Mickell.
In a very unusual result, and perhaps a sign of just how technical the course became, every one of these lower-Class place getters cleared at least one hazard with no penalties.
But it was emphatically Phil Walton, and co-driver Brendan Austin’s day. “We were gutted after the problems of the first round, we had rushed things to get finished”, said Phil, “so suffered from teething problems”.
“It’s my 20th season competing, and my first win since 2008. Added to that, it’s the trucks’ first win since 2013, so we are rapt”.
Speculation was on whether Walton’s dominance in the dry would be repeated when round 3 was held the following day, in the same dry, dusty conditions, or whether Biggs could maintain the momentum.