It was Ultra 4s to the fore as Glenorchys Richard Wilson (GY Racing) and Kapitis Stan Goodman (Good 1 Racing) battled out the Outlaw class of the Methven Mud and Steel Winch Challenge.
Unlike most Winch Challenge events, which are by nature held in environments that generally preclude spectators, the Methven Mud and Steel is easily accessible, and an aggressive advertising programme, combined with a stunning Canterbury day had bought out a big crowd, who really got their moneys worth from these big V8 buggys.
Goodman and regular Co-Driver Chris Golding were enjoying their first serious outing in Stans freshly imported “Little Lady” UK Built 4400 class ultra 4, while while Wilson and first time co-driver Jonny Yeo were in Wilsons “Made in NZ” winch truck, built “just up the road” in Waipara to Ultra 4 specs by specialist truck builder Tom Jessep of Toms Off Road.
“It was built as a NZ Winch Truck for the SI Series” explains Jessep, “But it just lends itself to the Ultra 4 concept. It fits into that 4400 class so well.”
“Ultra4 is a really big deal in Europe and the States”, adds Wilson, “and going that way opens up a lot more events for us!”
From having come from opposite ends of the world, the two buggies have more in common than you would expect. They both run high horsepower Chev V8’s, The Goodman Rig with a big block Chev LSX 454, while the GY Racing unit has sacrificed a bit of torque for the much lighter, higher revving LS1 Chev.
Both run Alders 4L Series Transmissions, and Atlas 2 Speed Transfer Cases.
Reflecting its homegrown heritage, Wilson’s buggy runs highly modified Nissan Safari diffs, with Chrome-Moly axles, Little Lady struts her stuff on Spider Trax diffs and axles. Both run ARB Lockers.
Also built to the Ultra4 4400 class, Stan says Little Lady required very little modification to fit into the NZ Outlaw winch scene, the main modification being the fitting of independent wheel brakes onto the rear axle.
The truck was built in 2018, and raced in Europe by Jim Marsden, taking out 8 international titles that year, and Goodman and Golding showed they are quite capable of carrying on that heritage, winning just their third ever competition stage, on their way to second place, just behind Wilson, who won the battle.
Goodman and Golding had two stage wins, one second, and three thirds to finish just 26 points behind Wilson and Yeo, who scored three wins, four seconds, and three thirds from the ten stages.
Wilson and Yeo were untroubled on their run through to the victory. Wilson gives much of the credit for his win to the truck, “It just never breaks down” he reckons. “I never have to touch the toolbox, we drive it off the trailer at the start, and drive it back on at the end. We built it tough.”
Jessep, however, is adamant that the way Wilson drives is just as important. “You can build them as strong as you like, but some guys will still break them. Richard appears to give it death, but never busts it!”
Goodman and Golding’s second place was nowhere near as comfortable as Wilson and Yeo’s win, a mere 10 point ahead of fellow North Islanders, the Wellington pair of Fraser Hyde and Michael Duncan.
19-year-old Hyde was competing in only his second-ever Winch Challenge – his first was the 2019 Methven Mud and Steel – and it was the first time with Duncan as co-driver.
The pair were also competing in a purpose-built Outlaw class truck, but instead of running a ground-up space frame buggy, their’s was originally a Mitsi L200 ute, transformed by Duncan over about 800 hours in the workshop, including the installation of a non-turbo 2.4 litre 4G64 Toyota engine.
Despite giving away well over 300 HP to the more fancied teams ahead of them, the pair won four stages (they lost 10 penalty points on one to drop their official score to three). Hyde gives a lot of the credit for their performance to the rebuilt “Red Winch” bolted to the front of the truck.
One of their stage wins involved dragging a bulldozer down the track. “That was impressive to watch” admits Goodman, “they’ve got a really quick winch on there!”
In the end, it was inexperience the cost the second place. “We were really competitive, but we made a couple of beginners mistakes really” Hyde confessed. “Michael stepped over a live winch rope on one stage, and I took out a peg in the finish box in another. Hardly ideal.”
In fact, the start box peg incident occurred on the stage they should have won. “We had to turn around at the end, and back into the box to get our time. We were really quick, and the spectators were all cheering us on. I came in a bit fast and hit the peg. The cheers turned to laughter and rude comments pretty quick.”
Stages are “self-timed” by the crews, with 100 points for the win, 95 for second, 90 for third etc. With the truck in the start box, the driver has to get out, and start the time on a stopwatch attached to a peg. He then has to get back into the vehicle and refasten his seatbelts before moving off. At the end of the stage, he has to get back out of the stopped vehicle to stop the time.
It becomes a bit of a challenge in its own right when he is hyped up with adrenalin, cold, wet, and muddy, and wearing gloves!
“We used to get the co-driver to do it,” explains event organiser Rick Crosbie. “But the drivers used to take off before the co-drivers were in properly, and had their belts on. This is a lot safer.”
Having the drivers in charge of the stopwatches in each stage also reduces the chances of protests on stage timing as well, there is no chance of marshals or timekeepers making mistakes.
Interest in the event was high after the competitors had sat out the Covid restrictions over their normal 6 event season, and were really keen to get out on the stages again. “It is always great to run here,” says Wilson, “and after so long it was really good to get back out again”.
The event attracted 16 entrants, 5 each on Outlaw, Open, and Challenge, and just one in Clubmans.
Open class are slightly more restricted than the Outlaw trucks, but the top competitors in this class are running well-sorted machines and teams, and are well able to match times with them.
Case in point, Nelson’s Scotty Newport, who eventually won the class. On Stage 1, Newport, and new Co-driver Shane McGowan, was only 4 seconds slower than Outlaw Class stage winner, Fraser Hyde. Just to confirm how competitive the class is, second-placed Rowan Coutts was just one second behind Newport.
Newport and McGowan won three stages, and placed in another six on their way to the win. “It was good to get the Jeep out and blow the cobwebs out” Scotty commented, echoing the thoughts of many of the other competitors. “It was a bit dry for us really, but in the end, “you just have to go and do it.”
Newport was one of several competitors with new Co-drivers. “Shane did well”, he said, “but I had to keep slowing him down, or he wouldn’t have lasted till lunchtime.”
The Team Superwinch’s Yellow Jeep remains basically untouched since last year’s series win. “In a big step for us, we put a new set of King shocks on the back to stop it pogoing all around the track. We are a pretty low budget operation.”
It turned out to be a comfortable class win for Newport and McGowan, 44 points ahead of Blenheim’s Leigh Jones in his well used V8 Hilux double cab. Jones and partner Leigh Kirby (Mrs Leigh) have been competing together in the truck for almost 15 years, after they bought it as a farm truck from the deep south of the west coast, and repowered it.
The first Lexus lasted 10 years before it blew up at Possum Palace two years ago, “so we put a new one in, and supercharged it. This one might not last as long” grins Jones.
The “Team V8” pair scored one win. And a couple of places on their way to second place. “We had a pretty easy run”, comments Jones, “It was really a pretty easy day.” The pretty easy run included two broken winch ropes, and two DNF’s.
In a bit of an unusual format, once a team had completed all ten stages, if they had time before the stages were closed, they could go back to the stages they had not done well in, and repeat it to try to improve their time. Their best time was then recorded. “It took a bit of stress out of the day,” admitted Jones, “If we made a mistake, we got to rerun it.”
Jones and Kirby were probably the biggest beneficiaries of this opportunity, getting to re-run the two DNF’s. “First time through stage 9 we buried the ground anchor about half a meter under the ground, broke the rope, and DNF’d the stage” explained Jones. “On the second run, we drove the big bog, didn’t need to winch anywhere, and won the stage. Mind you it was a pretty wide line we took. We nearly took out a photographer, it was that wide!”
Newport and McGowan weren’t complaining though, they were able to come back from a rollover at one point. “We rolled it right over,” says Scotty. “It came back down onto its wheels, so we just had another go at it, but broke a CV, and DNF’d.”
Following repairs, on the re-run they took second quickest on the stage, picking up 95 points.
But the story of the day was all about Mamba Racings Brock Welsh. Driving his superbly presented black Jeep, Welsh had dominated the day, winning six of the 10 stages, and holding a substantial lead until a dispute with the officials saw him registering a ‘did not start’ on stage 8, the loss of points dropping him to third.
The sole Clubmans entrant, Shane Coskerie, obviously won his class, three-course penalties and a DNF robbing him of maximum points.
The Challenge class field lost two competitors early on, with Blair Reed (Loose Nuts Racing) and Gavin Affleck (GB Engineering) both out after having only completed two stages each.
For Affleck and Navigator Taylor Pearce, it was particularly disappointing as they had a second and third to their names when they were forced to withdraw.
“It’s not really a comp truck,” says Gavin of their Toyota Surf. “It’s just got a bit of a tickled up 1Kz motor, so I don’t do too much in it.”
The team had broken a CV, then discovered the spare wouldn’t fit. “We tried to modify it to get it to fit, but had to give up in the end, and watch everyone else!”
The remaining three teams were engaged in the closest battles of the day. David Grey and Ryan Buick (High Maintenance Racing) won the most stages, taking 4 wins, but Richard Gifford and Callum Hunter weren’t giving him an inch, taking three each.
None of the three finished stage 9, so scored the default 20 points each, and each copped a total of 30 penalty points deducted from their scores over the 10 stages. Hunter, and Co-driver Stu Douglas, were the only ones penalised on stage 1, and the only ones to escape penalty on stage 3, which they set fastest time on.
Hunter and Douglas were competing in only their second event, campaigning Hunters little Suzuki SJ413. Built from scratch by Callum, and powered by a Commodore V6, the truck had issues with the rear springs all day, at one stage returning to the pits with one spring completely dislodged, and strapped to the rear deck.
Blenheim based Gifford was being co-driven by his son William, also in a self-built truck, the combo having competed together for 4 years. Their 110 Landrover is powered by a Defender V8, with a Discovery Auto. The only non – genuine Landrover parts being the imported Ashcroft Diffs, axles and final drive componentry.
The Landrover is still road legal, and is the Giffords club truck, the only concession to winch competition being the 35” tyres, and very low diff ratios, and a twin-motor Redwinch on the front.
It’s Grey’s first season as a driver, having spent two years Co-driving for Ben Simmons. “I must admit I enjoy driving more,” he reckons, “it’s definitely more of an adrenalin rush. And you don’t get as covered in mud!”
The Jeep is basically 100% factory, retaining the original 4litre, straight 6 engine, and standard running gear as well.
“We were having a really great day,” says Grey, “until the alternator gave up!”
“We still had to do the dozer pull, and without the alternator, the winch just slowly died. That gave us our second DNF, and basically cost us the win.” In fact, the DNF dropped them to third in class.
With Grey and Buick out of the reckoning, it became a two-horse race between Gifford and Hunter.
It looked like it was going to be Hunter and Douglas on the top step when the Giffords got lost on the Barrel Race section, and copped a DNF.
Taking advantage of the “Second Chance” rule at the end of the day, they returned for another go. This time, with William steering, and Richard “Yelling instructions at the top of my voice”, they came back to win the stage.
This may have been the turning point, vaulting them past both Hunter and Grey, to win by an extremely tight 3 point margin, 840 to 837. Goliath, this time, had defeated David!
It has been a lean year for so many forms of motorsport, the winch challenge scene included, but the second half is going some way towards making up for the slow start. Following the far Norths “Battle of the Palace” teams event at Possum Palace, we have had the Methven “Mud and Steel” and Tararua’s “Ultra Poor” enduro type event, a return North for the recent “King of the Palace” and Methven’s “King of Canterbury”.
Still to come in early December we have the traditional Manukau Winch Challenge.
Lots of 4×4 Action to come, don’t go away.