The weather certainly turned at the National Trials Round at Turakina on Feb 22nd. The hot, dry, hard, dusty conditions replaced by rain that never really stopped during the whole day’s competition.
Competitors that had stayed in Wanganui the night before had to negotiate some surface flooding on their way out to the track, and “briefing was held under a plethora of umbrellas,” according to series secretary “Skid” Mark Pincock.
The results turned a bit as well, with the dust master Philip Walton dropping down from his two wins in the last two rounds, to finish 8th in Class-D and 9th overall, and last year’s runner up Jarred Biggs putting a very average season to date behind him to take the round win, and re-ignite his title chase.
The ever-consistent Greg McDell, with brother Chris co-driving, picked up his third second place for the season, to lead the series.
Defending champ Scott Biggs, with co-driver Sam Thomsen completed the podium.
Dan Cowper, with Becki Templeton replacing mum Jenni for the day, took out Class-C. In the absence of Class leader Nathan Fogden, Cowper was pushed in the morning session by Michael McGiven and Joel Hobart, leading by only 60 points at the break.
Cowper and Templeton also came home 6th overall, well up amongst the big V8 D-Class buggies, in their 2.7 litre Toyota powered Cowper Truck.
Regular C-Class top 3 finishers Mitchell Caldow and Jamie Elms were out after only 3 hazards, with a destroyed transmission in their superbly presented black “Mad Pup”.
A bad afternoon session saw McGiven and Hobart post the second-highest penalty count for the Class. Although they were able to hold onto second place, they finished 300 points behind Cowper and Templeton.
It was close though. Rhys O’Brien and Ryan Clark were only 40 points behind in third heading into the break, but did not fare much better than McGiven and Hobart in the afternoon, and finished 20 points in arrears to take the final podium step for Class-C.
Cowper and Templeton won the morning speed stage, O’Brien and Clark the afternoon.
The drizzle of the early morning had cleared away by the start of the afternoon competition, but it didn’t make too much difference to track conditions, as the soft rocky dirt just kept getting chewed out, making traction hard to find all day.
Steven and Colin Thomasen were second in class for the afternoon session, which lifted them to 4th for the day.
In the top-level D-Class it was Jarred Biggs and Fleche Crawford all the way, from a 17 point lead at midday, they picked up a further 80 over the McDells, to win by just under 100.
The two weeks before the event had been a mission for Biggs and co-driver Fleche Crawford, chasing an engine issue that had plagued them since the first round in Whakatane.
“We had a situation where the revs would just randomly fall off at full throttle. We checked out all the obvious electrical gear through the truck but didn’t find anything, and were starting to think it was the blower belt slipping”, said Jarred.
“I’m a builder, not a sparky or mechanic, so it really had me beat.”
Then the night before the event Jarred got a call from Chris McDell, who had done the wiring and tuning on the motor, with an idea. “He asked me to disconnect the water temp sensor, and see if that made a difference”, explains Jarred. “Instant fix”!!
“All that stuff was brand new when we put the truck together last year, so we didn’t really suspect the sensors or anything like that” he continued. “It’s a special motorsport part, but it was faulty.”
“It thought the engine was about to cook itself, so went into limp mode. Then the next time I started it, I would be fine again.”
With the 900hp Supercharged V8 back on song, reliable and dependable, the team were back!
“We were lucky Rangiwahia (rounds 2 and 3) were so technical and slow, or we would have been a lot further down the running,” says Jarred. “The timing couldn’t have been better. After a heap of rain the night before the course was steep, wet and muddy. My favourite type of Rally”.
But then, after all those long nights and hours of work before the event, it all went horrendously wrong on their second hazard of the morning.
The ‘manmade’ hazard was just a series of dug out and piled up humps and hollows on a flat paddock. “It was a fine line between being bellied or flying into the holes” was Jarred’s take. “We just went in a bit hot, and nose-dived hard into the second ditch.”
That nose-dive broke the left hand front trailing arm and diff, ripped out the brake lines and drive shaft, threw off the front belt, and left the engines bottom pulley chewing into the axle housing.
“We had heaps of front-end damage, it was lucky we just sort of bounced out of the ditch and across the line to zero the stage before it stopped.”
Once the #2 Nitro Trucks rig was transported back to the pits, the crew were able to repair or replace all the broken bits, get it all back together, and Jarred and Fleche back into the course.
The pair spent the rest of the day” just flooring it up big hills. My favourite type of rally” repeated Jarred.
And they totally dominated the afternoon, the only crew to clear stage 20 and one of only 3 to clear 10 and 12. The McDells didn’t go down without a fight though, also zeroing #12, and the only crew to zero 8, as well as taking the speed section by almost half a second to comfortably hold onto 2nd.
After the win, Jarred was full of praise for his Whakatane based co-driver, who he said spends an incredible amount of time on the truck. “He’ll think nothing of climbing into his ute after work, picking up some part or other in Putaruru or Hamilton, and bringing it on up to us in Auckland.
He reckons Crawford is the perfect co-driver. “Fleche is a contract log harvester in the bay, so he spends all day in his machine pulling levers in the bush. What better practice could you get?” he asks. “We have really settled in as a team, he’s great at reading what I’m trying to do!”
Neither Phillip Walton (who had totally dominated the Rangiwahia double header weekend) or Rowan Huckstep (a giant killing 3rd place in round 3) were able to repeat their performances, Walton finishing 8th overall, and Huckstep out after just 8 stages in the morning, for only his second DNF ever.
“We had a bit of a tumble over backwards,” Rowan reported on Facebook, “and bent the front of the frame down into the diff and jammed the shifter.”
The mornings retirement rate was unusually high for D-class, with 4 teams out before the halfway point.
Sitting in fourth at midday, Scott Biggs and Sam Thomsen overtook Derek Smyth and Paul Chapman for 3rd then moved into second briefly, till a disastrous 80 to the McDells clear run on #8 dropped them back. Smythe and Chapman held onto 4th, with Russell Luders and Chris Tomalin rounding out the top 5.
Biggs and Thomsen won the morning speed section from Smythe and Chapman, while the McDells won the afternoon from the Biggs and Crawford Nitro 2.
In the smaller classes, Caleb (showboat) Adlam won E, Paul Taylor F, Daniel Morris J, and Brent Ward took out K with a score that would have brought him home ahead of some of the class D trucks.
So with 3 winners from 4 rounds, the series moves up to Ohinewai for the Counties Four Wheel Club hosted Round 5. It’s a chance for either of the Biggs teams, or the McDells to gain a bit of a buffer in a very close top 3, or will the ever present Luders or Smythe trucks finally get that elusive win? Then there is Phil Walton looking for that third win for the season.
As Rowan Huckstep said in his Facebook post, “Bring on round 5!!”
IMAGES THANKS TO SAM BOLTON PHOTOGRAPHY AND MARK PINCOCK