From the mud and water that competitors were subjected to at round one, the 2018/19 National Trials Series moved to the Manawatu, where they faced a steep, dry, and testing course for the Manawatu Extreme 4×4 Trial.
Following their hard-won victory at the first round Deadwood event, Aucklanders Scott Biggs and Phillip Walton faced a new threat in the second round with the return of Wanganui’s ex-champs and New Zealand #2 Hamish Auret and Paul Barnes in their LS7 powered Cowper buggy after they missed the opening battle.
Auret commented he was “chomping at the bit” after his offseason was extended by injury, but “we got straight back in, and it felt like we had never been away.”
Biggs had been lucky to finish, let alone win the first round, a badly damaged front diff was discovered following the round, but the truck was repaired, and he started the round as favourite to make it two out of two.
Manawatu locals Derek Smyth and Todd Charman had pushed Biggs all the way in round one and looked to have put their transmission issues from last year behind them. Smyth was upbeat going into his home round, with the Chev LS3 powered Nitro Customs buggy looking good for a home town victory.
But by the halfway point, with all the morning stages completed, it was the South Waikato pair of Russel Luders and Chris Tomalin in their less powerful LS1 powered Cowper Truck holding the slimmest possible lead over Biggs. Both crews had cleared all but one stage with no penalties, both having tripped up on stage nine, Luders collecting two penalties, and Biggs four.
Auret was tied for third with Hamilton pair Neville Mather and Richard Verner in an older Nitro Customs buggy. Catastrophically for Smyth, his transmission issues had returned, and he retired at the midway point.
Under the trials series rules, competitors get to drop their worst scoring round, but with both Smyth and Auret already one round down it’s going to be a challenge for them to score well on the remaining rounds — with no room for error. We knew it was going to be tough right from the beginning,” said Auret. “We all need that one round to drop in reserve, but let’s see how it pans out.”
Running in the lower powered C Class, BOP’s Nathan Fogden was having a blinder, leading the class with half the penalties of second-placed Phil Conwell, and in equal third overall.
In the afternoon stages, Auret really took the fight to Biggs, the pair both clearing all stages, with no penalties, but Biggs had the better of the speeds sections, to come home with a reasonably comfortable margin.
Auret reckons “the car went brilliantly, it hasn’t had a big birthday since it was built six years ago, but it never missed a beat.”
Auret’s performance saw him leapfrog Luders into second, the South Waikato pair unable to repeat the morning’s performance, collecting penalties on four stages, and dropping to third overall
Fogden, however, continued with his giant-killing performance, clearing all but two of the stages, but losing out on the timed speed sections. His class winning performance saw him finish in an amazing fourth overall. Conwell held onto his second in class, finishing tenth overall.
These overall placings don’t count in the Trials champs but are a great indicator of just how hard these C-Class front runners push their rigs.
Biggs brother Jarred won the first of the afternoon’s speed section, while Luders salvaged something from the day, winning the second speed section by just under a second from Jarred.
William Jeffrey took out A-Class from Daniel Howat, the pair battling the tough courses in their similar Suzukis.
From the Manawatu Extreme 4×4 Trial, the teams have a four-week break, before heading to the South Waikato for round three.
With the battle between the Biggs Brothers heating up, and Smyth and Auret playing catch up, it’s going to be interesting at the top.
Check out all the action in the gallery above. Photos by Sam Bolton.