It all turned pear-shaped less than a kilometre from the start of Nelson’s Annual Ruff ‘n’ Tuff 250 Enduro, when a combination of sun strike and an awkward intersection led a number of the front runners up a short side track — and into chaos.
Fresh from victory in the Mainland Challenge, local Class 1 racer and event favourite, Greg Winn, ended up upside down in the trees, and Winton’s Donald Preston finished with a dead engine following a severe rear impact from Kevin Nankivell.
Nankivell and Ian Uli Cowan both sustained severe front end damage, Cowan losing his left front wheel, and Nankivell left marooned off the edge of the track.
With the race red-flagged before the first lap was completed, Winn and Preston were able to be recovered and towed back to the pits, but the other two were out for the restart.
Due to forestry restrictions, the planned time trial to set the grid positions had been abandoned, and the original start grid selected by marble draw. The restart was gridded up according to drivers positions at the end of that abandoned first lap, so it became a time trial by default.
Preston was unable to get his car restarted, but Winn rejoined from the back of the grid for his second rear-of-field race start in a row.
Auckland’s Mike Fraser took the early lead from Shaun Russell and Dan Fisher all in Class 1, but with Russell disappearing from the lap charts after the first lap, and Fisher retiring on lap six with a CV joint failure, and Fraser rapidly dropping out of contention about the same time, it was Winn who grabbed the lead on lap seven following a storming drive up through the field.
Following a mid-race see-saw exchange for fourth and fifth with Winn on his way through, Cameron Stratford was leading Class 8, and holding second overall before retiring about lap eight, allowing a consistent and conservative appearing local Neville Basilaj to take the runner up spot.
Nelson veteran Ash Kelly, in what should have been an outclassed and outgunned, 3litre flat 4 “VW” powered Cougar, starting fourth on the grid dropped as low as ninth by mid-race. But by continuing to push the pace and holding steady lap times, he worked his way up to a highly creditable third overall, and the final podium step.
Commenting on his first race in three years, Kelly reckoned “neither the car or the driver were 100%. I was pretty rusty, and the car had brake issues, so I didn’t push it as much as I could have.” In fact, the car was locking the front brakes, and Kelly spun five times during the race.
Driving the first of the Side-by-Sides home, from grid position 19, Pukekohe’s Scott Munro picked up fourth in his non-turbo’d Polaris, at the end of an outstanding run to the chequered flag.
Rollercoaster ride of the day would have to go to Joel Giddy, the Aucklander starting ninth in his S Class Yamaha YZX, making his way up to fifth by lap two, then dropping back to 14th after stopping to change a flat rear tyre.
After fighting his way right back up to third by lap 10, Giddy was then to lose two places in the last lap with another puncture. Giddy’s only comment was “it had to be looking good if not for those two tyres, but that’s racing”.
Sixth, and second in U Class, was Tauranga youngster Dyson Delahunty in his Polaris, coming back from dropping as low as 15th by midrace.
Brian Rutgers brought his non-turbo’d Yamaha home in seventh.
First Class 3, and eighth overall was Fergus Crabb. From 36th position, and second last on the grid, a slashing first three laps brought him up to 10th, and with the dramas in the leading group, he was able to pick up a couple more spots as the race progressed.
Winning Class 8 trucks was Paul Preston, who had dropped back to 27th from his start at 12th, before climbing back to 15th overall, just one place ahead of second in Class, Bruce McKenzie.
Effort of the day had to go to Allan Ryder, co-driver of his brother Richie’s sole Class 4 truck entry. After finding themselves in the top 20 early in the race, the pair wound up off-road and in the ditch after a wild ride from losing a rear wheel when the studs broke.
Without a jack, but with spare studs, Allan used a big screwdriver to dig a hole under the truck hub, replaced the studs, and with the wheel refitted they were able to get themselves back onto the track and finish the race. Their reward was the class 4 winners trophy.
John Hodgson, in the only class 10 Motorcycle powered buggy car, home in 13th, and a gutsy drive in the Challenger Class Buggy saw Sam Jury home 25th overall.
In the Kiwi Trucks Enduro prior to the Ruff and Tuff, Harry Hodgson was a clear winner, ahead of Reeve Giddy in his less powerful J Class truck, and Jack Brownlees in his first drive of his new gearbox equipped M Class racer.