From a national invitation list of 12 Prolite spec trucks, eight fronted up at a hot and dry Colin Dale Park for the inaugural running of the Wayco Enterprises New Zealand Prolite Championship in Auckland.
The Prolites are based on the US stadium trucks of the same name, running a space frame chassis, rear wheel drive, V8 power, and limited modifications.
The concept had its introduction in 2012 when Kevin Hall, father of Championship favourite Nick Hall brought a rolling chassis in from the US and fitted an American V8 rather than the 4-cylinder motors the class ran back home.
Interestingly, the V8 concept has since been adopted in America. In NZ, the class has developed with good buy-in from racers, promising a budget class 8 truck, with the potential for good overall race results.
Hall, as ever, looked comfortable on the back of several years dominating the truck classes, but consistent improvements from Craig Carlyle in his American Stamper chassis suggested that the pack was closing up.
Richard Bell travelled from Wellington, keen to mix it with the big boys, his claim to relative inexperience put paid to by his eventual podium finish. Bell said that after competing in the central series last year, it was the one race he wanted to do this season. “If I don’t get to do anything else this year, this was the one I needed to be in to compare myself with the others in the class.” Particularly he wanted to see how he went against Hall and Carlyle.
“Nick is the target,” he admitted. “I’ve still got a way to go, but I just learned so much on the day running behind the pair of them.”
Ex Challenger (VW buggy) class National Champ Cambridge’s Campbell Witherford was anticipated to mix it up with the big boys in his newly imported truck, whilst race sponsor and ex-drag racer Wayne Yearbury returned to the track with an injection of extra horsepower in his Ford powered Dodge.
Dale Buckley made a welcome return sporting a fresh engine after putting on some exciting drives last year.
Last on the grid (literally after an all-nighter preparing the Camco V8), was Graeme Steadman, back campaigning in his old NZ built truck.
The format of the Championship was three open heat races determining the start grid for the one race Championship. These heats were run in conjunction with the Counties Classic heats, bringing another set of variables into the equation
Heat One was everything it promised to be with wheel-to-wheel action, spins and multiple place changes. With a massive tangle of Class One buggies to contend with, the wily Hall ran a beautiful line around the ensuing turn one melee to claim the lead, followed eventually by Cox, Yearbury, Buckley, Carlyle and Bell. Witherford and Steedman were lost to the grid, suffering mechanical issues.
Heat Two saw Carlyle comprehensively jump Hall on the grid, but Hall eventually broke through, and the pair cleared out from the field, leaving the pack to fight it out amongst themselves.
The pattern was repeated for the final heat, but this time it was Carlyle taking it to Hall in a ding dong battle lasting right up to the flag, with Hall again just claiming the win.
The gloves were off with Carlyle issuing a direct challenge to Halls unprecedented reign. However, the intensity of the racing had taken its toll with Cox rolling, Yearbury collecting a culvert drain at speed, and Buckley, Witherford and Steedman dropping out with mechanical issues, leaving a depleted field to face the starter for the NZ Prolite Championship winner take all final.
Carlyle again laid down the gauntlet, jumping Hall off the grid, but Hall established his dominance, grabbing the early lead which he held comfortably until the new for offroad racing in New Zealand mid-race regroup.
The field was keen to grab the opportunity to hijack the placings, but Hall was having no bar of it, winning the run to the first corner and cementing the very first New Zealand Prolite Championship from there, followed by Craig Carlyle and Richard Bell.
The attrition was high and the style of racing a new experience for the traditional off-road racing crowd, but the patrons were treated to the fast and furious V8 action and the wheel to wheel dicing and drama expected from the classes American counterparts.
“This was just great,” said Hall after the meeting, paying tribute to the determination and coordination required to put the New Zealand Prolite Championship together. “The side by side racing was incredible, and hopefully may bring some other racers into the scene.”
For Carlyle, it was all about the racing too. “Super stoked to get NZ2,” he said, “but even more pleased to be the first to nip Nick Hall on the heels.”
For Bell, the result was the icing on the cake. Asked whether he had contemplated a podium he was a bit cagey, “Well, yes and no,” he admitted. “Not so much after the first race, but I’m stoked. It has just made my day!”
Following the success of the concept, moves are now afoot to take the class within a class on the road, with meetings planned at other tracks around the country.
Bell is especially keen to see the trucks head south to Taranaki. “It’s developing into an awesome track, that would really suit the Prolites,” he reckons.
With an entry-level cost of around $50k and all the thrills of high horsepower V8 rear wheel drive action on wide tracks, drivers from other sports including oval track racers, are sitting up and taking a look at Prolite Truck racing.
Check out more action in the gallery above.
MAIN PHOTO | Mike Peffers Photography.