It’s an achievement that’s going to take some matching, New Zealand Trials champion, two years in a row, first as co-driver, then as driver, in the same truck!
Believed to be the 1st time it has been done back to back, that is what Sam Thomsen managed when he racked up a total 397 points from a possible 400, to take the NZ1 title with a round to spare, in the 2021/22 Lucas Oils backed National 4×4 Trials Series.
The season had got off to a confused start when the northern competitors had been forced to miss either one or two rounds due to evolving Covid regulations, and officials were left deciding how to even out the playing field for those teams that had been affected.
Traditionally the series is competed for over 6 rounds, with teams able to drop their worst result.
By the time the crews had made it through Round 5, the decision had been made that the results from the first two rounds would count, but teams could drop their worst two scores, reducing the handicap on the northern drivers, but not quite eliminating it.
Among those were the defending NZ1 and NZ2 drivers Scott and Jarred Biggs, who were obviously on the back foot when it came down to defending their titles.
Things were made even harder for Scott, having to come in part way through in a brand new truck, having sold his 2020/21 series winning truck to Navigator Thomsen.
Thomsen was no stranger to D-Class, having competed in the class for 5 years, before taking a couple of years off to co-drive for Biggs.
“The very first buggy I built was a D-Class, built from a Nissan Safari,” explains Sam. “It even had a petrol Safari motor in it.”
“It was used in everything from Trials to Winch Challenges, and as a club bush truck.” Tucked away in Sam’s trophy cabinet are a couple of trophies he won in the old “Bush Pig” in Teams Winch Challenge events in Rallywoods, near Wellington, and Possum Palace, in the Far North.
After getting the bug he started looking for another more competitive truck, and when an ex-Dan Cowper/NZ1 truck came up for sale, Sam was quick to do what he could to purchase it.
With it looking a bit tired and battle scarred, he completely stripped the frame for some much needed TLC and made it his own.
From there he did another couple of seasons in D-class, developing the specific driving skills required for that level of competition before priorities changed.
“I decided I needed to sell it when we did some Reno’s and stuff around the place,” he explained, “then I heard Scott needed a co-driver, so I offered my services.”
The result of that decision was the first NZ1 title.
“By the end of that season, Scott was looking to build a new truck, so we struck a deal for me to buy the old one” says Sam. “It worked out pretty well, I got a great truck, and he got access to the service wagon.”
“But part of the agreement was ‘I had to do well on the day’” he grinned.
And the result of that decision was the second NZ1.
The truck is the original Nitro Customs #1, and the basic design remains as the backbone of the increasing number of Nitro Customs competing in the trials series.
“Scott’s goal was to get it under a tonne, so the frame is built from Chrome-Moly where ever the rules don’t specify steel.”
Inside the cockpit, the most obvious thing is the “pyramid” array of bars and panels that give the Nitro Customs frames their rigidity, and wide, low stance.
Tucked into that frame is a worked 6.0 Chev LS2 V8, with after market ported heads, and a matching camshaft. Tuned injectors and extractors maximise the big Chev’s ability to breathe.
A Toyota Windom transmission drives through a Windom diff that has been radically adapted to act as a front/rear transfer box, directing the power to a pair of also highly modified differentials.
Carrying Tomalin Engineering hydraulically operated lockers, and Tomalin alloy hubs, the rear is a Toyota diff head, in a lightly reinforced Toyota 80 series housing that shows a few scars from battle damage repairs.
A traditional 4 link, 2 upper and 2 lower, suspension configuration completes the layout.
The front is much more a specialised unit, again carrying Tomalin lockers and hubs, but with a Nissan Safari head in a Nitro Customs housing, with 80 series axles and outer shafts.
Again the diff carries a 4 link suspension set-up, but this time with 2 lower arms, and one high mounted top arm, and Panhard Rod from the same diff head bracket.
American made ORI dual chamber Nitrogen filled shocks provide ride and handling control, and Willwood discs and calipers provide the stopping.
All 4 brakes can be operated individually by the co-driver. A two way hydraulic ram and short tie rods provide very light and accurate steering inputs, augmented by a truck style “Spinner” on the steering wheel.
Current NZ1 Co-driver Mitch Caldow has been with Thomsen since the old “Bush Pig” days, only competing as a driver in his own C-Class buggy when Sam was with Biggs, and took no convincing to team up again in the No77 Nitro truck.
Pre season Thomsen and Caldow teamed up in their respective buggies, to win the Mt Egmont Pairs Championship, which is also possibly another first.
12 Inch Alloy “Beadlocked” wheels, with OMF outer rings, carry a set of 35×12.5×15 Federal Couragia M/T tyres. Sam has just fitted a brand new set for the defence of his title.
“We’ve decided we need to take it half pie serious” reckons Sam, who is even missing a mates wedding to compete in Round 1.
The profusion of decals and signwriting on the freshly renumbered NZ1 illustrates the level of support the team enjoys.
Sam wanted us to especially mention Caldow and the other members of the crew, Jamie Elms, Jack Squires, Ricky Hunter, Rachel Buckthought and Tommy B from Nitro Customs.
Among the supporters and sponsors are Caldow Builders from Foxton, Rangitikei Tyre and Salvage (Wanganui), Pro Frame (Auckland), Fused Auto Electrical (Manawatu), All Terrain Alignments (Marton), MT Hire and Contracting (Fielding), Agri Fencing Solutions (Bulls), NAB Contracting (Wanganui), and Service and Maintenance Specialists (SAMS) from Hunterville.
Top of the list, though, is Sam’s wife, Jess. “Obviously without her behind me I just couldn’t do it” acknowledges Sam.
Jess is also the driving force behind the “77 Club” so called because 77 was the number the buggy carried before gaining the #1 for this season.
“The plan is for 77 people to donate $77 to help keep us going”, she says. The members of the club are all acknowledged on the roof panels of the truck.
Thomsen is under no illusions of the task ahead, defending his NZ1 title in 2022/23, with some fierce opposition likely from Scott Biggs, who had a charging finish to his shortened 21/22 season, after a late start and sorting an all new “Nitro 9”, and current NZ2, Kevin Hermansen in the Supercharged LSA powered Cowper build “The Gambler”
“Hermie” pushed Thomsen hard at times in the last season, and with builder Dan Cowper having rejigged and upgraded the unique truck, he is probably the most favoured to knock Thomsen and Caldow off their top perch.
But my money is on Thomsen and Caldow. With a very sorted truck, and a very experienced combination, I reckon that #1 will stay on Nitro 1.