Like most forms of Motorsport around the world, the New Zealand Winch Challenge scene has suffered badly through the Covid pandemic, with the South Island Series cancelled, and most North Island events postponed or cancelled.
One venue to buck the trend was the Far North’s Possum Palace, who have managed to find the gaps, and run two major competition events.
Way back in March, the Novawinch “Battle of the Palace” was fought out by 11 teams of three, and at the end of July, the Norwest OHV Clubs Fun Challenge was held, attracting 24 entrants, again in teams of three.
The Battle of the Palace looked set to be a classic Toyota Vs Nissan mud fest with ‘Carbon Killers’ (Owen McCleary with Rob Walker as Winchman, Aaron Smythe and Jayne Wilson, and Steve Reed with Steve Green) in their GQ’s going up against ‘Team Lexus’ (Greg Olliver and Sean Urwin, Leigh Cossey and Karlan Zink, and Ray and Dan Leemeyer) in their respective V8 Toyotas.
But it didn’t go that way for long.
With Team Lexus keeping it clean, and holding first equal with ‘Ricochet Racing’ after the first four hours, Carbon Killers were in a bit of trouble in stage 13 with Reed and Green suffering Winch or Diff Lock issues, dropping them to 4th equal, and with a bit of work ahead of them.
Ricochet Racing (Roger Urwin and Aaron Blomfield, event sponsor Phil Clark with Dave Obery, and Ed Belt with Jeremy Walker) were heading into the afternoon with no issues.
‘Kaimai 4×4’ were sitting comfortably in 3rd, just 30 points behind the joint leaders, and 30 ahead of Carbon Killers and joint 4th place holders, ‘On Smoko’.
Further down the running, ‘Manic Cow’ (Scott and Jess Withers, Matt and Mark Grieve, and Dean Currie with Ash Goddard) were in trouble when Currie and Goddard struck steering issues in stage 7.
The weekend didn’t start well for ‘Angry Dad and Sons’ when Jacob Brett broke his rear diff in their first stage of the day, the daunting ‘801ft Bog’!
Back of the field were ‘Loud and Loose’, one of the team members experiencing the ride of the day when their winch rope broke at the top of stage 5, and they suffered a massive reverse roller coaster ride back down ‘Fritz’s Hill’.
The 801ft Bog took a major scalp in the afternoon when Ricochet Racing lost Urwin and Blomfield with a broken front diff and locker, and they dropped from their share of the lead to sit 4th equal with Carbon Killers by the halfway mark.
Team Lexus held onto their lead, but at this stage they were joined at the top on 330 points by Manic Cow who had top-scored the afternoon stages, picking up 210 points to Team Lexus 120.
Kaimai 4×4 (Jay de Jong, Corey Haywood, and Matty Sayers, and Jethro Giles with Sarah Leigh) held onto their third place, 20 points behind, and only 10 ahead of 4th equal Ricochet Racing and Carbon Killers.
While it was tight at the top, the rest of the field were dropping back: ‘Crusaf’ (Karl Martinovich and Sam Hurley, Brooke Dalzell and Jackson Knight, and Zane and Justin Logan), holding 6th, 190 points astray of the leaders, and down to 2 trucks.
Team Lexus finally stood alone at the top of the leader board by the end of the night section, still enjoying a clear run, 30 points ahead of a charging Carbon Killers, who had caught Manic Cow, in second equal.
Manic Cow had decided to abort their final night stage, after a debate whether to try to fit a light bar to the Currie/Goddard truck.
Despite being overtaken by Manic Cow, Ricochet Racing had managed to hold onto 4th, when Kaimai 4×4 had issues in ‘Barneys v3’ with a truck stuck backwards/ sideways in a ditch, in a “How the hell did they manage that?” moment. Overnight repairs were needed to replace a set of PTO seals.
They finished the night just 10 points behind the Ricochet crew.
It wasn’t getting any better further down the field, Angry Dad had all 3 trucks running as they went into stage 11, but none of them made it out, the team choosing to abort the run. Loud and Loose also had issues with Barneys v3, and ended up having to bypass the hazards, and failing to score any points for the stage.
It was tight at the top as Saturday came to an end, but no-one could have foreseen the dramas that unfolded on Sunday morning, and how much tighter it would get!
Overnight leaders Team Lexus struck trouble when Ray Leemeyer broke his steering box just before the end of their second to last stage, and finishing came right down to the wire, with the crew pulling the box out of their tow vehicle to just make the start of their last stage and so finish on 660 points, at that point still in the lead.
Having fought their way back to second equal after dropping as far back as 6th by the midway point, Manic Cow were struggling with alternator issues on Scott Withers truck on their second to last stage, and were also down to the wire to make the start of their last stage as well. The team was lucky to make it through: just before the start the service crew had spotted loose wheel nuts on Dean Currie’s truck he was able to tighten just before they left the start.
Despite this, they were able to outscore Team Lexus by 30 points, and finish on 660, to take a share of the lead.
It wasn’t going well for Carbon Killers either. Aaron Smythes PTO winch shaft broke in stage 21, which was one of the timed stages, and the team had to use a snatch strap to get Steve Reed through, costing quite a time penalty.
Still, they finished the stage, and the event, equalling Manic Cow’s points for the morning, and so finishing with a share of the lead on 660.
With three teams locked in the lead at the end, it came down to the results of the timed stages as a tie-break. The problems suffered by Carbon Killers dropped them down to third, on 52.15 minutes, 12 minutes behind Team Lexus who had either led, or shared the lead at the end of every section, but lost out in the final score to Manic Cow, who, at 14.58 minutes, had blitzed the timed stages in their epic fightback, and won by 26 minutes.
On Smoko (Joe Wheeler and Nick Holthuisen, Kyle Lennon and Tash Lamb, Scott Williams with Daniel Smith) were another that were running things right down to the wire as well. They started their last stage with less than 5 minutes in hand, but the points gained took them from 6th to 4th at the finish, only ten points ahead of Ricochet and Kaimai, 30 back in 6th.
It had been a typical Possum Palace event, punishing any small mistake, or gear failure. The purpose-built tracks take a massive toll on drivers, crews and machines.
Strangely enough, the first place half the crews headed to after the county came out of lockdown, was straight back up to Possum Palace, to do it all again at the ‘Fun Challenge’.
With Team Lexus and Manic Cow missing, though, who was going to step up and take it to Carbon Killers. Don’t go too far away, we’ve got coverage, and some stunning photos coming soon.