Tough Terrain and Tight Times in Tuakau

They used to say, with absolute certainty, that to finish first, you first have to finish – and nowhere does that hold true more than motorsport!

Well, it did until a few years ago when Jim Richards beat Dick Johnson in a very wet Bathurst, after a big pile-up, and cemented his place in Kiwi Legendhood with his victory speech, “You’re all a pack of ………!

But father and son duo Raymond and Daniel Leemeyer proved that it is mostly still the case when they won the Open Class of the Manukau Winch Challenge, the only team to finish every stage.

They also say “Slow and steady wins the race”. That may be the case at times as well, but when the first three stages of the event have six different winners over two classes, slow and steady was never going to cut it.

On the way to their Class win, the Leemeyers won five of the events 13 stages, matched only by the second-placed pair of Aaron Smythe and Jayne Wilson, who dropped out of contention for the win when they DNF’d a very tricky stage six.

Raymond and Daniel Leemeyer on the way to Open Class dominance

In fact, the Leemeyers, and eventual third place getters Jay and Joel de Jong, were the only Open Class teams to register a finish on that stage.

Following the three Friday night stages, Paeroa’s Angus HamiLton and Matt Holley were in the box seat, having won one stage, and finishing second in the other two. The pair, competing in their first serious competition, had already had a serious drama before the event even started, when a voltage fault caught the truck on fire while re-spooling the winch rope prior to scrutineering.

They were able to rewire the truck on 12 volts before the start of the night stages, but were operating with their 24v winch running at half speed, and with half power for the entire weekend.

Smythe and Wilson headed into the start of Saturday’s rounds in third, 20 points behind the Leemeyers, with the de Jongs, Corey Haywood, Steve Reed, and Tony Smith in a very tight bunch just behind them.

Aaron Smythe and Jayne Wilson second in Open Class

Not doing so well was the Hawkes Bay team of Nigel Reid and Ian van Geldorp who lost the winch in their long-serving Suzuki, while the Shore 4Wheelers pairing of Roger and Sean Urwin were forced out when their front diff failed in stage two. The pair run an uncommon ratio in the Nissan, and were unable to secure replacement parts.

The pace was even hotter at the top of the higher-spec “Outlaw” class after the night stages, where the three stages had actually had four winners, after a timing correction saw initial winners, Stan Goodman and Chris Golding relegated to second, and Mike Inns and Chris Soderberg take stage 1.

Dean Currie and Ash Goddard took stage 2, and Leigh Cossey, with Kardan Zink, headed the field in stage 3.

By the time all three-night stages were over, Currie, with 280 points, led Goodman by ten, and Inns was just five points back in third. Cossey was four points in arrears, in a tie for 4th with Fraser Hyde and Michael Duncan.

Nigel Reid and Ivan van Geldorp suffered winch issues during the night stages.

Grant Stone and Cy Blake were out very early on, not able to complete the first stage.

A bright, sunny morning greeted the fields at the start of the day stages, out from Pokeno, on the banks of the Waikato River. Conditions were mostly dry on the tight, and fairly technical course set by the Manukau Club, but several deep bogs lay in wait.

It was to be a tough and testing day, with only three of the original field of ten in Open Class starting stage 13, and Outlaw down to five of their original ten by the end of the day.

Of all the finishers, Hamilton and Holleys’ effort to take out 4th in Open is probably the best tale of determination for the weekend. In the lead after the night stages, but running with only half power to the winch, the pair had racked up a stage win, and a couple of top three places, when a big end-over-end roll should have seen them DNF the day.

The Matamata Piako Towing LSV8 powered Hilux was recovered from the stage, dragged back to the pits, winched straight, re-scrutineered, and rejoined the fray.

The team ran the next five or six stages without a windscreen, and by the end end of the day, the truck looked very second-hand. “We had one last stage to go,” says Hamilton of the days’ efforts, “but we got a puncture, with a large stick through a tyre, and just couldn’t make the start.”

Angus Hamilton and Matt Holley battled rollover damage to take 4th in Open Class

“It was a very tight track,” he added, “we are relatively compact, but still found it a bit hard to fit at times. We had a great day, but broke a lot of stuff!” Among that broken stuff were both front CV’s, which weren’t discovered until a club trip a couple of weeks later.

Jay and Joel de Jong put in a very consistent day, with six top-three stage results, including a win in the mud of stage 6 (one of only two to complete the stage), to come home 3rd in Class, a comfortable 120 points ahead of Hamilton, but three DNF’s kept them  140 behind Smythe and Wilson.

Ironically it was stage 6 that caught out Smythe, his big Nissan was so deeply embedded in the bog it took three recovery vehicles to get it back onto solid ground. As the eventual winner, Ray Leemeyer said, “He went straight in, then he went straight down.”

Even so, Smythe and Wilson weren’t able to really take it to the Leemeyers, finishing 150 points behind. Although matching the winners’ five stage wins, they were unable to counter the Northerners’ sheer consistency, which saw them in the top three in every stage, collecting five wins, three seconds, and five thirds.

“We were a bit fortunate with that mudhole” Raymond admits. We were late there, and were well aware of the carnage it had caused. After Jay got through, it just trapped everyone.”

“Daniel had a look around the edge of it, and reckoned it was solid enough to get through if we sacrificed a peg”, he added. “So we hit the peg instead of the bog, collected fastest time, took the penalty, and came out with 90 points for the stage.”

Raymond Leemeyers Toyota powered Jeep

“It was a typical Manukau event”, he grinned, “pretty tight, and you don’t want to run over the pegs!”

The win was another good result for the always well-presented black #60. Ostensibly a TJ Wrangler, underneath it is all Toyota. The original Jeep chassis wears 80 series diffs and suspension, a supercharged 1UZ Lexus V8, and a Prado transfer case, which drives the PTO winch.

“We need to have a look at the suspension”, says Raymond. “We are keen to have a look at the Ultra 4 competitions coming up, but the shocks especially are getting pretty tired, so we will need to tighten it up a bit before then.”

In the Outlaw class, Currie and Goddard started off as they had finished the night before, with a first, second and third on their first stages of the morning, then it all came to a grinding halt, “At the end of our third stage, there was a sharp ditch,” explained Dean. “We tried to drive it, but came to an immediate halt. Stopped dead!”

Dean Currie and Ash Goddard lead Outlaw Class until forced out with front axle damage.

They managed to claw their way out and finished the stage, but their day was over. “The front axle housing was bent way beyond repair,” says Dean. “Both ends were bent up, but the left was bent way back as well. The CV’s were jammed so hard into the knuckle we had to cut the housing to get the axle out!”

“The truck had been going real well up till then, we knew how far up we were, and we were totally gutted.”

Also out early were Mike Innes, with a broken engine mount after two stages, and Robin Scaife, who retired the revolutionary Cowper 4 wheel independently sprung “Buggy” after four stages, with a destroyed universal joint.

Robin Skaife’s broken unbreakable universal joint.

Up front it was Stan Goodman and Chris Golding who seemed to be building a stranglehold on the event, but being pushed hard by Hyde, locals Bernie Konz and Ant Tangye in their first outing in Bernies V8 spaceframe buggy, and Leigh Cossey.

When Cossey and Zink won their second stage it looked like they were well in the running, but 2 stages later they were gone, finishing 6th in class.

Adam Martin and Dan McKeown had been running steadily in or around the top 5, till their progress was derailed by a disqualification on stage 7, and a DNF with one stage to go were classified 5th, just behind Tim Randall and Luke Vitasovich, who had been just getting on with the job all day, making steady progress as others fell out of the reckoning.

Tim Randall and Luke Vitasovich held it together to claim 4th in Outlaw.

Their progress through the field included two second and two third stage placings.
Coming into the day stages in second to last place after a very cautious night run, Konz and Tangye got better and better as they came to terms with their brand new mount. “It was only our second ever time in the truck” admits Konz, “And the first was just a quick test to do a bit of data logging.”

The Buggy is a full tube space frame set-up, built by Bernie to his own design, to be as light as possible under the rules. “We were aiming to take advantage of that lightness”, says Konz, “trying to apply more brain than brawn.”

Mind you the brawn was available when needed, supplied by a superb sounding 400 cubic inch Chev “Bowtie” V8, that seemed to spend most of the day at idle.

Konz and Tangye were returning after a 30-month break, and claimed to be under no stress debuting the new beast. “We had a ball,” said an elated Konze speaking after the event.

The upset win, with Hyde and Duncan’s little 2.4litre, Mitsi L200 based weapon, taking out Goodman and Golding’s big block LSX V8 powered Ultra4 buggy, nearly didn’t happen. In fact, Hyde and Duncan were originally classified in second place, and didn’t realise they had won until they were looking at the results sheets a few days later.

Once they saw they had been incorrectly classified as not having started stage 9, they contacted the organisers to protest the result, and after a recount, they were awarded the win.

Even before that, they were lucky to finish the morning when the diff head bolts were ripped out of the front housing, on their 3rd stage, the axles being the only things holding the head in place.

Fraser Hyde and Michael Duncan overcame mechanical and pointscorer issues to take both Outlaw and overall victory.

The truck was towed back to the pits, and Hyde despatched into Pokeno to find replacement bolts and a thread tap, while Duncan and the crew stripped the diff, drilled out the damaged holes, and cleaned everything out, ready for the new parts.

“When I found the shop in town, they were ready to close up, if they hadn’t been serving a couple of late customers we would have been stuffed,” says Hyde, “but they had the bolts we needed, found a thread tap, and I was on my way back.”

By the time Hyde got back, the crew had even had lunch, and were ready waiting for him. They retapped the threads, and had the whole thing reassembled, ready to go about 2 hours after the damage occurred.

“It was just amazing to be back in it so fast,” says Hyde, “The guys and girls did an incredible job getting us going at all, let alone that quick.”

Meantime fellow Tararua clubmates Goodman and Golding were wasting no time getting the results on the board.

“We had been a bit cautious the night before,” claims Goodman, “we were kinda nervous because you can’t really see anything, so were just a bit careful. We lost our way on the first stage, and had to back up to get back on the track, and then had a big off on the last one.”

Stan Goodman and Chris Golding second in Outlaw Class.

“We were so wide we had to put two wheels up a big bank on a steep downhill, and had to recover by driving straight down the hill.” He added, “I had to be a bit brave because all I wanted to do was to hit the brakes.”

By the end of the day, the pair had racked up five wins to Hydes four,  and were declared the winners. It wasn’t till a recount was done following the discovery of the error, that Hyde and Duncans superior number of second and third places gave them a 40 point victory.

“We were pretty gutted when we found out,” admitted Goodman, “but all credit to Fraser and Michael, they did very well.”

Overall winners Fraser Hyde and Michael Duncan were initially awarded second place.

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