2021/22 National Trials Series, Round 2: MATHER RETURNS TO TAKE THE WIN!
Following the covid inspired musical chairs entertainment in Round 1, Round 2 of the National Trials Series was slightly closer to normal, with the Waikato competitors free to enter, but there was still a big gap at the top with the Auckland based Nitro Trucks crews, especially the Biggs’s NZ1 and NZ2 still in lockdown.
Fresh from his heroics with Fleche Crawford in the borrowed Templeton C-Class buggy in Round 1, Chris Tomalin was back with Russell Luders, while Crawford, NZ2 Jarred Biggs’ regular co-driver, was still out of a seat.
With the event venue situated out at Turakina, scrutineering was held on Friday at sponsors Access Engineering’s workshop, in Wanganui, before the crews headed out to the course Saturday morning.
The event was run in a gully that had been used before, and became very dry and dusty as the day heated up.
“The course changed heaps from when it was pegged out in the rain the weekend before,” says Stuart Earle. “It was much easier than it would have been if it had rained,” he added’ “but it was still really slippery early on in the morning.”
With Tomalin and Crawford out of C-Class, it was back to “business as usual” for consistent front runners, Nathan Fogden and Mike Gibbons.
Driving a Cowper Trucks buggy, powered by a Gibbons Built 2.4 Mitsi motor, the pair had pulled out a big lead, with less than half the penalties of second placed pair of Hayden McGill and Barry Williams, who were a mere 0.26 point ahead of third placed Daniel Morris and James DeCleene, thanks to a .26 second quicker time in the speed section.
Meanwhile, up in the big V8 dominated D-Class buggies, Neville Mather and Richard Verner in “Nitro-3” were making the most of their return, pulling out a 27 point lead over father and son duo of Stuart and Liam Earle in their Cowper Truck “Wolverine”.
The Earles were, in turn, 17 points ahead of Round 1 winners, Sam Thomsen and Mitchell Caldow, “Nitro 1” who were just 3 points ahead of Wayne and Rachel Buckthought, again courtesy of a quicker speed section time, Thomsen and Caldow taking fastest time of the morning.
The Buckthoughts held a mere 6 point advantage over rookies Scott Dickson and Chris Price, also courtesy of the speed stage, all 3 crews collecting 100 penalty points over the morning stages.
Dickson, a horse trainer and farmer from Rata is a relatively new trialist, having bought the Brian Howatt built V12 BMW powered D-class buggy about 3 years ago after a neighbour “took me for a whiz around in his.”
A trip up to watch Dan Cowpers Suzuki Extreme event later that year and Dickson was hooked. “After that I just had to have one,” he admits, “So we found the V12 for sale, and that was it.”
Joining the Wanganui 4WD Club, Dickson has gained experience in club days and competitions, “with a good crew of very helpful people” he reckons.
This season he has been joined by Price, a plumber from Hunterville, who has no experience in the sport either, “but we’re getting more confidence and continuing to learn.”
Dave McKie, Ash Tonkin and Wayne Weatherly sat 6th, 7th and 8th at the midway point, Weatherly having survived a big backward “end over end” early on, then Fogden and Gibbons, whose efforts in C-Class had earned them 9th overall, with Luders and Tomalin rounding out the top 10.
Back down in the smaller classes, Brent and Richard Ward in their 350 Homebuilt K-Class truck were comfortably ahead of fellow K-Class competitors Daniel Whiting and Willow Eayrs, who were holding off J Classes’ Sean Cushing and Geoff Butcher by a mere 0.7 points.
In the afternoon session Fogden and Gibbons just drove away from the C-Class field, finishing with an almost 400 point lead over second place Caleb Adlam and Jarrod Moss, who came from 5th at midway to claim a podium spot.
Such was the dominance of Fogden and Gibbons, they ran 18 of the 28 stages with no penalties compared to Adlam and Moss’s 9.
McGill and Williams meantime dropped to 5th, dropping 60 points to the rest of the field with a disastrous 80 penalties on stage 12.
Morris and DeCleene held on to their third place as results swapped around them, 60 points behind, and just 7 ahead of Rebekah and Jenni Templeton in 4th.
From fastest in class in the morning speed section, Adlam dropped to slowest in the afternoon, while McGill got some consolation with fastest in the afternoon.
Meantime Mather and Verner had a real battle on their hands as they fought to hang on to their lead with Luders and Tomalin winning the afternoon by 20 points.
“We’d had a few dramas in the morning with the new motor,” Tomalin told us, “but we got it running properly in the afternoon, and we were able to pull back a few places.” In fact the effort lifted them from 10th overall to 4th.
“It was a very strange event, with lots still missing, and getting used to the new way of doing things,” he added. “But it was still a good event, with lots of hills, and lots of hazards way up hills. You had to be confident in yourself and your equipment.”
Mather and Verner had slipped back to 4th on the afternoon points count, nearly 40 behind Luders and Tomalin, but their early points lead had given them enough of a buffer to hold out the Earles, who added a second in the afternoon to their morning result and hold on to second overall for the day.
The 6 litre V8 in their Cowper tuck had been pulled down over the winter and almost everything inside replaced, including a “Big new cam” according to Stuart.
“It lets us be a lot more controlled and purposeful,” he says. “We can get really lined up, and then it’s got enough to be able to back off and go again.”
The Earles bought “Wolverine” off Dan Cowper after he brought it back from competing in the UK, and Stuart reckons it’s taken some time to get used to driving the truck after competing in the Lexus powered ”Phantom” from a few years ago.
“Dan navigated for me that first season in it, and taught me to look at things a different way” admits Stuart. “My driving advanced about 4 years in that season” he reckons.
It’s now 18 year old Liams 3rd season in the truck, and Stuart reckons they have calmed down a bit in those three years. “You have to drive to survive, but still take risks at times.”
The biggest challenge he says, is not to use all that power, all the time.
Also holding on to their midday placing were Thomsen and Caldow, taking the final podium step with a 40 point buffer over the fast closing Luders.
Dave and Reece McKee, perhaps showing signs of things to come were 5th overall, managing to open up their 1.1 point midday lead over Ash Tonkin and Callum Haitana to 2.6, the pair swapping places the whole day.
As Luders and Tomalin were powering up the leaderboard after lunch, both Wayne and Rachel Buckthought and the Dickson/ Price team, 4th and 5th at the midway point, suffered nightmare afternoon sessions, plummeting to 12th and 15th respectively.
“We’d had a really good morning,” says Wayne Buckthought, “then we broke a driveshaft on the second to last stage, and we were basically stuck out there with an immovable truck, so we had to fix it on the side of the track.”
They managed to complete their last stage, the speed section, and met most of the field coming out to start the afternoon session as they were coming into the pits for lunch.
“We just grabbed our lunch boxes, turned around and headed back out. Lunch was in the queue waiting for the start of the next hazard.”
However it was to no avail as they had also damaged the front diff lock, and “the afternoon turned to custard.”
It was even harder for Dickson and Price. From the high of 5th overall they “made an amateur mistake” rolling over in and copping a 100 point maximum on stage 18 which most of the field cleared without penalty.
They also suffered a broken axle and “a few other issues” and finished the day 15th overall.
“We’ve still got to learn how to hold it together for 30 hazards,” says Scott. “Meantime we’re out to have a bit of fun and maybe break into the top 10. “It would be pretty cool to do that Suzuki Extreme of Dans one day”
McKie, Tonkin and Weatherly all picked up a couple of places with the demise of the Buckthoughts and Dickson, finishing 5th, 6th and 7th, with Weatherly pulling up to within 6 points of Tonkin at the end.
Kevin Hermansen and Nicholas Hamilton broke into the top 10 at 8th overall, taking out the afternoon speed stage on the way.
Rowan Huckstep and Hendrik Hofstee had a sensational afternoon session, taking 5th place for the session and lifting themselves from 15th at midday to 9th in class and 10th overall at the end of the day.
The ever improving 2021 NZ Sprint Car Champ Jamie Larsen, with Jacob Higgins co-driving, filled out the D-Class top 10.
Further down the field, Cody Fogden and Jacob Muir won E-class, Mike and Ben Black took out F, Cushing and Butcher J-Class and the Wards beat home Whiting and Eayrs to claim K.
As the series works out how to cope with Covid restrictions, and regroups to head for Round Three in Taranaki at the start of 2022, the results are already showing that the podium places will be wide open.
On the topic of the Covid restrictions, Stuart Earle had a special word for the organisers who are still working to put these events on in all this uncertainty.
“I’d just like to recognise the massive effort from the clubs to run events this year. Hats off to them for going ahead, knowing they won’t get much back from a crowd or the sponsors. “We really appreciate it” he said!
Images by Sam Bolton and Kaye Hobart
For more images check out the gallery below: Hint – for best results click the full page icon and check out the information button for the background to the photo.