A multiple-car ‘wrong slot” and subsequent series of crashes derailed the hopes of some of the top contenders in today’s opening South Island round of 2010 Asset Finance New Zealand Offroad Racing National Championship.
The ten lap, 165 km endurance race in the Trass Forest was held in dry, near-drought conditions that have prevailed in Nelson since late summer, meaning dust was a problem for many racers.
One of the top entries did not even make it to scrutineering. Nelson offroad race driver and 2009 national champion Dennis Andreassend broke an axle in his Cougar VW Evo and saw his title defence derailed as Christchurch driver Wayne Moriarty profited from the opening-lap crashes and led from there to the finish.
Local driver Ashley Kelly started the day with a bang, smashing the front left suspension off his car in the qualifying sprints, and finished the day in similar style, rolling down a steep section of track in sight of the finish and tearing off the car’s right hand front wheel.
Pole position went to the Australian-built Suzuki-powered class 10 single-seater of Gore’s Hamish Lawlor. He had sprinted to pole with a qualifying time more than one second faster than Moriarty, who was in turn two seconds faster than Christchurch driver Nigel Sutherland.
The early chaos occurred less than one kilometer from the start, with the whole field running nose to tail in thick dust.
A stream of around nine cars including race leader Lawlor missed a turn at an intersection, plunging up a side road before attempting to turn and regain the track. When they did so, a series of crashes occurred as cars slowed unexpectedly in thick dust. Following cars, unable to stop, smashed headlong into the cars ahead, some of them sustaining damage that would put them out of the event.
Among those was the sole class eight entry, Donald Preston of Dunedin, this year running the Toyota Hilux four wheel drive truck built and previously campaigned by Nelson’s Kerry Thomason. The truck has now been fitted with a supercharged Lexus V8 engine and new transmission together with a revised suspension set-up.
Clint Densem, running one of the few class five (Super 1300) cars in the field, was snared in the smashes and went no further.
Also caught out was Nelson’s Darrin Thomason, who has built a new Nissan Titan-bodied class four sport truck. He found himself in the midst of the crashes but the new truck emerged unscathed and he was able to rejoin.
“Then the throttle came loose and we had to get back to the pits with the thing clamped in place by a pair of vice grips,” he said afterward.
A flat tyre added to his debut woes, but once these issues were sorted the truck ran without further fault.
Racing in dust-free air, Moriarty pulled away from the field, setting a first-lap lead of more than two minutes. Second place was held on that opening lap by experienced Nelson racer Gordon Adamson, but he pitted to change a flat tyre and allowed race organiser Clayton Burrow in his Nissan Terrano through.
Former national champion Daniel Powell had qualified fifth in his big American-built Jimco single-seater but was caught up in the first-lap melee. Sport truck class champion Simon Smith crashed out of the event in his new Nissan Terrano.
The car’s new engine specification gives it up to 490 kW (660 bhp), but the big car was proving a handful in the tight tracks of the course.
He pitted with damaged steering before rejoining to fight his way closer to the front of the field.
Making his debut in Darrin Thomason’s former sport truck was local driver Paul Milne. He had played himself in slowly and was able to avoid the tangle of cars on the first lap, and the careful start paid dividends as the race continued.
Behind Moriarty, Gordon Adamson and Nigel Sutherland were locked in a battle for second place, each watching their mirrors for signs that the two unlimited-class cars in the field – Powell and Kelly – were closing in.
Adamson had fought his way back into second place after his first-lap flat tyre and put in a canny drive to stay far enough ahead of Sutherland that the Christchurch driver was unable to close in on him.
Powell lost time with steering damage, allowing Kelly through to lead the class. Kelly had left the pits last when the race started, after frantic work to repair the front left suspension damage caused in his qualifying incident.
Circulating steadily well inside the top ten driving a borrowed production-class Suzuki four wheel drive was former national champion Andrew Thomason. Last seen in Nelson forests in his self-built four wheel drive Toyota Tundra V8, Thomason said he had “a great time”.
“The Suzuki’s pretty stock, but it goes really well. I was left foot braking, smoking the brakes trying to keep speed up in the faster corners, but the car just went so well. I was only passed on the track by one car all day.”
When the chequered flag came out, only winner Moriarty and second-placed Adamson had completed all ten laps, and only 13 cars were classified finishers.
Nigel Sutherland completed a 1-2-3 outright result for class 3 Super 1600 cars.
Behind them Ashley Kelly had the most spectacular finish to the race, clipping a tree stump and rolling partway down the steepest “drop-off” on the course within sight of the finish line. The rollover tore the right front wheel off the car, and it stopped across the track.
Kelly re-started the engine, reversed and drove the remainder of the distance on three wheels without losing track position.
Hamish Lawlor’s class 10 Suzuki had survived a late-race collision with Nigel Sutherland to finish tenth and win the class. He struggled down the steep downhill sections with a bent front suspension but like Kelly was able to finish without further incident.
Moriarty now takes the overall lead in the 2010 Asset Finance New Zealand Offroad Racing National Championship with two rounds complete. Next event in the series is the tough Woodhill 100 endurance race for North Island competitors, held at Queen’s Birthday Weekend northwest of Auckland.