The central North Island resort town of Taupo is cementing a global reputation as the home of one of the longest, fastest and toughest endurance races in the world.
Almost 100 offroad race teams from Australia, North America and New Zealand will arrive in the resort town in late August to contest the Asset Finance Taupo 1000, a two-day 1000 kilometre forest endurance race that has become the sport’s Australasian flagship event.
International teams from the USA and Australia head the strongest entry list for the in many years. Many in the sport are convinced this year’s entry will be a record-breaker with 92 or more cars and trucks taking their place on the grid when the race starts.
Race organiser Tony Saelman says though records of entries in the first couple of events are not available, the 2011 entry is certainly the biggest in the years he has been involved in the race.
“We have the most volunteers, the most entries, the most international teams ever, and we will have the biggest pit lane village the race has ever seen. Support for the race has been amazing, both locally and from overseas.”
Australian teams heading for the race include regular visitors Tom and Roly Dixon, Tom driving the big Southern Cross Roly ran at the previous Taupo 1000 and Roly promising an all-new car to run in class one with a turbocharged Nissan V6. The car will have a silhouette resemblance to the new-shape VW Beetle and Dixon is planning a big future for it that may lead to an entirely new race category running within existing classes of the sport both in Australia and New Zealand.
High profile Ausie Brad Prout ran at the previous Taupo with Roly Dixon, but is bringing his own high-spec V8 race car over to run in class one.
From the USA comes ex-pat racer Mike Hughes, who is the new owner of the ex-Warren Arthur/Colin Sandford Ford F150 desert truck. Other North American teams are expected to have confirmed by early August including Jeremy Poleslider and Arturo Hernandez.
Defending New Zealand champion Donn Attwood is confirmed to bring his RV Magnum Toyota two-seater to the race.
The event will feature at least four former Taupo winners: Alan Butler of Mt Albert, Tony McCall of Manukau, Clim Lammers of Hikurangi and the current champions, Clive and Max Thornton of Whakatane.
More than half the 2011 entries are from truck and four wheel drive teams, with Red Beach racer Raana Horan relishing the chance to return to the event and run at the front.
“Raana went out hard at the previous race but reliability slowed him on day one and then he was out of the event on day two, so he’s got those issues well sorted now and says he’s aiming to make an impression on the event this time around,” says Mr Saelman.
A strong candidate for a sport truck class win in his Mitsubishi Pajero Evo is Gary Scott of West Auckland.
Likely to run at the sharp end of the field is Winton’s Donald Preston, who may well be making the longest journey of any New Zealand team to compete at this year’s event. Preston has been steadily developing his Toyota Hilux, which runs in the same class as Horan’s V8 supercharged Nissan Titan. Both trucks are four wheel drive, Preston’s running a Lexus V8 with an Eaton supercharger.
Tony Saelman says there will be “huge” interest in the promised battle between Cougar race car brand co-founders Tony McCall and Neville Smith.
McCall is to debut an all-new mid-engined V8 race car built by Buckley Systems Limited’s race shop under the BSL Terra brand name; Smith and Andrew Hawkeswood are coming back to Taupo with Smith’s advanced Cougar Honda turbo.
The two cars have similar weight, McCall’s will produce 600 bhp and 600Nm from its 6.2-litre Chev V8 while the Smith Cougar’s power and torque are similar depending on the car’s boost setting.
Final cut-off for entries in the 2011 ASSET Finance Taupo 1000 is August 7. More information is available at the race website, www.taupo1000.co.nz