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He’s been championship leader for five weeks, but North Island racer Nick Hall looks likely to lose his advantage when the fastest South Islanders race this weekend at West Melton and Ohoka near Christchurch.
Pukekohe-based Hall cannot race in the South Island rounds of the championship, which are divided on a regional basis. He currently holds a narrow six point lead in the 2011 Mickey Thompson New Zealand Offroad Racing Championship.
But a record entry for this year’s championship looms at the Christchurch round, the Mainland Challenge, and among them are several leading teams keen to unseat the Aucklander. As at Wednesday June 1 there were 36 cars and four wheel drives entered, with another half dozen likely to be late entries.
The championship points battle will be keenly fought out in Christchurch. Dennis Andreassend still leads the unlimited category, Whakatane Commercial Spares Class One, after a dominant performance in muddy going at the opening round in Nelson. He held the outright championship lead for just a week between the Nelson round and Palmerston North; he now has his chance to regain the lead with the next round, the Mainland Challenge at Christchurch on June 11 and 12.
The team has been making the most of the break between the first and second South Island rounds to fettle the Cougar Evo VW; Andreassend is an aggressive driver who has always made the most of the stadium-style racing that forms the first day of racing at the Mainland Challenge.
Ranged against him in the unlimited class are Christchurch driver Tim Culling and Nelson’s Ashley Kelly. Powell is bringing out his big US-built Jimco, Culling is also racing an American car while Kelly will contest the round in his New Zealand-built single-seater with Nissan turbo power. Other unlimited-class teams are expected to add to the grid excitement on Saturday.
Racing at his home track and aiming to mount a challenge for AFWE class two (production truck and 4WD) points is Steven Boyd in his fast Suzuki four wheel drive – meaning Blenheim’s Mark French will not have the class points to himself in his Land Rover.
Also out to amass points is Wayne Moriarty, a leading entry in the Bu-Mac Super 1600 class in his Euroblast Cougar Toyota. Moriarty has just taken delivery of a new car from the USA so the 2011 Mainland Challenge may be the final outing for his immaculate Cougar.
There are seven teams entered in the Super 1600 class including Nigel Sutherland, Bruce Rolls and Gordon Adamson, all contenders for podium finishes and outright race wins.
Leading entries in AFWE class four for modified trucks and 4WDs is are long-time rivals Simon Smith of Christchurch (Nissan Pathfinder) and Darrin Thomason of Nelson (Nissan Navara).
Clint Densem is the first entry in Leader Products class five for Super 1300 race cars.
The crowd-pleasing AFWE class eight for ThunderTrucks is well populated: Donald Preston is making the trip north from Winton, and will race against locals Bryan Chang (GT Radials Ford Falcon) and Neil Falkingham (Range Rover) along with Mike Holmes of Nelson.
Organisers expect strong entries in the VW-engined Coms4U Challenger class will deliver close racing: Nelson class winner Chris Devereaux goes wheel to wheel with fellow Cantabrians Terry Munro, Andrew Johnstone and Rob Palmer and put regional pride on the line with entries from Simon Craig, Paul Strickett and Paul Cooper of Nelson along with seasoned racers Adam Reid and Barry Phillips from Otago.
A stand-out feature of the Nelson round was the close racing among the “Odyssey” race cars in Coms4U Class 10. Murdock Halliday, Glen Milroy and Mark Morris are the leading entries in this class, with Nelson class winner Hamish Lawlor a late entry in his fast Australian-built Barracuda single-seater.
Always a highlight of the racing year, the Mainland Challenge features a stadium-style day of short course racing at the club’s permanent track at West Melton along with an endurance race on farm land.
Stadium-style short course racing at West Melton starts at 11.00; endurance racing at Ohoka the following day gets under way at noon. There are three five-lap races for all classes and an all-in sprint race over 15 laps to finish the first day; on Sunday. Gate admission on the Saturday is $10 per adult, $20 per family with children under 12 admitted free.