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There were crashes and rollovers in every race, but the new wave of 'side by side' or UTV drivers once more injected excitement into the sport of offroad racing at the Nelson round of the national championship over the weekend.
One of the two UTV classes was won by a North Island racer, Roger McKay, to the chagrin of the locals. Former Otago resident McKay (now based in Taupo) is an uncompromising driver who entered the sport driving a V8 Nissan Safari and has since become a leading proponent of the UTV classes that have swept the sport, taking race and event wins and series titles on their way. McKay won all six races for the U-class (standard) UTVs, assisted somewhat by a rollover that forced key rival Rosco Gaudin (Milford) out of one heat on Sunday.
Bob Uttridge won S class for modified and turbocharged UTVs, while Slim Slee set the fastest UTV lap of the weekend, a 57.663.
The course in Tadmor Vally was battered during the week by the tail end of Cyclone Cook, but both days of racing were held in fine weather and on a drying track. The event was originally to have featured both endurance race and the faster, crowd pleasing short course format.
As the rain lashed the valley during the late-week installation period, organisers first shortened the enduro lap and then on Friday abandoned the enduro altogether, concerned for the safety of competitors.
Switching to a dual short course format means competitors had six race heats against their category rivals, and the Sunday course was a modified reverse of Saturday’s. Saturday set the tone for the weekend: slippery going initially suited the light, agile all-wheel-drive UTVs and they held fastest time until late on Saturday when Christchurch driver Daniel Powell went well under the minute for the 0.9 km lap, posting a 56.840 in his unlimited-class Mazda turbo powered US- built Tatum single seater. Powell won five of his six races over the two days, conceding one win to another Christchurch racer, Jacob Brownlees, when Brownlees slipped into the lead off the start line and Powell stalled his car while in hot pursuit.
The third unlimited-class race car, driven by Nelson's Ash Kelly, had gone out on the Saturday with broken steering and then an engine problem. Female drivers made their mark on the event, with Caitlyn Fleming and Jorja Storer were third and fourth in HasTrak Challenger class (won in dominant form by Andrew Knight); Anita Fleming finished second in 4WD Bits class 8 for unlimited race trucks.
The unlimited truck class was won by Canterbury driver Bryan Chang in his GT Radial Ford Falcon Turbo. Aucklander Dale Buckley travelled south to contest the event, winning all six races but was ineligible for points, having already opened a points tally in the northern section of the championship. He does take the unlimited class lead in the parallel southern regional series, which is non-championship.
Single entries in 4WD Bits class 2, class 3 and class five for offroad race cars netted Ron Crosby, Braden Hill and Clint Densem class wins with Crosby and Densem both scoring a maximum 72 points. Hill languished on 24 points after breaking a driveshaft joint in the third heat of six.
Single entries in the youth classes also took maximum points in their races: Gray Crosby won the Polaris K class and Jack Brownlees won the J class for Kiwitrucks.
Top ten, Mike du Feu Memorial/Star and Garter Ruff'n'Tuff offroad race Saturday and Sunday April 15 and 16
Roger McKay, 72 points, 1= (winner UTV U class)
Ron Crosby, 72 points, 1= (winner 4WD Bits class 2)
Darrin Thomason, 72 points, 1= (winner 4WD Bits class 4)
Bryan Chang, 72 points, 1= (winner 4WD Bits class 8)
Clint Densem, 72 points, 1= (winner class 5)
Jack Brownlees, 72 points, 1=* (winner class 1)
Gray Crosby, 72 points, 1=* (winner Crabb Racing K class)
Daniel Powell, 70 points, 8
Andrew Knight, 66 points, 9= (winner HasTrak Challenger class)
Bob Uttridge, 66 points, 9= (winner JG Civil UTV S class)
*Brownlees and Crosby are youth competitors