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Competing in atrocious weather that eventually forced an early halt to racing, Tauranga driver Ben Thomasen has defended his NZ 1000 title in a two-day battle that seesawed between him and Pukekohe racer Carl Ruiterman, who was sharing a drive with Joel Giddy (Silverdale).
Thomasen and Ruiterman duelled throughout the Saturday, Ruiterman in the #27 car taking the lead after Thomasen spun on the first lap, then dropping back when he was nudged into a roadside bank while passing lapped traffic. Though he regained the road, the impact had damaged his front suspension, which failed shortly afterward, forcing repairs to the Gull Yamaha.
Thomasen, driving the latest version of the Polaris RZR 1000, resumed the lead and was not challenged again, taking the first day’s chequered flag in a total elapsed time of 5:48.49. Multiple '1000' champion Clim Lammers (Hikurangi) was second for the day on 6:11.15; UTV racer Nathan Moore third on 6:12.20.
The 20-strong ‘unlimited’ race car class (backed by Ryco) contained four former NZ 1000 champions, but only Lammers was able to challenge the agile UTV or ‘side by side’ class cars of Thomasen, Ruiterman/Giddy, Mike Small and others.
The following day, snow had fallen on the furthest reaches of the course and a brief period of sunshine was soon to descend into a sleet drizzle. The grid for day two was 66-strong, and off the start the battle for the win was between Thomasen and Lammers with Nathan Moore waiting to pounce if the chance presented itself.
Christchurch’s Jacob Brownlees started fourth and put on a determined drive in his unlimited-class car to hang onto the leaders through the opening laps.
Leader Thomasen could afford to preserve his car: Lammers and any other challenger would have to overtake him and claw back margins of 20 minutes or more to overtake him and win. Though that seemed a hopeless task as chill rain once more swept over the course, Ruiterman was one of the big movers of day two and even held the outright lead from lap 3 to lap 8 but was once more overtaken by Thomasen, who went on to win the second day. He had also set fastest time of the day on lap one, an 18:30.738 for the 30 km.
Even when in front, Ruiterman was unable to shake the tenacious Thomasen or erode the advantage of Nathan Moore. Lammers dropped out of contention on lap three and would finish 42nd. On a consistent charge through the second day was former NZV8 star Haydn McKenzie, breaking in a new Can Am UTV in S class. He ran as high as third on the second day and finished fourth overall.
Daniel and Tony Connor were the first non-UTV finished, seventh overall in their class six Toyota; the class backed by Add-Vance Stainless Steel and Pumps.
The course for this year's Polaris NZ 1000 was all-new, and organisers removed several sections of the planned 46 km lap when the extreme weather made the steeper uphill sections risky or impassable. Drivers completed 15 laps of a 30 km course - around 350 km - on Saturday and a further ten laps - 300 km – before racing was halted on Sunday.
Thomasen’s total elapsed time for the shortened event was 9:19.58 – an indication of how treacherous the conditions were throughout the weekend. Second-placed Nathan Moore was 33 minutes adrift; Ruiterman and Giddy in third place were 40 minutes behind Thomasen.