Spectacular offroad action at Asset Finance New Zealand Offroad Racing Championship
Auckland driver Alan Butler has taken the early point lead in the 2009 Asset Finance New Zealand Offroad Racing National Championship with three wins from four starts in the opening round at Meremere in the Waikato.
A newly plotted course proved challenging for some racers, with fast straights and sweeping downhill corners testing both vehicle grip and driver bravery in the “short course” heats.
Auckland racer Rob Ryan rolled his car in a relatively slow section of the track, Whakatane’s Clive Thornton spun out of second place in the first heat for the open class cars, and Waikato driver Pete Tinsley smashed a front wheel off his car in braking at the end of one of the longer straights.
Overall honours for the weekend went to Auckland driver Alan Butler who scored a handy 70 point lead in the 2009 championship with three wins from four starts. The result was hard-won: Butler raced in the Pine Harbour Painters Super 1600 class against the most competitive field in the event including West Auckland’s Rick Sciarone, Albany’s Richard Crabb and Counties drivers Warren Rogers and Matthew Koppens.
At the conclusion of the first three in-class heats, Butler said his race wins were the result of off-season work to sort out the front suspension and gearshifting on his Cougar Evo Toyota. The car, he said, had not missed a beat all day.
“This Cougar has always been fast, but last season we had hassles with the gear shift set-up and it doesn’t matter how much power you are making if you are constantly battling the gearstick. Take away those niggles and all of a sudden we are in race-winning form.”
Butler’s toughest rival throughout the event’s three in-class heats and all-in feature race was Whakatane racer Malcolm Langley, who took three second placings and a class win in his re-bodied Bakersfield Toyota Super 1600.
Langley said the class had finished the 2008 season on a high note and had started 2009 in the same way, with strong grids and well prepared cars which were evenly matched on the fast course.
“The battle between Alan and I went on all day, clean racing but very demanding on both of us. In the early heats I was keeping an eye on three or four other guys who were close to us.”
The in-class heats had taken their toll by the time cars were rolled out for the 15 lap feature race, the heat of competition had eliminated half the Super 1600 field. In that race Butler and Langley were second and third outright, each thus scoring a further first and second placing respectively to add to their totals from the short course heats.
Drury racer Grant Ferguson started in winning form in the Kumeu Transport Engineering open class, but smashed a drive shaft joint in the second heat and was only able only able to fix the car in time for the feature race, where he finished fourth in class.
Race wins in the class were shared around, with hard charger Shayne Huxtable of Taradale taking victory in race two and Whakatane’s Clive Thornton taking race three. The class win in the feature race went to Beachlands driver Neville Smith in his Cougar Honda Turbo, and the class win for the weekend went to Whakatane’s Clive Thornton despite his spin in the first heat.
Papakura’s Nick Hall won the Southern Lakes Transmissions Super 1300 class, kicking off his national title defence against a depleted class. Hall took three wins from three starts in the short course heats, but did not finish the all-in 15 lap feature race and sprained his ankle after the race while bringing tools to repair his stricken car.
The unexpectedly low turnout in the class meant Hall’s sole rival was Waikato’s Peter Tinsley; Hall had an easy run to the class win when Tinsley’s car lost its left front wheel in the third heat. The small field means Hall, who is the defending class champion, does not receive full points for the class win and hands the South Island Super 1300 teams a potential advantage when they race at Dunedin on Anzac weekend.
The “one make” VW Shoppe Challenger class saw close racing between Geoff Matich, Troy Tufnell, Nick Leahy and Shane Campbell, with Matich running out the class winner for the weekend.
Matich and Tufnell tangled in the first heat, the Fuchs car of Matich half-spinning off the course as Tufnell pushed his way to the front, but the race officials ruled the pass illegal and relegated Tufnell back behind Matich in the results.
In the Camco truck classes, Auckland racer Anthony Hewitt had a dream debut for his massive new Dodge Ram V8, scoring two wins and two second placings to win the production class for the weekend and take an early class lead for the series. The Dodge is the first American truck to race production class in New Zealand.
His closest rival, Waikato driver Nigel Newlands, was also racing a new truck, the first 2008-model Mitsubishi Pajero to compete in the sport in this country. He did not complete the race programme after the truck’s engine developed a knock.
Wellington’s Glenn Turvey won class four for modified trucks in his V6 Toyota Hilux and Raana Horan won in a depleted field of the Class 8 ThunderTrucks.
The 2009 national championship continues the successful format of recent years. Racers can only score points in North Island or South Island events, and each series names its own champion, northern and southern titles that stand in their own right below the overall national championship title.
For North Island teams, racing in the 2009 Asset Finance National Championship resumes with a combined enduro/short course on June 27 at Palmerston North; followed a month later on July 26 by the third and final North Island round, an endurance race in Gwavas Forest southwest of Napier.
The first South Island round is an endurance race at Dunedin on April 25. The second round on June 20 is a short course event at Christchurch; the south’s regional rounds conclude at Nelson with a short course and endurance race weekend August 15-16.
To decide the title, the nation’s fastest racers come together for the national final at Christchurch over Labour Weekend, 24-25 October, where they will compete in both endurance and short course events to decide the in-class and outright New Zealand champions.
Top ten, 2009 Asset Finance New Zealand Offroad Racing National Championship after one round of seven
1st Alan Butler 70 points
2nd = Malcolm Langley 66 points
2nd = Geoff Matich 66 points
4th = Anthony Hewitt 64 points
4th = Troy Tuffnell 64 points
6th Clive Thornton 60 points
7th Glen Turvey 56 points
8th = Robert Ryan 55 points
8th = Shane Huxtable 55 points
10th = Shane Campbell 54 points