Manukau racer Tony McCall will carry the advantage into the final round of the 2006 Asset Finance New Zealand Offroad Racing National Championship after a strong but not totally dominant performance at the weekend.
Racing at Meremere in the final North Island regional round, McCall met strong in-class opposition from Drury's Grant Ferguson and Whakatane's Clive Thornton.
Ferguson held out the SFL/PPG Cougar Porsche of McCall in the first short course heat for the ultra-fast class one "unlimited" cars, while in the second and third heats he and Thornton were both locked in battle with McCall.
Thornton put in his best drive of the day in the final heat despite rolling his Chenowth-Cougar Toyota halfway through the first lap, recovering to take second place.
McCall's answer was to dominate the afternoon's 160 km Laurance Strude Memorial feature race, maximising his points to take the overall championship lead going into the final round.
Drury racer Kevin Hall dominated the fiercely competitive class three for cars with 1.6-litre engines, driving his Hyundai Forklifts-backed Chenowth to two wins and a second place - the latter taken after he rolled his car out of the lead on a tricky corner, recovered in third place and fought back to second, challenging for the lead on the final lap.
Extensive work carried out at the riverside race track had smoothed out corners and raised average speeds considerably.
In qualifying for the feature race, series sponsor Clive George in his Asset Finance/Easy Loans Toyota Tundra Chev took an early fastest time of 1:12 to cover the single standing start lap of the 2.2 km short course track during the morning's qualifying sprint, which decided grid positions for the feature race.
None of the early-running buggies were able to match that time, but two other ThunderTruck entries were close behind: Whakatane driver Gary Baker on 1:15 and Torbay's Colin Sandford on 1:16.
As the track dried out, though, those times fell rapidly under 1:10 until Tony McCall put in a well judged 1:04 to take pole.
The Manukau racer said close racing in the class could have harmed his championship aspirations.
"We came down there with a game plan - to take the points we need for the Championship. I wasn't going to argue with Ferg in the first short course race - two points is not worth getting into a situation where we could break something. It was enough to go out and dominate the next two and make sure of the feature race."
McCall secured his points advantage with strong performances in the short course heats. Starting from pole for the 160 km feature race, he then set out to lap every car in the field, overtaking second-placed Kevin Hall on lap 29 of 40.
In the closing laps, only Hall, Thornton and truck racer Lyndsay Dowler were able to stay in touch, the first two finishing one lap down and Dowler showing consistent form in the Lowery Toyota Hilux V8 to finish just two laps adrift of the flying Cougar of McCall. Just 15 cars finished the feature race.
The result claws McCall back from sixth in the points standings to an overall lead of 14 points.
Kevin Hall won class three for the weekend with his gritty drive through the short course heats and second overall in the feature race.
Hawkes Bay's Dean Graham took a convincing class five (1.3-litre) short course win and was eighth overall, winning his class, in the feature race.
Lyndsay Dowler won the short course heats with two outright victories and a third placing and was first truck home in the feature race, finishing the weekend ahead of championship rival Gary Baker.
Baker took three second placings in the heats but was forced to withdraw from the feature race with an overheating engine.
The Challenger class for VW 1.6 litre engined cars was won by Dale McIntyre of Auckland.
The final round of the 2006 Asset Finance New Zealand Offroad Racing National Championship will be held September 30-October 1 at Bay Offroaders' farm track near Matata, west on Whakatane.
There, the North Island drivers will race for outright and class titles against the best of the South Island contingent with double points at stake.