Sam Thomsen & Mitchell Caldow narrowly win the National 4×4 Final held in Thames Valley, ahead of a superb performance by Craig Potter & Mike Hill.
The Final Round of the 22/23 Lucas Oil NZ 4×4 Trials Series took place on April 15th in Puriri, hosted by the Thames Valley 4WD Club. The course was laid out over 3 separate gulley’s along the hillside, with the 30 sections making the most out of the land on offer. Overcast weather on the day came with the threat of showers, however the conditions remained dry (and muddy!) with only a few drops in the morning.
Thomsen/Caldow had done enough to win the title at the last round in Manawatu, taking the title with a round to spare! AGAIN! However, there was still one score to settle. Title rivals Neville Mather & Richard Verner shared four wins a piece with Thomsen & Caldow during their time competing over the last two seasons.
Thomsen/Caldow lead the morning on 364.54 points and more importantly 57 points ahead of Mather/Verner, followed by Nathan Fogden & Mike Gibbons on 364.73, just 0.19 points behind! Fogden/Gibbons were tasked with holding onto the 3NZ spot ahead of Neal Turner & Wade Alexander. As fate would have it, the two were drawn together in the morning with team Zook-Sport showing team Hijinx the way.
Turner/Alexander were 20 points behind Fogden/Gibbons in the morning, before fighting on in the afternoon to take 3rd overall ahead of Fogden/Gibbons in 6th. Mather/Verner couldn’t recover from their morning and had to settle with 4th on the day, followed by Dan Cowper & Luke Donald rounding up the Top 5.
In second place was none other than Craig Potter & Mike Hill, just 6.17 points behind Thomsen/Caldow in one of the closest finishes in the sports history! After heartbreak at the last round in Manawatu where the duo retired due to transmission issues costing them a season placing, they scored 385.15 points in the morning leaving them 6th, before going on to win the afternoon with a score of 206.09. The result makes it 2 podiums from 4 events this season, with their improving form meaning that first win is only just another grading away!
Rounding up the Top 10 on the day was Phil Hobart & Shane Beech with their rear engine Homebuilt, their first appearance since finishing a fine 6th at Round 5 last season. A consistent score of 423 points in the morning followed by 427 in the afternoon saw them nab the final spot by 2.55 points ahead of Russell & Glen Hall.
Further down the field Aaron Guest & Gary Preston who were in the contention for 3NZ had to withdraw due to illness. The silver lining being that they had already done enough to qualify for the Suzuki Extreme 4×4 Challenge from the first five rounds.
This meant former 1NZ Scott Biggs had a late call up to borrow Guest’s Nitro Custom for the day with Garry Preston alongside. Biggs was an outside shot for the Top 10 sitting in 13th heading into the final. Biggs/Preston gave themselves the best chances by putting in a belter of a morning to sit 3rd overall at midday! However, power steering issues started their afternoon off with a maximum 100 penalty points on course 12 before ultimately pulling the pin five courses later.
Scott & Quintion Donald in the LS7 CowperTruck also had mechanical failures, with their gearbox turning into a box with no gears throughout the morning before ultimately calling it a day.
In A Class Brinn Fogden & Sean Bydeley kept the Suzuki SJ413 (mechanically) together on a trying day, only managing to reach the 60 grading three times. A rollover in the morning saw a bit of body repairs to give the young guns from the Bay of Plenty plenty to do in the off season!
Zook-Sport 4WD Rally Team Nathan Fogden & Mike Gibbons took out C Class on the day following it up with 6th overall. The crew conceding the 3NZ spot to Team Hinjinx Neal Turner & Wade Alexander. A costly roll on the ungraded section in the afternoon saw them take a maximum 100 penalty points, whilst Team Hinjix were one of few to clear it for zero penalty points. Had the Zook-Sport crew also taken zero points on the ungraded they would have bet Team Hijinx to 3rd by 1 point! Nevertheless, 4th Overall marks the team’s best ever result, up 5 places having scored a previous best of 9th Overall last season. Zook-Sport are also the first C-Class vehicle to finish Top 5 in over 5 years, when Phil Conwell & Paul Chapman finished 5th Overall back in 2017.
402c Racing Shayne Towers & Tony Hadland having already missed out on class honours for this season, were all set on claiming that lucrative Top 10 spot and automatic entry into the Suzuki Extreme 4×4 Challenge. In what would be the first time in 5 years that two C Class buggies have finished in the Top 10, Towers/Hadland running 9th heading into the final managed to bump up into 8th Overall for the season! After a tie on points with Aaron Guest & Gary Preston, the 402c crew won the tie breaker to sit 8th instead of 9th. Because the team finished all six rounds of the season, compared to Guest/Preston on five, the Competition Regulations state that in the event of a tie the placings will be taken over all six rounds, favouring Towers/Hadland.
After a dismal showing back at Round 4 with a broken rear diff for the majority of the afternoon, the decision to never give up sees a lowly 29th position on the day make the difference.
3rd Outright in C Class for the season was a battle amongst four, with John Hawken / Blair Harrison holding a two-point lead in front of Caleb Adlam / Jarrod Moss, Rhys O’Brien / Clarrie Vazey and Glenn D’Ath / Jacob D’Ath.
Hawken/Harrison dropped out of contention with a poor showing in the morning leaving them 7th in class on the day. The D’Aths were only 12 points ahead to claim 6th. Hayden McGill & Barry Williams enjoyed their result of the season to finish 5th in class. This meant that Hawken/Harrison’s advantage had dwindled to zero, giving opportunity between Adlam/Moss & O’Brien/Vazey to fight for 3rd!
O’Brien/Vazey held a narrow lead of 3 points at midday, with Adlam/Moss suffering cooling issues early in the day seeing them rush through the remaining morning courses. With the latter back on song in the afternoon, Adlam/Moss narrowly reclaimed the lead by 28 points to finish 3rd in C Class on the day and taking 3rd in C Class overall in their first full season!
In E Class Cody Fogden & Karl Burgener finished their second season in style, taking another win as they claim back-to-back E Class titles. Having learnt heaps over the last two seasons and pushing the Zook-Sport Suzuki to the edge, the duo will be eyeing the next step up!
Andrew & Janet Graham were the sole entrant in K Class. Taking another win on their way to their first K-Class title and Andrew’s first Class title since winning F Class in the same Cowley’s Hire Special back in 2005, 18 years later! The team again kept touch with the more capable C/D class buggies, finishing ahead of one and within 40 points of the next.
The Top 10 and automatic entry into the Suzuki Extreme 4×4 Challenge was set at days end, with a few notable names:
Chris Tomalin & Fleche Crawford in their procharged Tomalin Built Special finished 11th Overall for the season, enough for them to gain entry to the Suzuki Extreme 4×4 Challenge with Dan Cowper stepping aside to manage the CowperTrucks event.
A full breakdown of the Lucas Oil NZ 4×4 Trials Winners for 2023 and all the stats will be coming up next month, with the 2023/2024 Season kicking off on 12th November 2023 with Counties hosting the first round of next season!