After 10 years of trying, Neal Turner & Wade Alexander score their first win in the Lucas Oil NZ 4×4 Trials Series, with a dominant display in the afternoon putting them almost 100 points clear of second place finishers Sam Thomsen & Mitchell Caldow.
The Manawatu 4WD Club hosted the penultimate round of the season sponsored by Combi Clamp, just north of Colyton in Pohangina. The proceeds from the day went towards the Grassroots Trust Rescue Helicopter based in Palmerston North.
The course was spread out in the guts of two valleys and a bit off to the side, with spectators in a prime location to see all the action standing on the ridgeline between them.
Turner/Alexander started the day off well finishing 2nd in the morning behind Thomsen/Caldow, a blitz in the afternoon saw them overcome the 2-point gap and stretch it to 99 by the end of the day. This is the first time Turner has won a National Trial. After a spell in the sport in a yellow-and-blue Suzuki Special called Hijinx back in the late 90’s to the mid 2000’s, Turner & Alexander came back into the sport in 15 odd years later in 2020/2021 in the former NZ3 buggy of Greg & Chris McDell. Quickly dubbed “Hijinx II”. A podium came three rounds later at Mt Egmont, before they upgraded to the McDell’s NZ1 CowperTruck for the next season. The duo would finish just 8.71 points shy of their first win at the National Final in 2022, however they landed in the Top 10 scoring an invite to the Suzuki Extreme 4×4 Challenge where they finished 4th.
Sam Thomsen & Mitchell Caldow were runners up once again, however it wasn’t all bad – by outscoring rivals Neville Mather & Richard Verner in third the duo increases their hold onto retaining the top spot.
Mather/Verner had disastrous start to their day, with their Nitro Custom going into limp mode on their first course. With a nasty 100 points on the scorecard, the pair impressed recovering to 8th by the end of the morning and putting the pedal down to climb up to 3rd by the end of the day. The placing enough to put them in a strong position behind Thomsen/Caldow and well clear of the rest! In what may be their swansong after news of a shock retirement at the end of the season, the former Suzuki Extreme winners will be gunning to tip the scales in their favour against Thomsen/Caldow, who share equal wins of 4 between them during their time competing together. Surely a 5th at Thames Valley where they scored their first win wouldn’t hurt?
Brinn Fogden & Sean Bydeley survived the day to win A Class. The young guns suffering from another rear driveshaft failure with three to go in the afternoon, eventually replacing it and finishing the day with 4WD.
Shayne Towers & Tony Hadland finally do it! After playing 2nd fiddle to the Zook-Sport powerhouse of Nathan Fogden & Mike Gibbons, the 402c Racing crew take their first C Class win of the season and finished 8th overall on the day. After sitting 3rd overall in the morning, the crew kept it together to finish in the Top 10 improving their chances of an invite to the Suzuki Extreme 4×4 Challenge. Fogden/Gibbons sat 8th overall in the morning before finishing 10th overall at days end, as they try to hold onto their strong NZ3 position. After searching for answers throughout the season and trying different things, it paid off for Rhys O’Brien & Clarrie Vazey who saw a return to form placing 10th overall in the morning, before dropping back to 15th to score their highest result of the season so far.
With 1st in Class already belonging to Fogden/Gibbons after taking 4 wins and 2nd to Towers/Hadland, its down to the wire for 3rd place. John Hawken & Blair Harrison lead the battle on 389 points with 100 on offer at the final, followed by a tie of Glenn & Jacob D’Ath, Rhys O’Brien & Clarrie Vazey and Caleb Adlam & Jarrod Moss, all on 387 points each! The best-of-the-rest spot is too early to call with all teams proving their worth throughout the season.
Behind the top 3 was the men of the south Andy Canning & John Boylett, who only missed out on a podium in their 3rd National Trial by 1.66 points! The pair continue to push their LS7 powered Howat buggy to its limits and aren’t afraid to carve their own line. Dan Cowper & Luke Donald followed up their 3rd placing at B.O.P. in 5th, increasing their chances to make the cut at Cowper’s own Suzuki Extreme 4×4 Challenge!
Top 10 contenders Craig Potter & Mike Hill as well as Reuben & Shane Mason had days to forget, with both failing to finish. Potter/Hill lost their gearbox in the morning, having only finished three other rounds the duo are unable to get the scores from five needed to qualify. A harsh blow for the ever-improving team who scored 3rd at Round 3. The Mason’s suffered throughout the morning with multiple uncharacteristic mechanical failures, pulling the pin at midday. The upside is that they still have a shot at the Top 10, sitting in 11th as we head into the final round.
Four teams are in the hunt to take NZ3 heading into the final round of the season:
- Zook-Sport 4WD Rally Team – Nathan Fogden & Mike Gibbons on 382
- Hijinx 4×4 Trials Team – Neal Turner & Wade Alexander on 382 with one win
- #451 – Aaron Guest & Garry Preston on 376
- Wolverine 4×4 Team – Current NZ3 Stu Earle & Liam Earle on 372
With 100 points on offer to the winner, it’s anyone’s game on who takes it out! Fogden/Gibbons continue to hold onto their early season advantage, whilst on form Turner/Alexander are now equal on points making it a duel at Thames. Guest/Preston need to finish 2nd in order to outscore Fogden/Gibbons, assuming the latter finish no higher than 10th. Stu & Liam Earle need to do the same if they wish to hold onto NZ3.
Cody Fogden & Karl Burgener were on the heels of the more capable K-Class trucks in the morning, before a clunky rear diff late in the afternoon saw them settle behind. Nevertheless, the pairing continues to prove their mettle in the Zook-Sport E Class Suzuki racking up another win.
In K Class Andrew & Janet Graham continue to drive in a league of their own, winning by just over 400 points. The couple from the far north pilot their former F Class winning Suzuki Vitara, to date the last non C-or-D class vehicle to finish in the Top 10. The Suzuki lost its panels for D Class competition back in 2005 finishing a high of 4th overall at the end of the 2008 season. After 10 years away from the sport Graham doesn’t show a hint of any time lost, driving very much on form.
John Sheridan & Mike Rolls narrowly bet Willow Eayrs & Garry Ledbury by 21 points at the end of the day. Eayrs & Ledbury were trailing 75 points in the morning, only recovering by 54 in the afternoon.
The B.O.P. 4WD Club take out another win in the series for the Biggs Family Cup. Their five wins giving them the trophy donated by Rusell Biggs for the highest three class finishes for each club at each round. With Zook-Sport having three entries across A, C & E Class, the team have achieved a near perfect score of 1499/1500! Nathan Fogden & Mike Gibbons will be looking to chase down that final point by taking a class win at Thames Valley.
With 20 teams in with a chance of a Top 10 placing and an automatic invite to the made for TV Suzuki Extreme 4×4 Challenge, the pressure is on as all will be aiming to claim their place, some easier than others!
Sam Thomsen & Mitchell Caldow lead the way heading into the final, ahead of Neville Mather & Richard Verner. The two will be gunning to see who can unbalance their shared win tally, with both on four wins each!
Nathan Fogden & Mike Gibbons had a brilliant start to the season with two 3rd placings, however their early advantage has come down to nothing as Neal Turner & Wade Alexander’s recent performances see them sitting on equal points heading to Thames.
Aaron Guest & Garry Preston can’t be ruled out from spoiling their party, getting to grips with their new truck after having a few seasons off.
All teams can rest assured knowing that they have done enough throughout the season to finish in the Top 10 even if they don’t finish the final round!
Stu & Liam Earle are in with a chance of retaining their NZ3, however they still need to finish ahead of those close behind with many in with a shot of finishing ahead of them.
Tonkin & Beattie have consistently kept themselves in the Top 10 throughout the season and have enjoyed a recent run of good results finishing 5th and 6th at the last two rounds.
Kevin Hermansen & Nick Hamilton are down on their luck with The Gambler, unable to keep a NZ1-2-3 placing the Suzuki Extreme winners can only aim for a Top 5 result.
Shayne Towers & Tony Hadland have proved their resilience all season. Battling with issues from top-to-toe including misfiring, front diff falling out, rear diff letting go and only 70% throttle, The plucky team sit 9th heading into the final round at Thames, where they scored their best result of 3rd back in 2020.
Dan Cowper & Luke Donald round up the Top 10 in the latest Cowper Truck. In what is Cowper’s first season in two years and only Donalds 2nd year competing, the pairing has come on form in the 2nd half of the season with 3rd & 5th place finishes.
Currently out of the Top 10 but still with a very realistic chance of making it in, we have our next five contenders:
Reuben & Shane Mason lead the contenders with a strong 2nd at Wairarapa and Top 10 placing at Round 3 to their name. 6th Overall last season their only chance of retaining that position is a win at Thames.
Chris Tomalin & Flèche Crawford have only placed in the Top 10 once this season, but the consistency towards the top end has rewarded the two co-drivers with 12th heading into the final. 7th is the best result the duo in the green beast can aim to get.
Scott & Quinton Donald in the LS7 Cowper Truck have come into the mix in the later half of the season. 222 Racing navigator Paul Barnes’ substitution at Round 3 has seen a huge uplift in form for the team from the Wairarapa, with a 6th placing at Round 3 followed by two narrow misses from the Top 10 at the last two rounds.
Phil Cameron & Beau Taylor sit 14th heading into the final and 10th counting all five rounds so far, making them the ones to beat if those behind want a shot at the Top 10.
Russell & Glen Hall started the year strong with 8th at Whangarei but have finished no higher than 16th since. Their consistency throughout the season still leaves them with a chance of a best result of 8th.
In with a mathematical chance which is as good as any, the following will need a win at Thames and everyone ahead to do no better than their worst score to sneak a place in the Top 10.
Phil Hobart & Shane Beech sit 16th with a beat result of 9th heading to Thames. The pair have placed in the Top 20 throughout the season in the leading 3.8 V6 powered buggy.
Wayne & Rachel Buckthought started off with 9th at Whangarei in the repowered Hell Boy, with that result enough to see them through to also having an outside chance at 9th overall.
Former C Class champ John Hawken & Blair Harrison have x3 20th placings and x1 21st to their name in the most consistent score of the season. The team from Whanganui need to find another 20 places if they wish to find themselves in 10th overall.
Rhys O’Brien & Clarrie Vazey in the K24 powered C Class buggy scored their best result of the season at Manawatu and will aim to go one further, having finished 7th last time out at Thames.
Gary West & Carl Morris in the twin turbo Lexus powered buggy round up the contenders, needing a win if they wish to outscore Phil Cameron & Beau Taylor.