In 2017, Ben Thomasen scored the big double of offroad racing, winning the national championship and the epic two-day 1000 km stand-alone NZ 1000 enduro.
This year he will be pressed hard from the opening round at Taranaki in early March to the daunting table-top jumps and rock-strewn enduro course of the final in October. The opening round has attracted almost 60 entries.
Tauranga-based Thomasen is a factory team driver for the Polaris UTV brand, but will be racing all classes and categories at every round in order to amass points toward a new title.
Already top drivers are massing in the JG Civil-backed UTV category including lightning fast Dyson Delahunty, Pukekohe racer and former northern champion Carl Ruiterman, Joel Giddy and Albany-based Hayden McKenzie. Across the U (standard) and S (modified) UTV classes, there are now 17 entries.
Two weeks from race day the full entry list for the event had gone past 60 cars across 15 classes.
In the top unlimited race car class, Manukau’s Tony McCall (BSL Chev) will go up against Hamilton racer Alan Hilliam in his Porsche-powered car and Justin Davies will debut his powerful Cougar Honda Turbo single-seater.
A missing man: there are so entries to date in the spectacular class three for offroad race cars with engines up to 1.6 litres – but no sign of class champion Brendon Midgely in his Mobil-backed car. That leaves the class open to a pitched battle for top points between some very competitive race cars including local Brendon Olds.
Current class champion Todd Graham is the leading entrant in the five-strong field for class five (cars with engines up to 1.3 litres).
Challenger class for cars with VW 1.6-litre engines also attracts the current class champion, Karl Burbage. He goes up against a field of five including Ollie McCall, Tim Ackers and a promising recent arrival in the sport, Mark Goldstone.
In class seven, current North Island Champion Jack Hellier (Karaka) races against Connor Nicklin.
Class ten, which caters for the smallest cars in the sport, has attracted two entries: local Dan Fromings and Waikato driver Sam Atkins.
In the past four years, the growth sector of the sport has been the UTVs or ‘side by sides’. Drivers can choose to compete in U class (standard with safety modifications) or S class in four wheel drive vehicles made by Polaris, CanAm, Yamaha and others. There are nine U class racers entered (the largest entry in the event) and six S class including Ben Thomasen.
The spectacular unlimited truck class, backed again this year by 4WD Bits, has attracted no less than seven top entries including Dale Buckley, Malcolm Langley and Nick Hall. Other truck classes add a further four vehicles to the category.
Crabb Racing Kiwitrucks has already drawn entry from five rising youth racers: Andre England, Reeve Giddy and Lincoln Whiddett in J class, Harry Hodgson in M class (gearbox) trucks and Tyler King in the entry-level K class.
The championship points battle will start on Sunday 11 March at the Taranaki club’s purpose-built offroad race track on Croydon Road, Tariki. Racing starts at 10 am and will be in ‘short course’ or stadium-style heats. The venue has been designed to provide unparalleled viewing for spectators and also to challenge drivers with spectacular jumps and fast corners with wide entries giving maximum opportunity for bold overtaking moves.
The little club that CAN
Taranaki Offroad Race Club was renowned for holding fast, exciting race events back in the 1980s and early 1990s. Now the club is back with its own track, and it’s hosting the first round of the 2018 ORANZ Offroad Racing Championship.
Not only that, but at current count it has 13 cars, trucks and UTVs entered in the coming event.
In particular, the club has a virtual lock-out on the popular class three, where Brendon Old, Andrew Green (pictured), Darrell Martin and Lance Mitchell will grid up – four of the six entries.
AJ Fitzgerald joins the five-strong grid for class five.
Dan Fromings grids up for class 10.
Gregory Lang has entered Challenger class.
Robert Cresswell and Garry Hopkins are the locals in 4WD Bits class 4. Ricky May is the local in the seven-strong 4WD Bits class 8.
The JG Civil U class for standard UTVs is the biggest in the event with ten entries so far. John Young grids up as the local representative there.
In the six-strong entry for JG Civil UTV S class there are two locals: Rick and Jake Field.
Field Trucking Ltd
Taranaki short course
Leading entries to date: (car number/name)
109 Alan Hilliam, Dargaville
157 Tony McCall, Manukau
196 Justin Davies, Waiuku
323 Darryl Rush, Palmerston North
333 Brendon Old, Taranaki
341 Andrew Green, Taranaki
350 Darrell Martin, Taranaki
363 Lance Mitchell, Taranaki
367 Jarrod Marwood, Auckland
4WD Bits class 4 – sports trucks
400 Robert Cresswell, Taranaki
412 Garry Hopkins, Taranaki
457 Glenn Turvey, Wellington
507 Todd Graham, Hawkes Bay
517 Nick Magness, Auckland
545 Regan Swensson, Auckland
578 AJ Fitzgerald, Taranaki
580 Alastair Manning, Wellington
4WD Bits class 6
615 Darrin Neeley, Auckland
710 Connor Nicklin, Auckland
726 Jack Hellier, Karaka
4WD Bits class 8
825 Dale Buckley, Auckland
828 Jimmy Johnson, Manukau
841 Ricky May, Taranaki
861 Nick Hall, Manukau
865 Richard Bell, Palmerston North
893 Malcolm Langley, Whakatane
889 Grant Rosenburg, Palmerston North
1062 Dan Fromings, Taranaki
1067 Sam Atkins, Waikato
C Karl Burbage, Auckland
C21 Ollie McCall, Manukau
C30 Tim Ackers, Auckland
C87 Mark Goldstone, Tauranga
C96 Gregory Lang, Taranaki
JG Civil UTV category – U class
U14 Dion Edgecombe, Matamata
U21 John Young, Taranaki
U22 Carl Ruiterman, Pukekohe
U31 Shane McWatt, Auckland
U43 Brian Rutgers, Manukau
U72 Scott Mitchell, Auckland
U87 Dyson Delahunty, Tauranga
U88 Shawn King, Auckland
U90 Jamie McKinstry, Manukau
JG Civil UTV category –S class
S1 Ben Thomasen, Tauranga
NZ3 Joel Giddy, Whangarei
S17 Nathan Moore, Auckland
S66 Rick Field, Taranaki
S98 Haydn MacKenzie, Albany
S99 Jake Field, Taranaki
Crabb Racing Kiwitruck youth category
J69 Andre England, Auckland
J81 Reeve Giddy, Whangarei
J321 Lincoln Whiddett, Auckland
M12 Harry Hodgson, Auckland
K28 Tyler King, Auckland