Albany’s Mike Fraser is the new national offroad racing champion, taking the title in dominant fashion as North Island offroad racers scooped the top three positions in the Polaris New Zealand offroad racing championship final round at Twizel during the weekend.
The south’s ‘difficult’ weekend began when favourite Nevil Basalaj of Nelson destroyed the engine of his Jimco Chev in practice at the track on Thursday.
It continued with Christchurch’s Ron Crosby, who completed only one production truck heat in his Mitsubishi Pajero Evo before falling victim to engine failure.
Twizel’s Wayne Wilson broke his truck’s radiator mounts in rough going on the second day and then blew a radiator hose, stopping his truck to avoid terminal engine damage.
Engine woes also put paid to the title hopes of another Christchurch racer, Bryan Chang, who lost a drive belt off his Ford Falcon’s turbo engine and was also out with a blown head gasket.
Meanwhile, the northern racers setting the pace were Raana Horan in his Nissan Titan V8 truck and fellow Albany racer Mike Fraser in his US-built Racer Engineering Toyota V8 race car. Both emerged from the first day’s racing with four wins from four starts in their respective classes, Fraser surviving a near-rollover on his way to winning the third heat for unlimited race cars.
Defending champion Ben Thomasen (Polaris RZR 1000 Turbo) and recently crowned North island champion Carl Ruiterman both had flawed runs, Thomasen missing a sure win in the third heat for modified ‘side by side’ or UTV race cars when his rear suspension collapsed; Ruiterman suffering an almost identical failure in his Yamaha YXZ turbo on the final corner of the last heat for the class.
The championship title fight came down to the 250 km endurance race on Sunday where Fraser had pole with Ruiterman alongside him and the second row filled by Thomasen and Horan.
Fraser held the lead off the start, but blew second gear after eight kilometres.
“I thought it was all over, there was a bang-bang-bang in second and then I shifted up – and when I went to drop back into second for a corner there was nothing there. Not even a graunch!”
Horan surged past and held the lead, Fraser dropping back to avoid the rocks thrown up by Horan’s massive Nissan.
“Once I worked out how to drive the thing in the upper gears, I saw I wasn’t losing time to Raana. Then I smelled hot rubber and I thought ‘hello, something’s happening there’ – shortly after that he pulled into the tyre pits with a shredded tyre and I had the lead again.”
Horan’s tyre problem was acute: he had no spares for the big truck, which runs talker rims than most New Zealand race vehicles.
The UTV challenge had faded out on the fast, punishing plains of the course under a barrage of frost-cracked rocks, with Thomasen, Ruiterman, Joel Giddy and Dyson Delahunty all pitting for multiple flat tyres.
Scott Buckley had quietly pushed through to second overall in his motorcycle-engined BSL Terra Nova and was avoiding the worst of the stone damage, while Horan had rejoined – with his last viable tyre of the weekend replacing the flat – and was chasing down the leading bunch.
Luck stayed with Fraser when he caught a front tyre pinch-flat – close to the pits, he was able to make the tyre change and refuel to run to the finish in under eight minutes, preserving most of this 30 minute margin over Buckley.
“From there I was racing my own race, watching the mirrors but just trying to stay consistent and not smash up gear – and it worked perfectly! The enduro course was amazing, unlike anything in the championship and really engaging – some fast stuff for the big cars, plenty of rough and tight and twisty to even things up. This was the best way to win the championship.”
Fraser, whose championship challenge really hit top speed when he won the Woodhill 100 in June, was a popular champion; Buckley came home second overall and Horan is third, each racer winning their own class title in the process.