Hamilton racer Paul Smith has won New Zealand offroad racing’s toughest race, the 2019 North Harbour Vehicles Woodhill 100, improving from a start position of 60 to do so. Ten laps of fast and free-flowing racing on rocky forest roads where the cars touched 200 km/h, two laps of ‘hard yakka’ as the slower sandy tracks under the forest canopy turned choppy, and the chequered flag fell on Smith’s Jimco class one car.
Visibly fatigued by the punishing drive “and so many cars to overtake”, Smith said he found the final 40 km harder than the 200 that had gone before.
“The early laps were fast, but then the sand tracks became incredibly difficult in those final two laps, they had really dug out so I couldn’t keep a lot of speed in there,” he said.
Only 12 cars out of 78 finished the whole 12 lap distance.
The second round of the 2019 New Zealand Offroad Racing Championship, the Woodhill attracted a 22-strong field of the spectacular ‘unlimited’ class one race cars from north and south – one of them coming all the way from Otago. The unlimited-class entry was the most numerous in more than two decades. Smith’s four cylinder turbocharged Jimco was one of only a few in that class running anything less than a race-tuned V6 turbo or V8 engine.
At the start, Smith faced the task of overtaking 60 cars in order to win.
Early leaders Jardyne Lammers (Whangarei) and Tony McCall (Manukau) both withdrew early in the race. Lammers fell victim to two flat tyres – front and rear left – while McCall hit a mob of deer and destroyed his car’s steering. McCall was trying to become the most successful Woodhill contender of all time, and had set the fastest time of the day, a 12.54.370 on the lap before he crashed out.
The unlimited class one race cars also fell out of contention in numbers: Alan Butler was the first to retire, out on lap one; Lammers and McCall were both out after two laps. Jacob Brownlees had travelled from Christchurch to compete and completed four laps before retiring with engine damage. Kevin Clive in the second Brownlees car also retired. Karl Fenton, John Morgan and Nelson racer Nevil Basalaj all put in aggressive drives and all led the race, the latter leading the race for three laps with a margin of 4-5 minutes before slowing for a pit stop during which his car cut out and would not restart, putting him out of the race.
Dan Fisher (Nelson) was one of the best of the southern class one entries, circulating at a consistent pace and recovering from a disastrous qualifying lap to eventually finish eighth overall. The pair logged speeds of 185km/h on the treacherously wet forest roads and “got shaken to hell and back” in the sand tracks.
He said the slower tracks cut up badly in the final two laps but was well pleased with his first Woodhill.
“After a very big stuff up in our qualifying run and starting in 53rd position for the race…both David and myself knew it was going to be very busy with a lot of passing to be done to get to the front. Just epic!” He said afterward.
Rob Ryan recovered from a start position of 13, chased up toward the leaders, was briefly P4 then fell back and went out with an increasingly smoky engine.
The unlimited class also featured its first female competitor in years, Davena Fraser in husband Mike’s single-seater Toyota V8 race car. Though the 2019 event was her first ever offroad race, Fraser put in a solid drive from a start position of 66 and came home 33rd overall.
The fastest of the trucks, Malcolm Langley’s Toyota Tundra V8, went out when he tore oil lines loose from his transmission. Also racing in 4WD Bits class 8 was Nick Hall, who qualified 29th, stormed all the way up to ninth overall and a handy class lead before an ‘off’’ saw him perched on another car’s wheel, unable to get free.
Mike Gibson started 14th overall in his class three single-seater, dropped to 29th and then clawed his way back to finish third overall behind Fenton and race winner Smith.
Tauranga’s Dyson Delahunty led JG Civil U class for standard UTVs in the new Polaris single-seater and was lining up a class win until a discarded ‘tear off’ vision strip blocked the air intake to his car’s drive belt and it tore apart.
U class was won by Taupo’s Roger McKay, who finished just off the podium in fourth overall.
Grant “Rowdy” Rosenburg (Palmerston North) put in a consistent drive to win 4WD Bits class 8 for ‘unlimited’ trucks and four wheel drives; Rendon Robbers won class six for Winch Challenge trucks and Gerrad Chitty won class four with Richie Ryder following him home. It was Rosenburg’s second class 8 win at Woodhill.
But the day belonged without dispute to the new king of Woodhill, Paul Smith, after an epic drive that left rivals scattered all through southern end of the forest.
Image of Paul Smith by Christy Whyte
to him afterward. All he knows is he’s ‘bloody cold and bloody sore’. The last few laps were on tracks that chopped up severely, giving the big Hamiltonian much the same tenderising that McCall gave the Fallow deer.