Drivers endure brutal Polaris NZ 1000 off road enduro
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It’s two years since Tauranga’s Ben Thomasen claimed a landmark first victory for a UTV side-by-side racer in the Polaris NZ 1000 off road endurance race.
At last weekend’s edition of the biennial 1000km enduro, UTVs swept the top six places as Thomasen led a 1-2 for Polaris and the Yamaha and Can-Am brands also figured near the top of the leader board after 10 hours of racing.
Some extreme weather and brutally rough track conditions at the Ohakuri Forest venue made last weekend’s event especially demanding.
Drivers battled mud-caked goggles, heavy rain squalls and deeply rutted tracks before a late-morning snow flurry brought the race to an early finish.
Thomasen said the conditions were the toughest he’d encountered but they suited his Class S Polaris RZR XP Turbo.
"It was the toughest of these races that I’ve done. It was so slippery and there were quite fast sections where you could be sideways before you knew it,’’ said Thomasen.
"These things [side-by-sides] get around quite easily. You have to look at the other vehicles to see how bad things actually were. They were struggling and getting struck everywhere.
"In the really muddy bits we are nimble and light and we can be fast through that stuff.’’
Roger McKay was the Class U winner driving a Yamaha YZX 1000. Photo / Colin Smith
Saturday’s first half of the race took a heavy toll on the 87-strong field. Race organisers shortened the course to just under 30km and several track blockages created delays as cars got stuck in the muddy conditions.
Starting from pole position Thomasen grabbed the initial lead but had a messy opening lap with a high-speed spin and a brief slide into the water table.
Former drifting champion Carl Ruiterman (Pukekohe) driving a Class S Yamaha YXZ 1000 Turbo led for the first six laps of the race and at one point his advantage over Thomasen stretched out to 1m 30s before the defending champ began to gain time again.
Two pitstops to waterblast mud that was caking the radiators of the Yamaha cost time for Ruiterman and he also took the opportunity to hand over to co-driver Joel Giddy. Thomasen pressed on till lap nine before he made a fuel stop and with 10 laps completed he led by 8m 48s lead over Giddy.
Giddy then had trouble with a broken tie rod and after making a temporary trackside repair he nursed the Yamaha back to the pits for new parts, costing two laps and dropping to eighth place.
Some fast laps from Giddy in the final 90 minutes saw him recover to sixth place and regain a position on the lead lap for day two.
Clim Lammers races through the deep holes in the Ohakuri Forest on Sunday. Photo / Colin Smith
Thomasen completed the first day with a 22m 25s advantage over three-time former winner Clim Lammers (Hikurangi) in his Class 1 Nissan V6 Turbo single-seater. Lammers rated the conditions as the worst he had ever raced in and said the amount lapped traffic also proved difficult.
Third place overnight was held by Morrinsville’s Nathan Moore in another Polaris Turbo who trailed Lammers by 1m 05s. A notable climb through the field from 24th starting position saw Canterbury driver Jacob Brownlees finish the day in fourth place in his Mitsubishi-powered Class 1 buggy.
With such a large advantage Thomasen could afford to take a conservative approach on Sunday. He led the opening lap and when Ruiterman moved to the front Thomasen was happy to follow while a slow lap and a lengthy pit stop cost Lammers two laps and any podium hopes.
Thomasen had just gone ahead on lap nine as Ruiterman limped around having lost his left rear tyre and soon after it was announced the race would be stopped at 10 laps.
The stoppage was called because snow had started falling on the higher parts of the forestry course and with drivers in open cockpit cars already soaked from earlier rain it was decided to halt the race on safety grounds.
Ben Thomasen takes the chequered flag at the end of Sunday's snow-shortened racing. Photo / Colin Smith
‘‘There was snow on the ground for a few kilometres at the highest part of the track and for last two laps when a mix of snow and sleet was falling the temperature really dropped,’’ said Thomasen.
‘‘But the toughest part of the event for me was the rain and managing vision. When you’re struggling to see a lot, you end up in some of the big holes that you are trying to avoid.
‘‘I drove pretty easy today [Sunday]. I wasn’t very entertaining but I was just managing the gap and preparing for the worst just in case something went wrong.’’
The result delivered clear domination by the latest UTV side-by-sides which took the top six places overall. Nathan Moore made it a one-two for Polaris while Ruiterman and Giddy completed the podium after a drive that showed that Yamaha must now be rated as a serious contender for outright success.
Former NZ V8 Touring Car driver Hadyn MacKenzie (Auckland) climbed up the order throughout the race to complete the top four with a Can-Am Maverick while Yamaha took the Class U honours for less modified UTVs with Roger McKay finishing fifth overall.
2017 Polaris NZ 1000 — results:
1 Ben Thomasen (Tauranga) Class S Polaris, 25 laps, 9h 19m 58.9s
2 Nathan Moore (Morrinsville) Class S Polaris, 25 laps, 9h 52m 58.2s
3 Carl Ruiterman/Joel Giddy (Pukekohe) Class S Yamaha, 25 laps, 9h 59m 39.0s
4 Hadyn MacKenzie (Auckland) Class S Can-Am, 25 laps, 10h 19m 58.6s
5 Roger McKay (Auckland) Class U Yamaha, 24 laps, 10 00m 44.5s
6 Andrew Williams/Neville Smith (Auckland) Class S Can-Am, 24 laps 10h 27m 33.0s
7 Daniel and Toni Connor (Waikato) Class 6 Toyota, 24 laps, 10h 27m 55.4s
8 Rick Sciarone/James Buchanan (Auckland) Class 3 Toyota, 24 laps, 10h 31m 26.2s
9 Grant and James Dickson (Otago) Class S Polaris, 24 laps, 10h 39m 19.6s
10 Phil Finlay (Counties-Manukau) Class S Can-Am, 24 laps 10h 48m 12.7s