NEW NAME, NEW VENUE, STILL AS DEMANDING, WRITES COLIN SMITH
Although there is a new name, a new venue and a grid featuring plenty of new machinery, the established truths of endurance racing are likely to come to the fore this weekend in Australasia’s most demanding off-road race.
The Polaris NZ 1000 is the 2015 edition of the biennial 1000km off-road enduro previously known as the Taupo 1000.
It’s being raced at a new venue in the Ngatira Forest in the South Waikato and a field of 89 cars is expected. Action starts with a Friday qualifying sprint followed by two days of racing over a 50km lap of pine forest roads and trails plus short farm sections. There’s even a 3.5m wide former bush railway tunnel.
The new venue might be a little more muddy and a bit less pumice-based than the roads near Taupo but it will be consistency, avoiding delays and spending the least time in the pits over an estimated 12 hours of driving that is likely to deliver the winner.
Friday’s time trials will offer some bragging rights and a clearer run into the opening lap. But by the time the race has settled down, the early casualties have been claimed and the pit stops begin, the qualifying will count for little.
The ability to lap consistently, conserve the machinery and avoid punctures and suspension damage will be the decider.
Clim Lammers of Hikurangi used that strategy in 2013 to win his fourth Taupo 1000. Lammers didn’t even figure in the top-10 qualifying shootout which decided the sharp end of the grid.
An appealing aspect of the off-road enduro is the variety of machinery in action.
Spectacular V8-powered Class 8 Thunder Trucks and lightweight Class 10 motorcycle engine off-roaders have challenged but it’s been the Class 1 buggies that have delivered the wins.
Lammers’ home-built Nissan V6 turbo machine won in 2013 and two years earlier Australian Brad Prout had dominated in a US V8-engined Jimco desert racer. When it comes to likely pacesetters, former winner Tony McCall (Manukau) in his mid-engined V8 BSL-Terra Class 1 racer and the Nissan Titan Class 8 truck of Raana Horan (Red Beach) are likely to be strong qualifiers.
The international flavour is provided by US racer Todd LeDuc driving a Honda-engined Cougar Class 1 racer that is part of the three-car team entered by Lotto millionaire Trevor Cooper.
Whakatane’s Malcolm Langley in a Mitsubishi Evo-powered car and the Class 10 machines of Neil Hook and Scott Buckley are other challengers.
In an endurance event the 1650cc Class 3 machines are strong contenders for a top placing and if the course is tight and becomes slippery the four-wheel-drive Polaris and Can-Am UTV racers become a threat.
There are 16 entries in the UTV category with Ben Thomasen (Tauranga) expected to make the strongest challenge in the latest Polaris RZ-R1000.
The race venue is reached from State Highway 1 at Lichfield with the race headquarters and pit area at the forest boundary with a spectator section.
The track layout and conditions will become known to competitors during a Friday recce lap ahead of the qualifying sprints at 10am.
A 50km lap has been plotted in the forest with 500km of racing on Saturday following the 8am green flag. It’s expected to take the leading driver about six hours to complete the first 500km and the chasing drivers can start their final lap up until 3pm when a trail car closes the track.
After a busy night of repairs another 500km begins at 8am on Sunday — the challenge made tougher by turning clocks forward an hour for daylight saving.