Local hero wins dramatic Woodhill 100 Off-road race
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Almost 100 entries in Woodhill 100
Mike Fraser had the shortest commute of all to win his first ever championship offroad race on Sunday.
The Muriwai local had only the short drive down past the golf course and into Woodhill Forest – and the small matter of a 200 km endurance race that turned into a sprint event.
He was also contending with the biggest entry in the championship and the strongest field of unlimited class racers this century. Between youth and main championship classes, 97 cars were entered in the event. There were 17 unlimited class race cars – many of them running V8 engines with up to 490 kW (650 bhp) in lightweight tube-chassis cars capable of up to 220 km/h on the long straights of Coast Road. Also in contention were the new modified-class UTV race cars, with Polaris team driver and defending national champion Ben Thomasen of Tauranga taking pole position for the race in his RZR Turbo with six times champion Tony McCall alongside him.
Woodhill 100 winner Mike Fraser. Picture/Mark Baker
Thomasen’s team-mate, Dyson Delahunty, qualified 19th and second in the standard class for the UTVs.
Mike Fraser started the ten-lap race from tenth place after a qualifying run on Saturday that he says was “only okay”, though his place on the fifth row of the grid put 80 other racers behind him and some of the most experienced drivers in the sport ahead of his Lexus V8 engined race car.
At the start Fraser carved through the field, overtaking seasoned Polaris driver Mike Small on the dusty run down to the first corner, then a lap later Yamaha UTV racer Carl Ruiterman, while Nelson’s Nevil Basalaj joined the fray in his massive Jimco Chev unlimited two seater, also on a charge to the front.
Raana Horan, of Albany, who came second. Picture/Mark Baker.
“That first lap or two it was all a bit mad, fighting among the UTVs and the unlimited class cars, so I was just going all out and trying to stay on the pace. I was over-revving her a bit, especially under the trees, then I saw the temperatures coming up and realised I could change up a gear and go easier on the engine. I saw Nevil go past and then drop out and things started to gel,” he said afterward.
Basalaj’s car had stopped and couldn’t be restarted, while pole man Ben Thomasen damaged his rear suspension in the first lap and then blew his car’s transmission.
Early leader in the Woodhill 100, Tony McCall in the BSL Terra Chev, went out with a blown clutch. Picture/Mark Baker
The weekend was not kind to the Polaris team, with Dyson Delahunty losing an early U class lead with broken front suspension on lap four. He tried to limp the car back to the pits on three wheels but became stuck in deep sand and retired.
The massive Nissan Titan of Albany’s Raana Horan had battled wheel to wheel with Tony McCall and then surged into the lead going into the second lap. Behind the battling pair Fraser was staying in touch. He was fourth after three laps, then third as McCall went out with a broken clutch. Between him and Horan was the flying unlimited class Achilles Tatum Evo of James Buchanan, but the race was about to take a dramatic turn.
Buchanan crashed in a narrow section of track, sliding wide into clumps of toitoi that tipped his car over, and suddenly Fraser had the big dual exhaust pipes of Horan’s race truck in his sights.
At the end of that lap Horan picked up a flat tyre and pitted to change it and Fraser swept through to lead. Horan resumed in second place, three minutes down, and with three laps to run the battle was intensifying. Just a few minutes later, though, the red flags came out: the stricken car of James Buchanan had caught fire and the race was stopped. Quick action from race marshals, the Muriwai volunteer fire brigade and other racers got the fire under control and Buchanan was unhurt. His car was severely damaged.
“It was very scary, cars stopped everywhere and clouds of smoke rising off the car when we came around. It was great to see the other drivers had grabbed their extinguishers to help put out the fire but I really felt for James, it’s just horrible to see your car burn up like that.”
Richard Crabb finished fifth. Picture/Mark Baker
The field toured around to the start area while the fire crew made sure the flames and hot spots were extinguished, then the race restarted.
“At the restart we were in track order, Mike Hay off the front in his Can Am. I could see Raana five vehicles behind us so I was going for it and with two laps to go it was all on.”
Behind the lead bunch, Cameron Taylor, Kyle van Harlingen and Ken Rowe tangled in the dust, blocking the track. Race organisers decided to end the race at this point with eight out of ten laps completed on safety grounds.
“So what a day! An amazing track, great to drive, some scary incidents but handled very well by the officials, and my first Woodhill win! I’m over the moon!” said Fraser at the finish. Raana Horan was second, left to reflect on what might have been his third Woodhill win; John Morgan brought his Chev V8 engined unlimited class car home third overall. Only Fraser and Horan completed the eight laps of the shortened race; Jphn Morgan in third place completed seven. The first UTV home was S-class driver Joel Giddy in seventh place.
The 2016 Woodhill 100 was the third round of the 2016 Polaris New Zealand Offroad Racing Championship. The championship resumes next weekend near Christchurch with the Mainland Challenge.