Polaris1000: Full field for extreme endurance test
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The rough and tumble sport of offroad racing delivers one of the most challenging events and diverse line-ups of machinery on the New Zealand motorsports scene this weekend in the Ohakuri Forest between Tokoroa and Taupo.
The biennial Polaris New Zealand 1000 — which traces its origins back to the Taupo 1000 race first staged in 1992 — has attracted a field very close to its capacity of 100 cars.
Teams are set to tackle the forestry endurance race in machinery as diverse as V8-powered Class 1 open-wheelers and Class 8 Thunder Trucks to the nimble UTV side-by-side racers from Polaris, Can-Am and Yamaha brands.
Ben Thomasen scored a breakthrough win for new UTV racers at the 2015 Polaris NZ1000 and returns to defend his title this weekend. Picture/ Colin Smith.
The last race, in 2015, produced a breakthrough win for the UTV giant-killers, with Tauranga’s Ben Thomasen driving a 1000cc Polaris RZ-R to victory after 15 hours.
Two years on, the UTV competition has moved on in pace and participation. The category is now split into two — Class U for standard machines and the new Class S for turbocharged and modified machines.
There are 17 entries in Class S and 13 in Class U, which means the side-by-sides form nearly one-third of the race entries.
Thomasen will defend his title in the latest Polaris R-ZR XP Turbo and says the rapid growth in the class doesn’t surprise him.
“People have seen we can be competitive, and compared to other types of motorsport it’s not too expensive,” he says.
“I quite often get messages from competitors in other forms of motorsport, interested in getting involved. They’ve seen the racing is good and the UTVs are pretty quick and reliable. I can only see it growing more.”
First time out in the 2013 edition of the NZ1000, Thomasen teamed with rally driver Phil Campbell to claim fourth overall in a 900cc Polaris. He drove solo to win the event in 2015 with the then-new 1000cc version and has also won five national class titles and the outright national title in 2015.
“Compared to the 1000cc model the new turbo is quite a bit quicker,” says Thomasen.
“But compared to 2013 when we raced the 900, it’s totally different.”
He says track conditions are now much less of factor in how competitive the UTVs can be.
“It’s still the tight and twisty stuff that suits us best, but now we don’t lose all our hard work when the tracks are faster.
“It used to be anything over 100km/h we’d lose out badly. That changed to about 115km/h with the 1000cc model and now with the new turbo we can cruise along up to about 140km/h and not lose too much to the big cars.
“But with the NZ 1000 it’s not all about horsepower and top speed. It’s about managing the race, staying out of trouble and being reliable. You have to keep focused and not let your mind wander.”
The main opposition for the top UTV teams this weekend will come from the Class 1 and Class 8 machinery.
Leading Class 1 contenders are former 1000km winners Clim Lammers (Hikurangi) and Tony McCall (Auckland) along with current national series champion Mike Fraser (Auckland) and recent Woodhill 100 winner John Morgan (Auckland). Otago’s Donald Preston has had success in other classes of previous NZ 1000 races and tackles the race in a US-built Class 1 machine this year.
Class 8 includes Australian father and son Roly and Tom Dixon in a Nissan Safari V8 and the V8 4WD Pro Lite truck of Auckland’s Jono Climo. Auckland speedway racer Scott Buckley will be chasing success in a lightweight Class 10 motorcycle engined single-seater.
The Polaris NZ 1000 programme begins with qualifying on Friday, including a Top 10 shootout on a sprint track followed by a reconnaissance lap of the 46km track. There is 500km of racing on both Saturday and Sunday with an 8am rolling start each day.