Unfortunately I couldn’t be at this event, but luckily a couple of the drivers (Ben Thomasen and Mitch James) popped in for a beer last night so I was able to get the lowdown on the event, along from their point of view and some in-car footage.
Ben Thomasen has been busy building a new house lately and this event wasn’t really on his radar until Phil Campbell talked him into doing it as it was a good opportunity to go for an NZ title. With the decision to enter made, the car had new tyres and was good to go. Ben planned on running both days, on the tar seal and the gravel. Mitch James had decided to do the event as well, but was only keen to run on day 2 on the gravel.
Day 1 – Kanakanaia Road – Tarmac
Ben’s practice run went well, and he was feeling comfortable. However during the 1st timed run, about ¾ of the way up the hill, Ben unfortunately changed from 5th gear to 2nd gear by accident, and damaged the gearbox / diff assembly. The damage wasn’t immediately obvious as he continued up the hill pushing hard. He got the car sideways a few times after the error, but just thought his tyres had gone off.
As he lined up for the 2nd run, whilst he was doing a couple of practice starts it became clear there was something very wrong, and as he went to get ready to approach the start line the gearbox / diff seized up solid.
Luckily for Ben, Mike Torr (who has been on form lately) had an engine failure during his first run, and very kindly offered Ben the use of his gearbox. (Good on ya Mike!) So Ben set-to making the change over, working on the car at the side on the road and spending all day lying on the prickles etc. getting the car sorted while the other competitors carried on setting faster times. It looks like there was a good battle going on with Lance Williams, Dave Loughlin and Hugh Spence.
Even with only getting one timed run done in the day, Ben managed to get the fastest time , getting up the hill 2 seconds faster than anyone, and I think I’m right in saying he set a new hill record of 1min 47seconds. See the in-car footage below for the run:
Day 2 – Waitangi Terrace Road – Gravel
Ben was struggling on the gravel to get used to a different gearbox. Ben uses an electronic Dog Box, but the borrowed gearbox he was now using was a standard 6 speed. He couldn’t work out why the car wouldn’t go over 5000 revs. The run had to be completed changing gear at 4000 revs. It turned out to be a simple fix. They hadn’t reconnected the speedo to the new box, and the car kept thinking it was running and kept trying to put it into launch control mode.
In the meantime Mitch James was having some good runs and a battle had developed between him, Ian Wood and Darrel Manson. I wish I had been able to be at the event after hearing this as 3 fast drivers in rwd drive cars would have been something to see!
I also understand that during day 2, Dave Loughlin very kindly let Mike Torr drive his car but unfortunately, a grassy bank decided to leap out in front of him leaving Dave’s car with a slightly battered front end – just wasn’t your weekend aye Mike!
Mitch managed to get good clean runs, although had a bit of a “moment” approaching the last cattle stop. The road is a right hander approaching the cattle stop, which can’t be seen until the last minute. Mitch was totally sideways through the right hander only just managing to get his car straight before going through the cattle stop. I also heard that the cattle stops had new fences either side which were narrower than previous years.
After several fast runs, Mitch won the 2wd class and Ben won the 4wd class. Ben is now leading the NZ Hill Climb Championship with maximum points from this round.
Next round of the hill climb championship will be next weekend (19th – 20th January)
Day 1 – Golden Cross Rd, Waihi – Tarmac
Day 2 – Manawahe Rd, Rotorua – Gravel
Entry forms here
I will be at the next round Day 1 (Golden Cross Rd, Waihi) with my camera, and have decided to enter Day 2 (Manawahe Rd, Rotorua) in the Escort, so might see you there.
I should also mention that Ben and Mitch also did extremely well in their own club with Mitch taking out overall 2wd speed champ and Ben taking overall 4wd speed champ. – Well done guys!
Thanks to Ben and Mitch for popping over and giving me their take on the weekend.