NZ OFFROAD CHAMPS PREVIEW
The 2018 ORANZ offroad national championship takes on a new look within its sevenround format this year. Mark Baker has the story
As in previous years, there are three northern and three southern regional rounds before the national final at Labour Weekend. In the north there is a new trend evident – two of the three rounds are held on purpose built ‘stadium’ tracks. The newest of these, Taranaki’s, will already have had its first national championship event by the time this goes to print. The second has been raced on before, but never at national level with the amount of development that has been completed. Manukau’s stadium track at Prices Road (Colin Dale Park) is intended to be a permanent fixture of Auckland’s motorsport scene, with a skidpad on site and separate race venues for a range of sports. The third round in early June is the Woodhill 100 forest endurance race. Offroad racing is the last motorsport category to be given such wide permissions to race as the owners of the forest are increasingly protective of their pine holdings. There is then a gap all the way to October and the national final. In the south the rounds are hosted by Nelson Offroad Racing Club, Canterbury Offroad Racing Club and Otago Offroad Racing Club. The Canterbury round is their popular Mainland Challenge event, held over two days at West Melton south of the city. The new venue for southern racers will be Otago’s, a farm-based course with a massive natural jump. The final at Labour Weekend is at the Canterbury club’s West Melton venue.
New cars and trucks, new faces in the UTV classes and the possibility of two new brands arriving to challenge Polaris, Yamaha and CanAm are rated as signs of the enduring health of the sport. The UTV classes are growing year on year, and there are rumours of Honda and another brand making a debut in 2019. Across the standard and modified classes, there are grids of up to 20 at national level, and Polaris in particular remains a strong force in the sport, backing Ben Thomasen to win the title again. Organisers have also asked racers to come up with suggestions to reduce the number of classes in the sport. With 15 classes across three categories, but declining numbers in some of the traditional categories, there is a strong mood for change – though at such an early stage there is little agreement about what form the change should take. There were strong UTV, class one, class three and class five grids at the opening round but fewer in the unlimited class one and class seven races and no class two entries had been received by cut-off. By contrast, UTVs made up almost a third of the 60-strong entry. Offroad racing is also dealing with noise restrictions for the first time, with its new 90 decibel level applied to all race vehicles in the sport. The limit is similar to that set in other branches of motorsport. To find out more about this fantastic sport check out www.oranz.co.nz