Take a bow, Dan Cow­per. This year’s Suzuki Ex­treme 4x4 Chal­lenge event was an­other cracker. Ashley Lu­cas ex­plains why.

NZ4WD - - CONTENTS - Story and pho­tos by Ashley Lu­cas

The Suzuki Ex­treme 4x4 Chal­lenge has to be one of the most en­ter­tain­ing 4WD events in New Zealand, with its easy spec­ta­tor ac­cess and in­cred­i­ble ac­tion and high fly­ing mo­ments from the 10 com­peti­tors as they bat­tle 10 cour­ses for the ti­tle.

In its fourth year, it was my first at­ten­dance at this pres­ti­gious event and I won­dered why I hadn’t joined the crowds be­fore, and yes, it at­tracts plenty of spec­ta­tors who line the bot­tom of each course and the hills op­po­site for grand stand view­ing.

Dan Cow­per is the man be­hind Cow­per Trucks, the spe­cial built tri­als ve­hi­cle, and also the Suzuki Ex­treme 4x4 Chal­lenge which is held on his Tu­rak­ina prop­erty an easy drive from Palmer­ston North or Wan­ganui. The for­mat is sim­ple: 10 of NZ’s top tri­als com­peti­tors are in­vited to par­tic­i­pate over 10 pur­pose built cour­ses, each with 10 ‘gates’ worth 100 points each ( max­i­mum 1000 per course), for the top prize with the event filmed for tele­vi­sion.

Great venue

It would be hard to get a bet­ter venue, with two hills with a small wa­ter-filled ditch in be­tween. The cour­ses are on one hill while the spec­ta­tors take over the op­po­site hill for view­ing, or get right down close to the ac­tion. While the rest of the coun­try seemed to suf­fer from in­clement weather, Tu­rak­ina was bathed in sun­shine af­ter a few days of rain. So be­fore the ac­tion could start, pumps were used to drain the wa­ter from the wet ar­eas.

Last year’s win­ner ( and also 2015) An­drew and Amy Garner were back along with run­ner up and 2016 win­ner Scott and Jarred Biggs in Scott’s new Ni­tro Cus­toms-built ve­hi­cle, “Ni­tro” pow­ered by a Chev 6.0 LS2 with NOS and were fresh from win­ning the over­all NZ 4x4 Tri­als cham­pi­onship for the year.

All com­peti­tors this year were run­ning a ver­sion of the Chev LS en­gine apart from Te Puke’s Nathan Fog­den’s Cow­per built truck which is pow­ered by a Mit­subishi 2.4 litre EVO 9 4-cylin­der turbo.

Spe­cial guest

Aaron Guest was also back but this time in the ex-Scott Biggs ve­hi­cle that came sec­ond last year and so was pro­fes­sional FMX rider and spe­cial guest Levi Sher­wood in Dan Cow­per’s own ve­hi­cle. To­gether with Stephen Mont­gomery ( Monty), who had less than an hour prac­tice as co-driver a few days ear­lier, it was ob­vi­ous they were com­fort­able in the air dur­ing the day, even man­ag­ing time to wave to the crowds while the ve­hi­cle was air­borne.

Each driver drives the cour­ses in a spe­cific or­der, which gives each an op­por­tu­nity to be first and last on a course dur­ing the day. Nathan Fog­den was the first to get un­der way on Course 1, RCV Per­for­mance Prod­ucts “Go Hard or Go Home” which started with a steep climb then a tech­ni­cal drive on steep hill­side and through some muddy cross­ings.

Nathan came away with 600 points af­ter the bogs claimed him and he had ear­lier hit a cou­ple of the gates. Derek Smyth in an­ther Ni­tro Cus­toms-built ve­hi­cle was next and he only man­aged 400 points and was towed out with a bro­ken gear­box. Philip Wal­ton in the Dave Bray/ Howat built “Avenger” with triple airbag sus­pen­sion and four-wheel steer led with 900 points.

Sec­ond course…

Course two was the Brun­ton Engi­neer­ing “Wide Open Throt­tle” which had driv­ers up and down a steep hill with a fi­nal steep climb up over the top. Horse­power would help, but only if you didn’t take the bot­tom mud too causally. Five driv­ers all came away with 900 points in­clud­ing Philip Wal­ton who now was lead­ing on 1800 from Hamish Auret on 1600 and An­drew Garner and Scott Biggs tied for third.

By hav­ing the points avail­able al­most im­me­di­ately and a run­ning over­all po­si­tion af­ter each course, the ex­cite­ment was al­ways there for driv­ers and spec­ta­tors alike.

Plumb line

Course 3 was spon­sored by Biggs Con­struc­tion and ti­tled “Plump Crazy”. It was through the mud, up the hill with a big cut out and then around to crab up over the top. Fit­tingly Scott ( Biggs) was first up on this one and did it per­fectly com­ing away with the full 1000 points giv­ing him first equal over­all with An­drew Garner who also got the full 1000, and Hamish Auret who col­lected 900 points af­ter clip­ping a gate.

Philip Wal­ton got up side­ways on two wheels early on and looked as though he would roll but he man­aged to bring it back down on two wheels and com­plet­ing the course for 600 valu­able points.

Course 4 was West­ern Ag­gre­gates’ “Rock and Roll” where com­peti­tors had to work their way up sev­eral ledges to the top and down again steep drop offs to the mud at the end. Some chose to miss an early gate for a bet­ter chance to get to the top but most found the mud at the fin­ish the most chal­leng­ing. Hamish Auret took top points with 900 and first over­all on 3400 with An­drew Garner sec­ond on 3300.

Mickey Thomp­son Tyres “King of the Moun­tain” was Course 5 which com­prised an al­most ver­ti­cal drop off then turn­ing around go­ing back up. Mud at the bot­tom would be dragged up the bank caus­ing trac­tion prob­lems. First up was Dave McKie in “The Rid­dler” his 500hp LS-pow­ered Cow­per Truck and Dave was the only one to get over the top and claim the full 1000 points.

Run­ning re­pairs

Oth­ers strug­gled on the climb back up and sev­eral broke in the at­tempt. Scott Biggs did dam­age to the front right while Philp Wal­ton broke a drive­shaft. With 500 points Hamish Auret held onto his lead with 3900 with Dave McKie now in sec­ond with 3800. Philp Wal­ton and An­drew Garner were

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