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