A tremendous effort
First-time Winch Challenge events don’t get much better than the recent Hawke’s Bay event. NZ4WD magazine’s Ashley Lucas explains why!
It was long overdue on two counts; firstly a Hawke’s Bay Winch Challenge and secondly a return to what could only be regarded as a proper winch challenge format with actual winching. Held on Whakama Rumaru station at Crownthorpe about 40 minutes from Hastings, the Twin City 4WD Club had done a tremendous effort for their very first attempt at organising a winch challenge event. Event director Wayne Lovejoy is a past competitor in the prime of winch challenges and still has the yellow Suzuki he competed in 10-12 years ago. Wayne drew on his experience in setting up an enthusiastic team to assist with the planning and execution of the weekend. The event was to be a full weekend event initially starting Friday evening with night stages but there seemed to be reluctance from competitors for this so all night stages were Saturday night and continued with more stages Sunday morning. With twoday events you have to “drive to survive” just to finish giving further meaning to the old saying; “To finish first, first you have to finish.”
Weather leading up to the weekend was typical heavy rain but seemed to clear for the Saturday morning start with competitors in three classes. The Challenge and Modified classes would do all the stages but Club class did the same stage but with a slightly different track to keep them safer and three of stages they didn’t do them at all. Whilst there had been good interest initially to the event only 10 vehicles competed after one pulled out a day before. Given the huge effort put in by the Twin City Club and their helpers it was disappointing the turnout was so poor. Without entries clubs are not going to continue to put events on. As it was three of the entries were first-time competitors.
The first four stages of the morning were in a small forestry block on the station and involved some tricky situations if you put a wheel wrong. Stage 2 was a very long stage with several long winches up hills and also a slippery conditions on the track, especially on an off camber downhill section. A couple of vehicles slid and got off line. Amongst them was Michael Duncan, a 16-year-old in his first event in a Suzuki based vehicle he built himself. As his winch man and mentor he had Lance Goodman. Lance would be out of the vehicle giving directions and advice and Michael was
driving better than some of the more seasoned competitors although overall his time was relatively slow. That was because while he had a well set up vehicle with V6 engine he only had a basic low-mount Superwinch 9500 and an aging battery which would eventually cause further problems later. Nigel Reid and Steve Franklin set the fastest time on that stage and also again on Stage 3 but on Stage 1 they were only seventh. Over on Stage 4 was the first DNF of the weekend when Stan Goodman and Ben Harvey put the vehicle on its side. There was a bit of confusion as to whether they needed recovery or continue themselves as Stan is running a hydraulic twin-motor Red Winch which needs the engine running. They have a small electric back up and used this to recover the vehicle and continue but ran out of time. The top four on Stage 4 were all separated by only 1 minute 13 seconds making the results very close.
After finishing the morning stages it was over to a windy gully which essentially was once a river bed but now only had small pockets of water due to the rain preceding the weekend. There had been much talk about the ‘waterfall’ stage which required winching up an old waterfall but that went without any problem and was completed by all in 10 minutes or less. It was over on Stages 8 and 9 where there were multiple winching sections that required some thought on how to approach each. Stage 8 at least four winches ( three for Club class) and in some cases five or six depending on where the co-driver hooked the winch rope. It was a long stage and was clearly marked with pegs, arrows and bunting but still some didn’t take care in their navigation which Mike Inns and Neil McConnon can attest to when they went the wrong side of a bunted peg and were eventually disqualified from the stage. They also had the misfortune to be the only ones to have to winch downhill when going too slow and dropped a wheel into a hole. Bernie Konz and Ant Tangye tried to drive the first bank on the stage and nearly flipped the vehicle backwards when it sat upright. They could be heard laughing and talking about how they had nearly pooped themselves instead on concentrating on the task and nearly missed the first big winch climb. Stage 9 was another long stage with the first winch being a steep bank and then a drive up a gully with another winch before the long climb. Fastest on the stage was Nathen Phillips and Campbell Phillips in the Jeep Wrangler with a time of 15.52 minutes well ahead of Nigel Reid’s 28.30.
Late in the day
It was getting late in the day and starting to get dark yet not all had completed the stage. Bernie Konz started the stage despite him questioning whether he should with darkness closing in. Then after halfway he was stopped due to the lack of light. Rather than do the stage again the next day he was given an average time of the other competitors. The BBQ was on and there was food in the marquee for all and tea and coffee available with the generator working overtime keeping the urns hot as everyone prepared for the night stages. They were very close to the base camp but just out of sight so competitors couldn’t see and get an advantage. But for Nathen Phillips and Bernie Konz finishing the night stages would see them retire from the competition. Bernie due to winch failure and Nathan after literally blowing the transfer case in the Jeep apart. One of the competitors who had to do the Stage 9 the next morning was Michael Duncan. They did the first section OK but the drive up the narrow gully proved tricky when the Suzuki dropped a wheel in the large hole that had formed in the track. While trying to winch out he then broke the winch rope. Lance Goodman was hard at work, even lying down on the job, but that old battery was their undoing. With the vehicle on its side Michael turned the engine off and the battery didn’t have enough life left to start the engine far less winch the vehicle out. They worked furiously swapping over the spare battery they were carrying and even one of those compact jump starter packs, but were unable to get it started, and eventually called it when time ran out.
Elsewhere Nigel Reid was breaking windows in the Suzuki which was starting to look a little bit ‘used’. Their times were slipping back and even on Stage 12 came away with the slowest time of all by five minutes. Dean Currie and Ash Goddard were not doing too badly but still managed to beat up the ol’ Nissan a bit more and break the rear side window. They collected 60 penalty points over the weekend 30 on stage 14 alone. If they hadn’t got so many penalties they would have won the Club class as they were only 31 behind the winner. Just shows penalties do matter, especially when the number of competitors is low. Stage 12 was another good stage with several winching opportunities. After a short winch it was to a rutted hill which everyone had to winch after failed attempts to drive. Once again the team work between Lance Goodman and Michael Duncan came to the fore.Lance on foot ran to the base of the hill, looked up and confidently told Michael he could drive it. Talk about positivity and confidence building but it was exactly what was required. The Suzuki lifted wheels, sat sideways for a moment but continued to climb the ruts to the top with great assurance and style. They also managed to drive another section most had to winch through proving that in time and a little better preparation and winch; Michael is going to one hell’va of a competitor, especially if he can convince Lance to keep his own vehicle parked up and continue doing the hard work.
Time to reflect
While the results were being tallied and checked there was time to reflect on the weekend. It was a very good event, especially for a first time and it was pleasing to see a return to a true winch challenge format over two days and night stages. Missing was the deep mud bogs that kill vehicles, winches and co-drivers and prove nothing. The stages were well thought out with some technical type winch sections that kept competitors on their toes. It was a fair event where outright horsepower was never going to win, and those that demonstrated good preparation, good team work and winch skills were duly rewarded. Hopefully Twin City 4x4 Club will do it all again soon and that more competitors support these events, even if it does involve a bit of travel.