Hikurangi racer Clim Lammers has won his second Woodhill 100 title in a dominant drive through 250 km of the roughest and fastest roads and tracks in Woodhill Forest, hitting speeds of up to 200 km/h on his way to victory.
Lammers, one of the sport's toughest drivers, is an enduro specialist. He has won the Woodhill before and also won last year's gruelling two-day Taupo 1000, becoming the only driver to win that race four times.
He had to fight for victory in the 2014 Stihl Shop Woodhill 100 against the massive Nissan Titan V8 truck of Albany racer Raana Horan. Horan was aiming to add a third Woodhill title to his trophy cabinet, and had qualified on pole for the race against 71 other entries. A flamboyant and spectacular driver, he was the all-odds crowd favourite to take the win.
The race was the second northern round of the championship and the record entry was studded with former winners: Horan's pole start lined him up alongside 2009 winner Alan Butler; 2003 winner Lammers had qualified ninth and would line up alongside multiple Woodhill 100 winner Tony McCall. Missing was west Auckland racer James Buchanan, who has won the race for the past two years but has a new American car being prepared for next season.
From the green flag it was Horan who dominated, powering away into the forest with only Alan Butler able to match the big Nissan's speed. Before that start, Butler had set out his strategy: to let Horan lead, and stay in touch though not so close that his Millennium Evo turbo race car was pelted with rocks thrown up by the Horan truck.
For the first three laps of the nine-lap race the battle for the lead was between these two as Richard Crabb, Mal Langley, Lammers and McCall fought their way up through the pack. Horan and Butler eked out a gap of almost two minutes on the field, setting lap times in the 22-minute bracket for the punishing 27 km of logging roads and sand tracks.
Of the new championship class for 'side by side' or UTV four wheel drive cars only Tauranga's Ben Thomasen had managed to qualify in the top ten, lining up on the second row at the start, but he was now fighting for position as the faster unlimited class cars forged their way to the front. Paeroa's Mike Small and Dave Boniface were second and third in the class. As became evident in the 2013 race, the Achilles Heel of the UTVs is their limited range, with the little cars forced to pit for fuel regularly throughout the punishing enduro. These stops would push all the UTV entries down the race order as the day progressed.
Then on lap four, Raana Horan was out of the race. From the previous lap he and Butler had caught up to stragglers in the field and had been weaving their way through the slower traffic. Tryining to overtake a four wheel drive truck the big Nissan had tangled with the other vehicle, damaging the front end of Horan's truck. Shortly after that Horan pulled off and out of the race with damage to his truck's alternator.
Alan Butler then swept into the lead, chased hard by a throng of unlimited-class cars: Lammers was now second, McCall third but coming under intense pressure from Ernie Hogg in his Scorpion Chev two-seater.
Almost unnoticed by this high speed lead group, Woodhill regular Rene Sciarone had put in a gritty drive in his less powerful 1600-class car, coming through from 12th at the start to hold fifth. Many of the more powerful and more fancied entries were now behind the Toyota-powered single seater of Sciarone, who was putting in the drive of his career.
The experienced racer said afterward the key to the race is to know the character of the deep sand tracks, whether the car can 'float' over the worst of the holes and bumps or whether it will dig in; and to learn where to go fast and where to hold back and preserve the car.
As the race progressed through half distance there was heartbreak for Alan Butler, who disappeared from the lead with mechanical issues. This put Lammers into the lead with four laps to run. Tony McCall's BSL Terra had fallen out of contention with a persistent misfire and then a flat rear tyre, which put him back in fifth overall under challenge from the first unlimited class race truck, the four wheel drive turbocharged V8 Toyota of Jono Climo.
Climo and Colin Sandford, both in unlimited-class Toyota Hilux trucks, and Wellington's Justin Leonard in a Chev Colorado were battling for the class lead, Climo forcing through as high as fifth briefly and pushing McCall to sixth overall before almost running out of fuel on the last lap. The deep, cloying sand of Woodhill meant Climo's turbocharged V8 engine had been using more fuel than expected.
"It spluttered on a long sandy uphill and the engine died and I thought we were done! But we rolled her back down the hill to the flat and got some fuel through then nursed her round to the finish," he said afterward.
The delay had allowed Tony McCall back into fifth and Gregg Carrington-Hogg into sixth place.
At the front Lammers had made closing laps of the race look easy, short-shifting his car's big Nissan V6 to save fuel and picking the best lines through the now deeply-rutted sand tracks. He took the chequered flag with a race time of three hours and 20 minutes for the 250 km distance.
Attrition, as always, was high. Only 35 cars completed sufficient race laps to be classified a finisher.
Rene Sciarone was a clear and creditable second overall; Ernie Hogg third. Capping a memorable weekend for the Lammers family, son Clim Tristan Lammers came home fourth overall. Dad Lammers' first question when he got out of the car at race end was where his son had finished. His delight at a second win in this punishing race was evident.
"This race is the one everyone wants to win and it's always a huge challenge but the car never missed a beat. The sand tracks are probably harder on the driver than the car if you know what you are doing. But now I need to have a relax under a hot shower!"
Clim Lammers is the second driver to hold offroad racing's dual crown of top enduro events: Mike Cameron held the Woodhill and Taupo 1000 titles in 1996. The Woodhill race has only been won by 16 drivers in its 34 year history.
Meanwhile in the South Island championship round held the same day, top points were shared between five competitors: Steven Boyd, Wayne Moriarty, Rob Palmer, Damian Halliday and Roger McKay. Event favourite Nevil Basalaj won three heats but rolled his Jimco Chev, ending the day on 54 points and relinquishing the southern championship lead he took at the Twizel 250.