Motorsport: The tough get going for Taupo 1000

By Eric Thompson

Five former champs target second win in offroad race

Former champion Tony McCall is a strong prospect to win the gruelling Taupo 1000 offroading event this weekend.
Former champion Tony McCall is a strong prospect to win the gruelling Taupo 1000 offroading event this weekend.

It's the toughest, longest and fastest offroad race in the Southern Hemisphere and competitors include former champs and a Lotto winner.

The Taupo 1000 offroad race runs from this weekend and will be the biggest race for the event in 21 years. Over 125 vehicles in various guises will test themselves on the course.

The Taupo 1000 runs every two years and tests drivers and pit teams with the mammoth task of racing 1000 kilometres over rough terrain without so much as a sniff of tarmac.

"We have the best quality entry ever, an all-new course that will challenge drivers with terrain that runs from narrow forest tracks to logging highways, and the pit village is now almost complete," said organiser Tony Saelman.

"This race is the equivalent of three Rally New Zealands all wrapped into two days of offroad competition. It's the toughest test for driver and vehicle, and simply getting to the finish on the second day is a major achievement."

The race is likely to be a pair of 500km sprint races for the leading teams. The top classes usually set the race pace, and with 24 entries in the unlimited class it's likely to be fast and furious.

There are five former champions hankering to get another trophy for the mantelpiece - Alan Butler, Clim Lammers, Tony McCall, Melvin Rouse and Clive Thornton (Whakatane). Lotto millionaire Trevor Cooper will be driving a brand-new Jimco Chev.

A further 20 entries in class three for cars with engines up to 1.6 litres will be at, or close to, the pace of the big unlimited cars including two-time Woodhill 100 winner James Buchanan, who ran in the top five in the 2011 Taupo race in his Cougar Suzuki Evo.

Several of the 14-strong unlimited truck class have the potential to run in the top five each day and among them Raana Horan, fresh from a year in the Australian Offroad Racing Championship, is a prime contender for the title. Horan will pilot a 6.0-litre four-wheel-drive Nissan Titan and was third overall in the 2011 Taupo race.

Nick Leahy and Nick Hall are strong contenders for the class win along with father and son team Martin and William van der Wal.

There is the new UTV competing and some of those guys have shown the potential of this new class to win endurance races. If they can minimise the effect of their limited range then Ben Thomasen, Mike Small or Reece Trotter could be well placed to take the win.

Also racing in the UTV class is 77-year-old Ron Kirkman who's likely to be the oldest racer at the event but by no means the slowest. He won the UTV class in the 2011 race.

The event has been plotted over a new course based around a 50km lap on new roads never used for the race. There is also a new pit and prologue area on farmland on SH5 at Opepe, 12km from Taupo.

Dixon's big fine

IndyCar driver Scott Dixon has taken his US$37,500 ($47,000) fine on the chin after his outburst about race director Beaux Barfield. The New Zealander has been on the receiving end of what he considered a few dubious calls by the IndyCar race director and at one point called for his resignation.

In hindsight, and after passions had cooled a little, Dixon realised he had overstepped the mark with his outburst and was not surprised to receive the fine.

The organisers said he was in breach of rules and 9.3.7 following the event where Will Power suddenly veered right causing the Kiwi to slam into the wall.

The rules state there's a penalty for, "Using improper, profane, or disparaging language or gestures in reference to Officials, Members or actions or situations connected in any way with IndyCar."

A statement from IndyCar said: "Because of the public display of these actions, Dixon will be able to work off the fine by making public appearances on behalf of IndyCar."

Kiwis in action

On a better note for the Target Chip Ganassi driver, of all the Kiwi drivers in action over the weekend, only Dixon had a result to write home about. He and teammate Dario Franchitti finished third at the latest round of the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car series at Laguna Seca, California.

Regular series combatant Brendon Hartley set the fastest lap time in practice and looked good for a podium finish until disaster struck with the team finishing 26th.

It wasn't much better for GP2 driver Mitch Evans at Monza for the Italian Formula One Grand Prix where average qualifying saw him struggling to get an advantage from mid pack. As normally happens when jostling for position back in the field, Evans had a coming together with Simon Trummer, ending both their races on the opening lap.

Race two was marginally better with Evans making full race distance to cross the line in 15th.

International GT Open driver Chris van der Drift looked good during qualifying at Spa-Francorchamps by qualifying third, but his run of bad luck in the three previous races continued when the team managed to pick up no points again.

- NZ Herald

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