Whanganui's defending 4x4 National Trial champion Hamish Auret and co-driver Paul Barnes had to settle for third at the opening round of the season on a Awakeri that was just a little too straight forward on Sunday.
Entering into D Class with his Chev-powered truck, Auret had a clean scoresheet on 29 of the hazards set up on the day - driving through without conceeding any penalties - as did the other strong performers in Dargaville's Aaron Guest and Manukau's Phil Walton.
They only hazard that gave them or most of the other large field any issues was the 16th hazard, where Guest and Walton conceded 60 penalty points while Auret picked up 80.
Guest finished first for D Class and first overall on the day on a time countback from Walton at the Downard Rd course near Whakatane, which was hosted by the Eastern Bay Twin Diff Club.
"It was really easy hazards, which is not ideal because if you make a mistake, you're gone. No way to get the points back," said Auret.
"Quite a few of the serious contender guys made the odd mistake. Touch a peg and your day's gone."
Other top drivers like Auckland's Scott Biggs, twice runnerup to the national title, along with Manawatu's former NZ1 driver Derek Smyth, both back with new vehicles, had little stutters throughout the day which ultimately had a big effect in their points standings.
4x4 trialling is often done in difficult terrain and adverse weather conditions, making hazards even more difficult as the day wears on.
Good drivers on well-built machines therefore have to adjust and each can make different decisions on which ways they attack each hazards, rather than having an obvious pathway each time.
"The bigger trucks and the more courageous drivers do come to the fore then," said Auret.
"But it's good to test those skills, you've got to drive anything."
The Whanganui driver was still happy with his Top 3 performance, given the fortnight leading up to the event saw the team struggling with transmission problems.
Auret worked with Turakina's former national champion and Suzuki Extreme 4x4 Challenge director Dan Cowper to get his 7-litre truck up to scratch and was very relieved that it drove perfectly all day.
"It was actually a bit of a nightmare a few weeks out."
The top points scorer across the six rounds wins the title, with drivers able to drop their worst round performance from the standings.
Consistency is the key, as Auret won just one round last season compared to Biggs winning three.
But Auret finished in the Top 5 of every round except the last one near Massey, therefore pipping the more erratic Biggs by just one point to claim the title.
Sunday was Auret's first chance to see how the other top drivers are looking this 2017-18 season, with several in new trucks and packages.
"Realistically, there's 15 guys this year that can take the title, which is more than it's been in many years. It's good for the sport."
Of the other Wanganui 4WD Club members, Grant Harrison finished sixth of the eight drivers in C Class, with was 24th overall of the 40 drivers across five classes.
In D Class, Mike Gee-Taylor had a pretty good day, collecting penalty points on only just over a handful of hazards, but on a tight table that meant a finish of 15th in D Class and 19th overall.
John McGonigle was frustrated to take his rebuilt truck all that way, only to suffer a failure and be unable to get the truck on course.
Round 2 of the national series will be held near Huntly on December 10, with the other rounds scheduled for January 20, February 24, March 24, and April 14.