Te Puke pairing Nathan Fogden and co-driver Mike Gibbons will be looking to wrap up their class at the penultimate round of the 2018-19 New Zealand 4x4 Trials Championship this weekend.
Bay of Plenty Four Wheel Drive Club will host the Advantage Tyres/BF Goodrich National 4x4 Trial, round five of six in the 2018-19 championship, at 1204 Rangiuru Rd near Te Puke on Saturday.
The Fogden/Gibbons pairing and their Zook-Sport/BF Goodrich Tires C-class Cowper truck top their class on 362 points, 21 ahead of multiple C-class champion, Wellington's Phil Conwell.
''As long as we finish in the top three, we'll take the national title for the class. We started season with three first places in our class and were second at the last round,'' said Fogden.
This is Fogden's third year in the supermodified, four cylinder C-class.
He started competing in the national series in the 2004-5 season in an A class Suzuki originally bought as a work vehicle for his contracting business.
''We're a forestry establishment and silviculture contracting business, so quite often we have to get into remote little places. I had a very good friend who was doing the national trial series in a little Suzuki Jeep and he goes 'you should get one of these to get into your blocks' and it developed from there. Then all of a sudden it was, we don't want that [vehicle] for work any more, we want it for fun.''
He won the A-class title for production vehicles twice and then the E-class title for more modified vehicles in 2008-2009.
''I did six years in that class and Mike was with me for three of those, and then we got to that point where we'd been banging our little Suzuki Jeep around the sides of these hills for 10 year and said, lets go and get amongst it with the real top guys.''
The truck he now campaigns was built over a couple of years.
''It's quite a bit of kit, and it was a lot of truck to get used to compared to what we'd been in.''
They managed one round win and third place overall that first season, but ''weren't consistent enough''. They improved a place in 2017-18.
''We were right there last season, and it probably came down to two hazards at one rally in the middle of the season. That was the difference because we went on a bit of a run after that.''
Gibbons built the motor that Fogden describes as a ''pretty special four cylinder'' that puts out 270 kilowatts.
As long as they have a four cylinder power plant, the only other limitation on C-class vehicles is tyre size.
''We can have four-wheel steer, any suspension we want, independent wheel brakes on each wheel, twin diff locks,'' said Fogden.
''Our truck was built so it's a team effort - Mike has the four-wheel brakes and two diff locks to control, I've got a steering wheel and gears and throttle, although I can grab the wheel brakes as well if he's in trouble and can't do anything.''
''He dictates how fast we go, and I dictate which direction we go,'' said Gibbons.
''He's got the steering wheel but my brakes override his steering wheel - if he wants to go left and I want to go right, I win.
Timing is crucial.
''If he holds on to the brakes too long we end up to the point where we aren't going to get it back,'' said Fogden.
''The challenge is for me to apply the power when he wants me to, when you put the power on it helps the truck turn - so it's that co-ordination.''
''I can quite often be going down a hill trying to grab the front and the rear [wheel] brakes on the same side trying to get the truck to turn and as soon as I let that go I'm grabbing another button to get the diff locked, so it can get busy on both sides of the truck,'' said Gibbons.
Consistency is crucial to success.
''It's about getting the points you should get with the truck you've got,'' said Fogden.
''You can't make one mistake - one mistake will be the difference between first and fifth.
"But you are on surface that's not going to be consistent and you can't say a tyre's going to do this - so it's hard to be that consistent - every hazard is different and hazards change over the day."
The random draw for start position can be crucial.
''Some hazards will get harder over the day and some will get easer - a mud bog is typically one that will get harder, hill climbs or sidelings will get easier because they get smoothed off and the grass gets taken off,'' said Fogden.
Dominating this year's overall championship have been Auckland's Biggs brothers with their 6.0-litre self-built Nitro Customs D-class (5-cylinder plus) Super Modified trucks.
Defending champion Scott Biggs has won three of the four previous rounds to be on 399 points out of a possible 400. Brother Jarred, Scott's co-driver last season, won the other round and sits on 388 points.
Waikato driver Neville Mather is the nearest challenger to the Biggs brothers with 382 points.
Also competing on Saturday will be Tauranga's David Vanderschantz whose championship hopes this season have been hampered with transmission problems.
■ The event takes place on Saturday at 1204 Rangiuru Rd, starting at 8.30am. Adults $10, children $5, family $25.
Each hazard is marked by blue pegs at the start and end points.
The boundaries of the hazard are indicated by red pegs on the right and yellow pegs on the left.
The driver and co-driver attempt to negotiate their vehicle through each hazard as far as they can.
Vehicles must not flatten or straddle pegs or run over boundary pegs if on a graded hazard.
Hazards include hill climbs, water courses, mud bogs, steep hills, rocks and ruts as well as speed sections.