An afternoon round that was going perfectly for Hamish Auret turned upside down, literally, in an unexpected hole which cost him a podium finish at the third round of the 2018-19 4x4 National Trials in the Waikato on Saturday.
In the D-Class division on the Pukeatua course, Auret and co-driver Paul Barnes were comfortably handling the obstacles set up by the South Waikato 4WD club, especially with Auckland's defending champion Scott Biggs sitting behind them on points after the morning session.
However, the team struck calamity in the afternoon on the 14th obstacle, an "unguarded" obstacle which means failure to complete it saw them collect the maximum 100 penalty points.
Auret therefore finished with 370.35 points for the day, slipping back to sixth overall, respectively behind Manawatu's Derek Smyth, Waikato's Phil Hobart, Waikato's Greg McDell and the Biggs twins – Scott and Jarred.
Jarred Briggs, who used to be the head driver with Scott as co-driver until they switched roles a few season ago, has gone out in his own truck this season and won his first ever round.
With Scott finishing runnerup to his brother, a golden opportunity was there for Auret to make up ground of the points table, which he desperately needed after not competing in the opening round due to recovering from a broken leg.
Drivers drop their worst result from the six rounds of the series from their final tally, but Auret has already used that up by missing the November event.
"It's just a bit of a shame because we had the day under control," he said about turning over and getting stuck in a hole.
"It rolled and fell over in an unexpected place.
"Barnesy and I looked at each other and we still can't understand how it fell over.
"We would drive [over] that ten times and it would sit there, but it just caught us out."
With only 242.79 points conceded, Jarred Briggs was undoubtedly the form driver, but Auret's extra 100 points left him short of Scott Biggs (282.57).
"We would have been second, ahead of Scott, and that's really what we needed.
"We can use sixth for the points [tally], but it's letting Scott creep ahead more.
"It's great for Jarred, he always used to be able to drive, there's no question."
Auret admits it may now be hard to get a podium finish for the overall season, needing to finish in the Top 3 at each of the remaining three rounds.
However, if they can do so and the likes of Jarred Briggs, Hobart and McDell have occasional success, it may spread out the points a little bit to make up ground on Scott Biggs – who now has two victories and a runnerup placing.
"The more people that can slip between the top competitors is good to."
Turakina's former national champion and 4x4 truck builder Dan Cowper has slipped across to the co-driver's chair after selling his truck to Palmerston North's Stuart Earle, who is also a member of the Wanganui 4WD Club.
Cowper, who drove at the first two rounds and had finishers of fourth and tenth, had his truck on the market and sold it to Earle a couple of weeks ago.
"I had to ring Hermie [co-driver Kevin Hermansen] and tell him," Cowper said.
"But he knew at the start of the season – if it sells, it's got to sell. It's a business decision."
Cowper will now be co-driver for Earle for the rest of the season, and the pair were satisfied to finish eighth overall at Pukeatua with 373.29 penalty points in Earle's first time behind the wheel of the truck.
"Real good, he's been a driver for a few years in another vehicle," said Cowper.
"Didn't put a foot wrong, pleased with how the truck performed with the horsepower and stability.
"It's just being able to hit the hills harder than he's used to.
"We did everything that we had in mind, didn't make any stupid mistakes. We were even ahead of Scott Biggs at lunchtime."
The fourth round will be in Whatawhata near Hamilton on February 9.