Whanganui's Hamish Auret and co-driver Paul Barnes finished the 2018-19 4x4 National Trials season in the Top 5 after a cautious final round near Eltham today.
Around 40 truck crews attended the sixth round on Hu Rd in Rawhitiroa, where the NZ1 was always going to be decided between Auckland brothers Scott and Jarred Biggs, with Scott being the defending champion from last season when Jarred was his co-driver.
In the end, Scott Biggs won his fourth round of the campaign to comfortably retain his title on overall points, with Jarred having won the other two rounds and had needed to beat his brother again while hoping he finished further back in the pack.
Former national champion Auret, who could only compete at five rounds after missing the season opener while recovering from a broken leg, finished fifth on the day in Eltham for the D Class trucks, which will be enough for either fourth or fifth overall for the season.
This comfortably qualifies him within the Top 10 who will go on to compete at the 5th Suzuki Extreme Challenge, being hosted by Dan Cowper on April 28 at his Turakina farm.
Cowper sold his truck during the season to Palmerston North's Steve Earle, carrying on as Earle's co-driver, and the pair had an excellent day in Eltham to finish third, following on from coming fifth at the previous two rounds.
Auret said the Taranaki course was not too difficult, so the challenge was to make sure you didn't have a big mistake on one of the obstacles, as that would mean conceeding a lot of penalty points which you were unlikely to make up on the rest of the field during a low-scoring day.
"There was no chance of [us] getting on the podium, so we made sure we played it a little bit safe.
"There was a few challenging ones, but it wasn't quite as tough as a national final usually is."
Auret and Barnes had one big rollover on their second obstacle, but they recovered to grind out the rest of the morning and afternoon sessions with few faults.
The Whanganui driver had barely finished runnerup to Scott Biggs last season on a countback, having won the title for the second time the year before.
However, only being able to compete at five of the six rounds after missing Upper Hutt, due to requiring medication to complete his recovery from the broken leg, proved too much of a hurdle.
Drivers drop their worst result from the six rounds from their final season points tallies, so Auret had to be flawless for every remaining round because he had already used up his spare.
"It's definitely cost us because getting a tenth [place] last time, we would obviously drop that round," he said.
"We're reasonably happy for the season."
The truck is in good condition and just needs a new set of tyres to be ready for the Extreme Challenge.
Biggs has won two of the previous four Challenges in Turakina, while Auret his hoping he can reverse his fortunes from previously being strong in the national series but missing out in the one-off event.
Last year, Auret and Barnes were leading early on until they attempted the optional large jump across a collection of tractor tyres on the "Monster Jam" sixth hazard.
Auret cleared the tyres to the delight of the crowd, but snapped off the front of his truck when landing, and the time it took to repair it saw them drop back in the points to finish fourth on the day.
"We're really keen to try to do well, that Suzuki day has eluded us so far," he said.