Turakina's Dan Cowper is looking at a tight finish to the New Zealand 4x4 Trials Championship season as one of three drivers in the C Class division capable of winning the title after the penultimate round near Huntly in the Waikato on Saturday.
The Mckie Contracting National 4x4 Trial was hosted by the Counties 4WD club.
Around 45 drivers and navigators in six divisions tackled the Ohinewai course on Tahuna Rd, consisting of 31 hazards to overcome while conceeding the least penalty points.
Te Puke's Nathan Fogden, driving a Cowper truck, followed up his success from the second and third rounds in January by winning C Class with 654.53 penalty points, ahead of Matamata's Michael McGiven (677.86) and Cowper (679.03), who had won the fourth round in his backyard last month.
"We had the worst points in the morning out of all of them, and then in the afternoon we had the best," said Cowper of the leading three contenders, only just missing out on runnerup by virtue of the two hazards that are judged on speed rather than completing as many gates as possible.
"A good day, a pretty tough day, we ended up close to 700 points which shows you how tough it was."
McGiven and Cowper have entered every round of the six round series so far, and thus are tied at the top of the overall points standings for their division.
However this season, drivers can deduct their worst round score, or a round from which they were absent, from their final tally.
Fogden has missed one round but has had a succession of victories.
"So if he does well at the next round, he'll probably take out C Class, but he's got to finish, of course," said Cowper.
4x4: Turakina course a real challenge as local Dan Cowper leads C-Class
Jetsprints: Whanganui's Ross Travers wins Waitara round of nationals for Group A
Finally, Whanganui back on the jetsprints podium
The last round of the season will hosted by the Hawkes Bay Four Wheel Drive Club on April 18.
In the unlimited power D Class division, which also decides the overall national champion, Palmerston North's Derek Smyth had a great day, winning the round with just 311.96 penalty points.
He was well clear of runnerup Greg McDell (350.65), however the Taupiri driver's incredible consistency to collect yet another Top 3 finish this season has him virtually uncatchable on top of the points standings.
This is especially true after Auckland's Biggs brothers - Jarred and defending champion Scott - finished fifth and eighth respectively.
Third on the day was Waiterimu's Russell Luders (372.12), while Palmerston North's Stuart Earle, another Cowper-built truck driver, was fourth (384.35).
Whanganui's Grant Harrison had a DNF and did not get onto any hazards.
Cowper said there have been a lot of changes amongst the overall Top 10 of the series, who will then be invited to attend the sixth annual Suzuki Extreme 4x4 Challenge, held at Cowper's Turakina farm property on May 10, later to be televised on TV3's CRC Motorsport.
However, the promoter finds himself at the mercy of current events, as the spread of coronavirus COVID-19 has seen the cancellation or postponement of many international sporting events, while others are being held without spectators.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is expected to make directives about holding mass gatherings early this week, as Australia has advised against gatherings of more than 500 people.
"I've had a few discussions with people up at the event [on Saturday]," Cowper said.
He received support from the drivers and others that they would like the challenge to go ahead as scheduled.
"As of today, it's still going, but things change every day.
"Obviously, I have to make a call before I invest too much money."
The challege would already have to see some changes, as popular 4x4 and jetsprints announcer Tim 'Caveman' Barrot would be unlikely to attend from Australia, due to the government announcement that all persons arriving in New Zealand must self-isolate for 14 days.