After six rounds and six months, it all came down to just one point.
The National 4x4 Trials series has a new champion as Auckland's three-time runnerup Scott Biggs got just a high enough placing to finally deny Whanganui rival Hamish Auret in the season finale at the 4x4 Stampede in Turakina on Saturday afternoon.
In a dramatic day on the hill and embankments beside Glencairn Rd, the Wanganui 4WD Club had designed the toughest course of the season, which was made more difficult by the churning mud from the week's worth of rain.
Defending champion Auret climbed back from adversity in the D-Class to all but win the round and with it the season title.
In the end, on a very high-scoring day with plenty of penalty points from unfinished hazards, be it trucks getting bogged down or rolling over, Waikato's Greg McDell claimed the round with 659.8 penalty points – barely ahead of Auret and co-driver Paul Barnes with 660.86.
Auret had needed to finish about five placings ahead of season points leader Biggs and the Aucklander was struggling in the conditions – ultimately finishing sixth overall with 886.06 points.
But it was enough, thanks to McDell winning ahead of Auret.
"It puts us and Biggs on equal points for the season and he wins on countback because he's had more first placings. So close," said the Whanganui driver.
Similar to last year, when Auret won the overall title by a solitary point, Biggs had victories at three rounds compared to the Whanganui competitor's one-off win, showing how razor close the battle between them has been them all season.
Conditions were very tough for all 47 drivers, competing in six truck classes, and Auret had been sure his day was ruined after a hard lick at the start of the afternoon session, following on from leading the morning round by 11 points over McDell.
"Straight after lunch we had the big off– broke the front off the truck. I thought that was it.
"A really good crew of guys pulled together and got it going again."
The extra time for repairs changed the afternoon's rotation through the hazards, so Auret was no longer being followed by Biggs as scheduled, meaning neither driver was aware of the other's progress and final tallies were only confirmed when announced at Whanganui Girls College that evening.
"We didn't know how they were going through the day, which is probably a good thing," said Auret.
"It's been a real battle with Biggs and I really liked that. Close all year.
"We wanted a proper, tough, national final and that's what it proved to be."
The truck's extra welding held together as Auret and Barnes dragged themselves back into contention, but McDell lifted his game to finish with 12 points less than the home team in the second half of the day to claim victory.
Meanwhile, Biggs recovered from a tough morning session, where he conceded over 500 points, to finish 28 points clear of seventh place and win a long-overdue championship by his fingernails.
Auret and Barnes have a lot of repair work to do on both the front of the truck and their bent diff before the Suzuki Extreme Challenge on April 29.
Extreme Challenge organiser and former national champion Dan Cowper finished 11th for the round in D-Class, but said he opted not to push his luck as he wanted to give an intact truck to Levi Sherwood, with the freestyle motocross star driving it at the challenge.
"I knew it would be real tough," Cowper said at the lunchtime break.
"People will be racking up the points – we've had moments of brilliance and then downers."
One very challenging hazard was No31 – a twisting course which went up and down a creek bed – and given Cowper had watched the two drivers before him badly damage their trucks, he did not even try to fully complete it.
"I just went down and got the grading – I've never done it before."
Waikato 4WD Club's Phil Hobart and his shaking partner Brittany Hobart were the first truck to get through No31 with no penalty points.
Of the other Whanganui connections, the father/daughter team of Grant and Renee Harrison finished fourth in the seven truck C-Class and 24th overall on the day with 1220.54 penalty points.
"Tough. It's been a real tough course – a pretty high scoring day," Renee Harrison said during a brief break in the late morning.
Nathan Smith could only agree as he sat his K-Class truck just above the start of the No31 hazard.
"It's a bloody hard course, mate. [The rain], it just doesn't help."
Smith and co-driver Matt Hanna finished second in the three truck K-Class and 25th overall with 1222.34 points.
Mike Gee-Taylor and co-driver Alister Bradley finished 14th in D-Class and 15th overall with 1002.78 penalty points.