South Head’s Raana Horan has made history at the 30th annual Woodhill 100 offroad endurance race, becoming the first driver to win the event in a four wheel drive vehicle.
The punishing 175 km endurance race is rated the toughest in the sport in this country. The event celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and is believed to be the only New Zealand motorsport event to have been run in the same location throughout its duration. Through the past 29 years, the race had only ever been won by specialist “space framed” offroad race cars.
Horan qualified on pole and leapt into the lead with a dominant start, launching the massive Nissan Titan utility down the short straight to the “holeshot” first corner.
He was chased hard as the field entered the forest by Whakatane’s Malcolm Langley, who hung off the big Nissan’s rear bumper in his Mitsubishi EV0 VII engined Bakersfield single-seater. Hawkes Bay driver Shayne Huxtable followed Langley in his Nissan turbo-powered car.
The only truck able to stay with Horan and the leading bunch was the rear wheel drive Nissan of Gary Baker, who was fourth overall.
As the field emerged from the first 28 km lap, Horan was in control, throwing the big truck into corners as if it were a rally car half its size. He led Langley by 20 seconds. Missing from the front-running bunch was Huxtable, whose Nissan engine had exploded at half distance.
Baker was up to third, chased by west Auckland driver and race organiser Donn Attwood in his Bu-Mac RV Toyota Super 1600. Kumeu driver Rene Sciarone was fourth, driving a Chenowth Toyota as part of the two-car Pinepac team.
Disaster struck the Baker team just four kilometres into the second lap when the Camp Quality Nissan Navara V8 hit a tree and rolled, partly blocking the track in the process.
The race was stopped while the stricken truck was pulled back onto its wheels and recovered from the forest. Both Baker and navigator Mark Hobson were shaken but unhurt.
At the re-start, Horan once more swept into the lead and was never headed. Once he had established the pace needed to stay in front, Horan drove for the finish, using his mirrors to maintain a gap over Langley in second. Rene Sciarone had moved through to third, the best of the local “gang of four” Super 1600 entries that had aimed to dominate the race.
Deep in the forest, the punishing sand tracks were exacting a toll on competitors and cars. Among many to become bogged or damage their cars were Richmond Autos Class Five front-runner Phil Finlay of Pukekohe, who suffered a total of three flat tyres during the race; AFWE production truck racer Anthony Hewitt, who found his big Dodge Ram stuck behind a smaller, slower production-class truck in the rough going; and Hamilton driver Paul Smith who suffered a flat tyre and arrived back at the pits running on a bare front wheel rim.
Aucklander Mike Gibson smashed his front suspension — one of many to do so as the Woodhill exacted its customary heavy toll on the field.
Horan had lapped several back-markers and was clear of Langley as the field entered the final lap, Langley grappling with a slipping clutch that forced him to drive on part throttle.
On that final lap, the deeply rutted sand tracks decided the end of the race. So many lower-order cars had become bogged in the tight sections that when the bunch arrived there was no viable way through. After attempting to winch some of the cars clear, organisers decided to declare the race and redirect the field to the start-finish compound.
Winner of AFWE ThunderTruck and outright winner Raana Horan said the Woodhill was the one race he has wanted to win ever since first hearing of the sport.
“Today was just sensational, and it was great to be the one to finally put a truck on the top step of the winner’s podium.”
Behind him, Malcolm Langley was second overall and won Southern Lakes Transmissions class one. He is vowing to overcome the car’s clutch woes and go head to head with Horan’s Nissan at coming rounds of the championship.
“We were staying with Raana okay even when the clutch as slipping; for the last half of the race I could only use part throttle or the clutch would just slip, so I know we are well on the pace.”
Third overall and first in BigPosters class three was Rene Sciarone, who says third place “will do” for this year. He still has his sights set on a win at Woodhill and points out the race is won as much by good fortune as by driving skill and car preparation.
AFWE production truck honours went to Auckland’s Anthony Hewitt in his Dodge Ram 4X4 ahead of Nigel Newlands of Hamilton. The win also hands Hewitt the class lead in the national championship.
Gary “Gunna” Scott was another local driver to score well, winning AFWE Sport Truck class for improved four wheel drives and utilities in his Mitsubishi Pajero Evo.
Racing for event sponsor Denny’s New Zealand, Darryn Bell of Muriwai brought his TVR-engined Range Rover home first in AFWE class six for Challenge Trucks. He said though he had been driving “ten tenths” for most of the race the Range Rover had only stepped off line once, its four wheel drive drawing it back onto the road and away from the ever-present trees.
Drury racer Nick Hall was first in Richmond Autos Class Five after a race-long battle with Pukekohe’s Phil Finlay.
Experienced racer Geoff Matich added another class win to his career tally, taking out Vee-Dub Shoppe Challenger class for cars with VW 1600 flat four engines.
Confounding predictions that his Subaru Leone — “Heidi the Paddock Car” would become stuck in the deep ruts of the sand tracks, Hamilton racer Simeon Gilbert brought the rough but ready racer home to win Vee-Dub Shoppe class nine.
But the weekend belonged to Raana Horan, who now takes over the ThunderTruck class lead for the national championship and also leads the North Island ThunderTruck class points race.