Wanganui played host to the first round of the 2015–’16 National New Zealand 4x4 Trials championship on October 25, in a small valley under bright sun, surrounded by lots of mud. At first it may seem that the sport consists of a bunch of trucks wallowing in mud with aural V8 pleasure in abundance, but there is a lot more to it than first meets the eye.
There are five classes within the sport, and the majority of trucks compete in classes C and D, which are the purpose-built trucks. C class is for engines of zero to four cylinders, and D is for five cylinders and up. Each truck has a crew of two, one being the driver, and the other being the co-driver, who is responsible for assisting with the braking of the truck. On the dash in front of the co-driver are often four levers connected to individual hydraulic lines that each lead to one wheel of the truck to allow for precision braking, cornering, and maneuvering.
Out on course there are at least 30 hazards that drivers must negotiate. Being a spectator was great, as in the morning the ‘even-number’ hazards were up, while in the afternoon it was the turn of the ‘odd numbers’. Talk about keeping things spectator friendly!
Scoring for the competitors is straightforward as well; at the start are blue pegs that are worth 100 points and at the finish there is the same, while on the left boundary are red pegs, and on the right are yellow pegs. Crews attempt to negotiate their truck as far through the obstacles as they can; the further you go the less points you accumulate. If you can get your front hubs through the blue pegs at the finish you score a perfect zero, and at the end of the day the lowest score wins. Nice and straightforward, or so you would think.
Slippery, muddy slopes, vertical climbs, are all coupled with a big V8-powered engine that just chomps at the bit — kind of like a kid taking his energetic Rottweiler for a walk. Lots of wheelspin and flying mud is great, but this is where finesse comes into the show. Drivers are penalized for touching any of the marker pegs as the hazard winds through the slippery countryside, and they often wind through narrow gaps that result in the trucks perched precariously on the edge of a hillside.
The driver and co-driver have to work perfectly in sync to ensure the hazard is passed with the lowest possible score. It really is like threading a needle, so often just a tiny dab of back-left brake while the driver blips the throttle is the difference between a perfect score and barrel rolling all the way to the bottom of the hill. What line you take to the blue pegs at the end is entirely up to you — just don’t touch any pegs on the way, and don’t venture out of bounds.
The top-class trucks are truly gravity-defying, having to maneuver suspension-contorting angles and deep mud holes that are anything but easy to navigate. Looking straight at a near-vertical cliff dotted with coloured pegs, the crew just smiles, stands on the loud pedal, and the truck just climbs like a mountain goat. Once the front hubs have passed the blue pegs they sit there precariously until the co-driver carefully works the brakes so the truck creeps backwards down the path that they just roared vertically up. With all the hazards being navigated only once, there are no second chances, and drivers are given free reign to start where they like on the course. A little bit of cunning doesn’t go amiss as some obstacles cut up quicker than others, and those mud holes get deeper as the day wears on, I am sure.
This was only my second event, so my background knowledge was pretty minimal. I did, however, have a great day out in the sun for just $10, and some of the photographic opportunities these trucks throw up are fantastic. If you like the sound of a screaming V8, and some flying dirt sounds like you then make sure you get along to check things out. Cheaper than a cup of coffee and a piece of cake, and 100 times more entertaining I can promise you that.
Round two is coming up on Saturday, November 21 in South Waikato, so book the day as busy if you’re keen to head along and check it out.