Adrenaline adventure off the road

Last updated 12:00 20/02/2013
TEAM TALK: Palmerston North Offroad Racing Club member Martin van der Wal, left, has a chat with club president Andrew Briggs.

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If you're a fan of drifting round corners, speeding through the mud, mastering vehicle control or getting good "air time", then this could be the club for you.

Lucy Townend takes a look at offroad racing and the "mentally unstable" drivers who love it.

Despite the grunty engines, the caged-in driving cabs, the jumps, the hairpins, the thrills and the spills, offroad racing is a safe sport, says Palmerston North Offroad Racing Club president Andrew Briggs.

In the 10 or so years Briggs has been driving, he has only had a few broken ribs, a cracked sternum and a compressed spine.

"It's pretty hard on the body, kind of like stockcars in that sense," he says. "But it's just baby things, nothing major . . . and for the most part, it's a very safe sport."

There is heavy tubing right round drivers, a five-point harness keeps them latched in, along with neck braces, helmets and fire-proof suits offering further protection. So, really, all the drivers need "is to be a little bit mentally unstable and [have] a good sense of humour", he says.

The Palmerston North club has been running for about 50 years and now boasts a membership of about 25 drivers. Briggs says people tend to get the club confused with four-wheel-driving, but the two are different.

In offroading the same cars could be racing along a sprint course clocking speeds of 100kmh to 200kmh one weekend, and then the next heading out on a 1000-kilometre enduro race.

Then the joy of it comes down to the cars, he says.

An offroad car has to handle well on tight corners, must be able to jump high and hard, needs good power to weight ratio and be able to transfer horsepower into traction quickly.

It is one of the only motor racing sports in the world where drivers use vehicles that can last on an aggressive, rugged short course, through to enduro courses, he says.

"Durability is a big thing in the sport, along with maintenance and how you drive it.

"We have gentlemen who have been in the club for more than 20 years, who are still learning things about their cars and how to drive them."

Although the club's tracks in Foxton and Feilding are the old faithfuls for Briggs, his big appetite for the sport comes from the excitement of tearing up a new track.

"Unlike circuit racing and track racing, the terrain is always different," he says.

There are twisty courses with hairpins, jumps and short straights, then there are more open courses over rolling farmland.

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The best thing about the racing environments in New Zealand is it varies so much and ranges from courses on clay, sand, gravel, soil, mud, grass, forestry and water, he says.

The club has a nice mix of some of the youngest drivers in the country, coupled with more experienced ones.

This includes the country's top class 8 match driver who proudly sports the NZ1 badge, meaning he is the best in the country for his class.

The oldest member is 55, the youngest 15.

"It appeals to a whole range of different people with different lifestyles and different budgets," he says.

If people are keen to give it a go, Briggs says there are always twin-seater buggies that can squeeze in two people.

"Once people get a taste for it they thoroughly enjoy it . . . and with offroading it's one of the few sports where you've got a reasonable amount of speed, a reasonable amount of airtime and a reasonable amount of sliding in it.

"It just requires a lot of skill to be very competitive. By the same token if you're out there it is a family-orientated club, or if you're out there just for a bit of fun or if you want to take a machine for a run, that's fine as well. It's not always about being first over the finish line. You're only limited by how far you want to put your foot down on the accelerator."

The club meets every second Sunday of the month at one of the home tracks. For more information visit


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- © Fairfax NZ News

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