Bog holes, steep banks - all great fun

If you were wondering what the bright white lights were snaking around the Richmond foothills last weekend, they weren't apparitions, they were 4x4s.

Three night stages of the Top of the South Superwinch Mainland Challenge took place on private farmland near Richmond with nine day stages following on Sunday. Nelson 4 Wheel Drive club members had a fantastic start to the season, with locals winning each of the three classes.

Andrew Satherley and co-driver Scotty Newport, New Zealand champions for the past two years, made a perfect start to their Mainland defence, with a win in the outlaw class. He said while there were plenty of people running bright lights, the more experienced drivers preferred to see less.

"A lot of the competitors have very bright lights, so it is just like daytime," said Satherley.

"We prefer not to have too much light in, so we can't see what we are driving over or what is around you. If your lights aren't that good, you can't get a read on how steep the ground is."

Surely drivers would want to see where they are going?

"Not in a way, because it puts you off. If you can see too much, it scares you. The night stages are a bit more of a buzz, a bit of fun."

Along with safety gear, 4x4 motorsport sees many of the co-drivers kitted up in rugby boots to get traction and gloves for helping winch out of tight spots. The courses are set up to make use of naturally rough terrain, bog holes and steep banks.

The event sees competitors timed across stages. The aim is to complete each stage in one continuous run but, if the vehicle gets stuck, it's up to the co-driver to make a quick exit and set up the winch, which is scored on a set of safety regulations.

Satherley said "ultimately, don't get stuck is the trick".

In competition last weekend, there were drivers from Blenheim, Timaru and as far away as Manukau, but Nelson cleaned up in the mud.

It was also a sweep for Nelson in the open class, won by brothers James and Ben Keys, with current Mainland champ Rowan Coutts and Chad Mitchener in second, and Nelson club president Gordon Jackett and co-driver Chris Baird in third. Along with Satherley's win, Neil and Ann Albury won the entry level clubman class.

"The big thing for us, most of us probably haven't competed or driven our vehicles since last October, the pressure is on because you are trying to run the event and compete in it," said Satherley.

"For the guys who did well last year, people are expecting big things again. But [the Nelson drivers] did well."

While the sport may take on terrain chosen for its obstacles, steep inclines and mud-pits, Satherley said it is a sport that is accessible for newcomers.

"It gives the drivers confidence, especially Ann and Neil in the club class," he said. "They turned up at a working bee a couple of weeks ago and said ‘why can't we do this?' We said ‘give it a go, the worst scenario is you will come third' and they won their class.

"Now they will continue and do a few of the other rounds."

There are three rounds left in the Superwinch Mainland Challenge. Next month teams travel to Christchurch before a round in Dunedin in August. Then there is a break, with the last round in Timaru in October.

Many of the Nelson drivers will travel to a competition in Manukau, and then it is on to the New Zealand championship in Christchurch in November.

Satherley will be looking to make it three titles in a row, and other Nelson drivers will have their foot to the floor, trying to claim that NZ1 ranking.

The Nelson Mail