The Wentworth Shire Pooncarie Desert Dash is underway with Josh Howells making a strong start to the second round of the 2023 Polaris Motorsport Australia Off Road Championship (AORC) season.
A strong entry list of 50 crews were entered in the event taking place in rural New South Wales and it was the Sydney-based Josh Howells and co-driver Gordon Tardrew who proved too good for the field after a near-perfect start to the event.
Following a minor technical scare in the lead up to Prologue, Howells flexed his muscles and snatched pole position from the 2022 AORC reigning champions Ryan Taylor and Kye Floyd by just over one second.
When it came to Section One of the race, Howells and Tardrew showed no signs of relinquishing their lead as they were the only crew to finish the 106km lap under one hour.
Taylor and Floyd battled hard to solidify second place just over a minute behind, while Travis Robinson and Andrew Pinto dropped to fourth place after finishing Prologue in third.
Replacing the ever-talented West Australians in third place by just 12 seconds was the first of two Kiwi crews in Raana Horan and Michael Connor.
It was a day dominated by the Pro Buggies with the top four crews separated by just two minutes and led by the clear front runner in Howells.
“It was a good start and we put in a nice clean lap to keep a bit of a gap between second place,” Howells said.
“Tomorrow, the plan is to pretty much do the exact same thing, put down the same sort of lap and we’ll be happy. I need to avoid doing anything silly and try to keep a cool head.
“It will be the usual checks on the car tonight. Hopefully we don’t find anything catastrophic, but I’m sure we’re good.
“It definitely feels good to be leading. It’s where we want to be and we’re keen to just try and keep it up.”
Comfortably in fifth place was the first Pro Lite in Mel Brandle and Nick Price, who finished the section just shy of six minutes off the leader.
Rounding out the top 10 behind the South Australians were a quartet of Pro Buggies and one SXS Pro, all of whom were separated by just over 30 seconds.
Claiming sixth for the section was Daniel and Charlotte Hughes, while Brett Rogers and Brett Richardson crossed the line seven seconds slower but 10 seconds faster than the second Kiwi crew in John and Dave Morgan.
Crossing the line in ninth place overall is the leading SXS Pro crew in James Cook and Mitch Aucote, with the current championship leaders edging out Pooncarie local Joshua Wilson.
Just missing out on a top 10 finish was Extreme 2WD leaders Brett Comiskey and Corey Cooper, while the second best SXS Pro in Kye and Luke Camillieri were a further 14 seconds in 12th.
The opening section also saw a number of non-finishers, with the highest profile being Garry and Tamara Turnbull who stopped just six kilometres from the finish line. Toby Whateley and Simon Hermann also failed to finish, with the trophy truck stopping 26km from the end.
The action continues tomorrow with crews to tackle three laps of the 106km course with the action to get underway from 9am AEST.