The Wentworth Shire Pooncarie Desert Dash has wrapped up in thrilling fashion as New Zealanders Raana Horan and Michael Connor claimed their first ever Australian win.
In what was an eventful day for crews and spectators, the New Zealanders proved highly consistent across the board as they beat West Australians Travis Robinson and Andrew Pinto by just over a minute.
The two front runners looked to be in a league of their own as they finished more than 10 minutes ahead of the next best ranked crew.
Rounding out the podium for the first time in their Polaris Motorsport Australia Off Road Championship (AORC) career was Mel Brandle and Nick Price, who edged out Daniel and Charlotte Hughes by less than a minute.
In an event dominated by Pro Buggies, six of the top seven cars belonged to the class with South Australian Brandle and his Alumicraft Pro Lite splitting the Pro Buggies.
Finishing behind Brandle and the Hughes in fifth was the second New Zealand crew of John and Dave Morgan, while Brent Rogers and Brett Richardson nabbed seventh place.
Victorians Alan Dixon and Gary Wakefield finished in 8th and second in the Pro Lite class, while Glenn Brinkman and Dale Moscatt took out ninth overall and a victory in the SXS Pro class by less than 15 seconds.
Brinkman led an array of SXS Pros, with Kye and Luke Camilleri second in class and rounding out the top 10. James Mogford was third in class and 11th overall alongside navigator Michael Mogford.
Sunday’s Section Two action proved far less straightforward than Saturday’s Section One. Fastest on Saturday, Josh Howells and Gordon Tardrew crashed out midway through Section Two’s second lap. Ryan Taylor and Kye Floyd were elevated to the race lead, until mechanical dramas affected the new race leaders. The 2022 Pooncarie Desert Dash winners managed to get up and running again to finish outside the top 20.
It was a heartbreaking, yet symbolic of the whole weekend, way to finish for the two stars of the AORC as they had both been the standout performers on Saturday.
As the for the winners, it was a deserving result as the Kiwis were highly consistent across the whole weekend, after scoring fourth in Prologue and moving up to third by the end of Section One.
Once they took the lead though, they never looked back as they finished off with some strong laps to stay ahead of Robinson.
“It’s the first time winning and It’s been a long time in the making,” Horan said.
“I’ve been coming to Australia for 12 years and coming over here trying to win something. I’ve had a couple of thirds, but first is my best so I’m happy.
“I didn’t think I’d won it until the end because we had a bit of a problem at the start. But when we were coming off lap three, I thought we’re in a really good spot because the guys in front of me had gone out. So I just had to do a clean lap, which I did.
“We’re into coming to these races but more into having the experience of travelling across Australia and doing races. So we’re actually looking to do some other races in Kalgoorlie and other places, somewhere we can camp and take the kids and have a good time while we’re doing it.”
As for Robinson, while he missed out on taking out the win, it was still an important result as he moved to the top of the AORC drivers’ standings following Taylor’s mishap and the withdrawal of James Cook and Mitch Aucote.
Cook and Aucote ran out of fuel on the second lap of Section Two, and they were joined by eventual Extreme 2WD leaders Brett Comiskey and Corey Cooper who were also running out of fuel just a few kilometres from the end of lap two.
The Queenslander stars managed to refuel just in time though and managed to reach the chequered flag, claiming the Extreme 2WD class win in the process.
The final class win went to Adam and Mitchell Jiear, who picked up the Production 4WD win.
While Comiskey had a happy ending with a class win, there were plenty of others who failed to finish with Trevor Chandler, Nicholas Commins, Toby Whateley, Alex Handley and Eden Evans among the other notable names to retire.
With the second round of the AORC now complete, all attention turns to the famous Tatts Finke Desert Race in Alice Springs on 8-12 June.