The 2014 Classic Outback Trial got off to a roaring start yesterday afternoon on the 12 km Prologue Stage near Parkes in Central N.S.W. It was a chance for competitors to “blow out the cobwebs” and assess their car ahead of the first full day of competition. It was also the first opportunity for the organisers to gauge the relative performances under competition conditions and try and come up with a starting order for Sunday’s 111 km competitive stages. Many crews were simply glad of the chance to finally get the car into a stage. For some, it was their first rally since the 2012 event and they were certainly feeling it after just this short little introduction to outback special stage rallying.
First car on the road was 5 times Australian Rally Champion Ross Dunkerton in his Datsun 1600 co-driven by Lindsay Collitts. Obviously a crowd favourite, Dunkerton did not disappoint, attacking narrow roads in the Gunningbland State Forest 20 km west of Parkes with great gusto, slowing little at the triple caution’s and getting good air at the jumps as a result! By contrast, fellow Australian Champion Dinta Officer came to grief on those jumps, ripping out a front strut from their Mitsubishi Galant. Dinta and Kate finished the stage with their front wheel at a horrible angle but were able to make repairs in the afternoon.
The sensation of the day was Neil Cuthbert in his Datsun 200B. Neil has built the car for this event and it’s a serious bit of rally machinery. Mechanical issues forced the late arrival of the car to Parkes, arriving with just 90 minutes left of Scrutineering, then straight out to today’s stage. Neil’s co-driver, who won this event in 2009 is twice Australian champion Ross Runnalls who arrived the day before. Despite the difficulty in preparing the car, Cuthbert and Runnalls were quickest on stage and will start car 1 today. Neil was not happy with the way the rear of the car was behaving in the stage so his service crew removed and replaced the entire rear end assembly on Saturday afternoon.
Also very quick on stage was the Toyota Celica of Michael and Timothy Valantine. Michael was unhappy with the effectiveness of the brakes on the Celica and he might be surprised to see his good time. As Rauno Aaltonen said, “Brakes are the enemy of speed.”
Many crews reported sightings and close calls with mobs of Kangaroos forcing them to slow or stop on stage. Unfortunately Pat and Brad Cole collected 2 in their Mercedes 280 SL and were tonight checking for undercarriage damage. Similarly, internationals David and Sarah Rayner had a roo jump into the driver’s door of the Ex Boreham works Ford RS2600 Capri. Ashton Nixon, 2nd place getters in 2012 had a close call with another as did Ted Perkins, driving with son Joel in their red Lotus Cortina. Other issues reported were Graham Wallis/Brian Ward Peugeot 205 with a sticking throttle causing them to slow in the last 5 km of the stage. Despite that they still scored a respectable time. The Porsche 911 SC of Rob Dyer and Steven Oake is doubtful for Sunday’s stages after a most unusual failure – a broken torsion bar on the left rear. Oake emerged from the Porsche at stage end declaring “It’s not half hard on your arse when you have no suspension.” Indeed Steven! Mike Ward/ Jenny Pollock brought up their Corolla with a fresh engine and despite having to repair the radiator yesterday at Scrutineering and running in the motor on the trip to Parkes, they are running well in the middle of the field but understeer problems caused them to brush a little scenery in the stage.
Steve Blair and Jocelyn Vettoretti’s beautifully turned out 2.4 litre Nissan Bluebird took on some water along the Dam wall which did nothing to impress Jocelyn. Despite that they were all smiles and are ready for a steady climb up the leader board in the coming week. They will start Sunday 23rd car on the road.
Matt Lee, 2011 Australian Champion Co-driver, steering his Holden Commodore guided by Cathy Rainer will start 11th after giving the stage a red hot go. In fact, he admitted that he “will have to back it off from here.” No argument from Cathy. For other crews, experienced in these long events there was little sense of urgency and no damage, wrong turns or driving errors as a result. Ken MacDonald and Robert Ellis in their Mark 2 Lotus Cortina were one such crew. They will start 2nd last car on the road but look for them to move up during the week.
Crews were treated to a welcome function on last night hosted by the Shire of Parkes. Today, Sunday, the crews will be flagged off from 9 am by the Mayor, Councillor Ken Keith OAM in the main street of Parkes for their adventure to Condobolin. They will contest 5 stages, the shortest is 10 km and the longest is the “Back Yamma” stage of 53 km, possibly the roughest of the event. Crews who can conserve their car on that stage will be well placed for a good run in to Condobolin and set themselves up for day 2, a 442 km to Cobar. The first car is expected in Condobolin at around 2pm after a lunch stop and service break at the world renowned “Utes in the Paddock” on the way.
Photo Credits: Ian Smith.