Event reports, News

Day 1 – Parkes to Condobolin

2012 Classic Outback Trial winners Matt Swan and Paul Franklin in their Holden Commodore VL lie 2nd after today’s 5 stages from Parkes to Condobolin, 29 seconds behind leaders Andrew and David Travis in their veteran Datsun 1600. Long distance specialists Ashton/Nixon (Galant) who have twice finished 2nd in this event are currently 3rd, 56 seconds further back.

Cars were flagged away in bright sunshine from the main street of Parkes by the Mayor after all crews were photographed under the starting arch. First car away was the Datsun 200B of Cuthbert and Runnalls. The team changed the entire rear suspension overnight and then had to change an engine control module this morning, making the start with only a few minutes to spare. Clearly there is quite a lot of fine tuning to be done to this brand new car before it’s where they want it. After today’s stages, the crew has dropped back to 4th on provisional scores, a mere second from Aston/Nixon.

The first stage of the day was acknowledged to be the roughest for the entire event and it certainly contained some issues for the crews. The Datsun 1600 of Williamson/Batt rolled onto its roof after getting caught up in in ruts at speed. Both crew OK, the car was righted and they will check the damage with a view to re-joining for day 2. The Volvo Crew of Ian and Val Swan were not far behind the Datsun and in slowing to move past they got off line and became badly bogged. Their woes were compounded when the co-driver turned two pages at once sending them off course for a time. Unusually, this also happened to the Leyland P76 crew of Michael and Justin Coates. The time off the route dropped them 4 places and forced them to follow in the dust of Wallis/Ward for 30 km. They also tore a nylothane bush out of a suspension tie-rod. Ward/Pollock (Corolla) limped out of the stage with a blown gearbox which was changed but cost them the next 3 stages. Several other crews also went off course for short distances, one on to a motorbike dirt circuit, costing them places.

The Ford Escort of Harper/Kovacevic failed to start the stage, breaking an axle just before the line. They were able to repair it to start their day on stage 3, just within their late running time. Car 20, the beautiful Stanza of Robert and Starr Mifsud, painted up in Nissan Works livery to mimic Ross Dunkerton’s 1980 Southern Cross winning car, was also forced to miss the first stage with engine problems despite the service crew throwing plugs and coils at it. The car was going well enough to complete the other 4 stages but there are still issues tonight with the engine.

And the potent Mustang of Briggs/DeVaus suffered bent ball joint and front end on a rough part of the stage despite slowing to avoid damage. The crew were able to make enough adjustments to get them to the service at the Utes in the Paddock service break. The crew have replaced the bent suspension tonight. By contrast, the big XD Falcon of John Cooper and Ross Warner were having no issues. John declaring at every opportunity that “This country was made for this car”! They finished the day 3rd in class (Early PRC over 3 litre), behind Lee/Elliot) and Hannah/Colihole, both in VH Commodore’s.

Son/father team, Andrew & David Travis (Datsun 1600) laid claim to the Fastest time on the 53 km first stage by a whopping 1 minute 29 seconds over Swan/Franklin who were worried about overheating the Nissan engine VL Commodore when mud clogged their radiator. The service crew were forced to change the radiator costing the crew a 40 second penalty for being 8 minutes late to the next control. Ashton/Nixon also set a cracking pace to be 3rd fastest. Prologue winners Cuthbert/Runnalls, despite their problems of the morning were just a few seconds behind Ashton, the Datsun 200B still not making full power.

Leading Category 3, (club cars pre 1989) was COT veteran Andy Crane with Dave Anderson in the ultra reliable Peugeot 504, 7th fastest on the stage. By days end they had the category lead over Batten/Snooks (Datsun 1600) by a minute and a half while Snell/Graham were 9 minutes down in their front wheel drive Peugeot 205 GTi. Snell was having a mixed day. The long fast straights and runs along fence lines meant they lost out to the more powerful cars but they revelled in the tight and technical stages like Berawombenia and the final stage, Murda.

Category 2 (Classic cars to 1982) is looking like a good battle between long distance rally experts Pat and Brad Cole (Mercedes 280SL), Pickering/Boddy (Datsun 240Z), Briggs/DeVaus (Mustang), Dunkerton/Colits (Datsun 1600) and David and Sarah Rayner (Ford Capri RS2600). The Mercedes has the lead by 6 minutes from Pickering but Briggs is just a minute 10 seconds down the road. Dunkerton had a failed clutch very early on in the day which cost them time everywhere. They lie fourth in Category less than a minute behind Briggs. Look for the 5 times Australian Champion to improve rapidly if they can fix the clutch issue. David and Sarah Rayner are easing in to the Australian outback with a good run today, after getting too close to a Kangaroo in yesterday’s prologue, leaving a dented driver’s door. They did finish the stage with bent steering which has been repaired at service park tonight. Unfortunately 3 others in this category will not be able to catch the leaders. Gardiner and Green (RX7) finished the day but have bent a front strut and are trying to find one in Forbes or bring one in from Dubbo. The problem obviously became worse during the day as their good times of the morning fell away by day’s end. Williamson/Batt have missed the days stages with their inversion on stage 1, as have Ian Reddiex and Mike Mitchell (Celica) who blew their engine, also on stage 1. They are also at Forbes seeking a replacement motor in an attempt to re-join later in the week.

The Porsche 944 of Brian Canny/Doug Norman Running in category 3A (early PRC) suffered the same issue as Swan/Franklin but they were able to clear the mud from the radiator without losing time in to control. They lie 25th but with the car otherwise running well, they are sure to improve. However, the lead in that category clearly belongs to Travis/Travis from Cuthbert/Runnalls and Ian and Val Swan.

The category for historic rally cars is a 4 cylinder benefit and a battle between Europe and Japan. Ashton/Nixon hold a 53 second lead from Officer/Officer, both in similar Mitsubishi Colt Galant’s. The Ford Escort Mexico of Bashford/Daniel is 7 minutes back, mechanically OK but running off the course 1 or 2 times has cost them. Hot on their heels is the Valentine Celica followed by another Celica of Thompson/Hind. The Lotus Cortina of the Perkins entry is 4 minutes further back, finishing the day with a bent drag link forcing them to cut out some of the last stage. Holding the fort for the Europeans lower down the order are the Taylor’s 504 Gti (just 24 seconds behind) and the Escort of Harper/Kovacevic with the earlier reported problems. The MacDonald/Ellis Lotus Cortina is still waiting to make a move, just behind Harper in 34th place.
Hard luck story for the day goes to Mike Ward and Jenny Pollock. After changing their gearbox in stage 1, they were able to resume on the 16 km final stage, Murda. Their front wheel fell off on the way to the stage, losing the wheel nuts. So they took one wheel nut off each of the other 3 wheels to put the wheel back in place. Then in the stage 2 differential bolts came loose so they had to pull off the stage and make repairs at the side of the road. They made it in to the end having lost around 50 minutes with those problems. Fortunately for Ward he has the unusual (for him) luxury of a service crew from his sponsors Tayell Automotive.

The Trial resumes on Monday morning from the Condobolin showgrounds and the first car away at 8 am will be Andrew and David Travis in their 1971 Datsun 1600. The crews will travel North West 422 km, again contesting 5 special stages on the run in to Cobar. Day 2 features the longest stage on the trial, named Wonganong, at 94 km. The first car is due in Cobar just before 3 pm for an overnight stop.

Quote of the day from Paul Franklin, Car 1, at the end of the final “Murda” Stage: “You know the stage is narrow when the stumps are in the middle of the road.”

Leaders in to Condobolin are:
Category 1: Historic Rally Cars: Ashton/Nixon (Galant)
Category 2: Classic Cars to 1982: Cole/Cole (Mercedes)
Category 3: Club Cars (to 1989): Crane/Anderson (Peugeot 504)
Category 3A Early PRC (to 1986): Travis/Travis (Datsun 1600)
Category 3B: Modern PRC (1987-1988): Swan/Franklin (Holden Commodore VL)
Outright: 1-Travis/Travis (Datsun 1600), 2- Swan/Franklin (Holden Commodore VL), 3- Ashton/Nixon (Galant)

Alan Baker
Photos Credits: Ian Smith.