Event reports, News

Day 2 – Condobolin to Cobar

Cuthbert and Runnalls back in the lead. Despite hitting a fence on one of the morning’s stages, the troublesome-until-now Datsun 200B of Neil Cuthbert and twice 1981-1982 Australian Rally Champion co-driver Ross Runnalls have overtaken the overnight leaders Travis/Travis who are driving an earlier model Datsun 1600. Cuthbert was first car on the road at Sunday’s start in Parkes but was pushed down to 4th during the day. It was the Travis’s who started day 2 of the Classic Outback Trial with a 2 ½ minute lead over 2012 winners Swan/Franklin in car 1 and over 3 minutes to the better of Cuthbert Runnalls. 

Cuthbert was quicker on every stage before the major service break in Nymagee, finally taking the lead by the end of 94 km Wonganong stage. They made it to service so their crew could adjust the front wheel alignment after the altercation with the fence. Travis/Travis had no breakdowns for the day but just as they made it on to the final transport in to the mining town of Cobar, their water temperature sensor failed forcing them to replace it at the end of the day.

A welcome return to the starters list at the Condobolin showgrounds was Gary Williamson and Peter Batt. They made overnight repairs to the inverted Datsun 1600 including replacing the rear suspension and “pushing the roof up to get a bit more headroom”. Dramas also overnight for the 77 Commodore of Greg Hannah and Jacqui Colihole. They discovered at 10.30 pm a rear trailing arm was broken. Fortunately for them, Ross Dunkerton’s crews possessed a welder and the skill to make the repair just before the start.

Dust has been a big issue for all crews today, making it difficult to pass a slower car and at the same time filling the cars with the iconic red dust of the outback. Plenty has been deposited on crew members to judging by the faces coming in to service parks. Crews will all be hoping that a shower of rain over Cobar in the early hours of Tuesday morning may alleviate that problem somewhat.

Unfortunately the Wonganong stage started an hour late due to a delayed start by the zero car and then satellite phone coverage problems further complicated letting the start know the stage was “green” and crews could be released. The late arrival of the cars into Nymagee was, to the concern of all the assembled service crews who had not seen their crews sine the service at Keiren Hills – some 220 km earlier. The Metropolitan Hotel opened for lunch and the Nymagee CWA put on tea and Coffee, fruit and cake plates on the front verandah. Treasurer of the CWA, Rhonda Pascoe was delighted to have raised over $330.

Quite a few crews reported some difficulty interpreting 1 or 2 instructions, costing them small amounts of time before getting back on course. As well, and as you’d expect in the sort of terrain the crews are now encountering, there were lots of crews making repairs at the 40 minute break. Notably, one not repairing anything were the Toyota Corolla Crew of Mike Ward and Jenny Pollock. They were delighted to be having a trouble free run after breaking a gearbox and losing a wheel the day before. The Porsche 944 of Brian Canny and Doug Norman appears also have had a trouble free run on day 2.

The highly fancied crew of Matt Lee and Cathy Elliott (Commodore) dropped down the order a little to the start of the 94 km Wonganong stage but then disaster struck. Just as the big blue Holden passed the flying finish, the differential failed, locking the rear axle, causing great concern to Lee trying to pull up for the control. Unable to get to service under their own power, Lee and Elliott missed the final stage of the day, 24 km “Hillview”. They have made repairs overnight and will start day 3.

Struggling to maintain their second place because of nagging little issues were Swan/Franklin (Commodore). Forced to rework some of their fuel system overnight, the problem re-occurred during the day costing them small amounts of time. At service they replaced for the second time the rear upper control arms and by the end of the day they would be replacing the front right lower suspension arm too.

The Mercedes of Pat and Brad Cole collected another two kangaroos to add to their haul of two on the prologue stage. They collected one in the front and one in the passenger door. They also suffered a flat tyre at the end of a stage, alerted by the on board tyre monitoring system. Despite that, they lost only 12 seconds to Pickering/Boddy (Datsun 260Z) in the battle for category 2.B. and have a handy 6 minute lead. The Datsun crew are having a good run with the Z car standing up well on the stages it has already been over earlier this year for the Sydney to London Marathon.

Historic cars (category 1/2B) saw a swap of the first 2 positions. Ashton/Nixon lost their 53 second lead to Dinta and Kate Officer and by day end at Cobar they were 56 seconds further back. In the process, Ashton/Nixon have given up 3rd place outright, now down in 8th. The Officers have remained in 6th outright. The Valentine Celica has dropped out of contention with damage to the front of the car.

Andy Crane and Dave Anderson in their quick Peugeot 504 have extended their lead in Category 3.B by 2 minutes; the gap back to Batten/Snooks (Datsun 1600) is now 3 ½ minutes. Crane Anderson currently lie 4th outright as well, up from 7th overnight. 3rd in category is Chris Snell who had a front wheel from his Peugeot 205 Gti part company, breaking a wheel stud in the process and forcing them to miss one stage.

The Sawyer brothers are still 3rd in category 3A.B (behind outright leaders Cuthbert/Runnalls and Travis/Travis) but have given away 15 minutes when collecting a fence post on Wonganong. The incident left them without headlamps on the driver’s side and the service crew did not bring a spare. Undeterred, a pair of headlights was found in a paddock attached to a Datsun ute at Nymagee. An offer of $10 secured the replacement items. Next in this ultra competitive group is the Volvo 242DL of Ian and Val Swan. Ian has declared that the Volvo, a veteran of East African Safari’s and Alpine Rallies is the best it’s been due to a change in gear ratio’s and final drive and good power coaxed out of the engine by Tony Robinson of R-Tech. The pace at the top is hot though and Swan has dropped a few places in the outrights (5th to 11th) but Sawyer/Sawyer have come back to them in Category and are in danger of giving up third, a little matter of 7 seconds will seal the deal.

Category 3A.C has become interesting. The failed differential has put leaders Lee/Elliott to the bottom of the category for now, and the Leyland P76 of Michael and Justin Coates has shot to the top from 5th overnight at Condobolin. Hannah/Colihole have relinquished 2nd to Rogers/Hedwards, up from 3rd and they find themselves just 16 seconds off the lead. Hannah/Colihole have 3 minutes to make up that 2nd spot. Watch for the quick Commodore of Lee/Elliott’s to move up the board when it resumes the trial tomorrow.

Category 3A.A is a two horse race between McKenzie/Brain and Ward/Pollock and will be one for the calculator rather than the stopwatch to determine the winner.

Other dramas for crews included an ignition coil failure for Dunkerton/Collits, a wrong re-fuel causing Wallis/Ward to drive economically for half the 94 km stage, broken engine mounts for John Cooper’s X D Falcon forcing them to run with the engine partly held in by a length of fencing wire. Like the Sawyer crew, John Cooper’s crew was able to acquire a couple of engine mounts from Falcon donor cars (or “old girls” as he refers to them) found in the paddocks of Nymagee.

The Trial continues on Tuesday with the run south west to Ivanhoe in central New South Wales. Another 5 special stages and a total of 469 km, the longest day of the event. Most crews will be camping out at Ivanhoe due to the lack of accommodation for such a large group in the small town. The predicted overnight temperature is 8 degrees so crews should be comfortable at least. Crews have encountered many small herds of goats from Nymagee onwards and that will increase on the run to Ivanhoe, providing an additional hazard to the Kangaroos already encountered.

Quote of the day goes to Paul Franklin who said: “2 VRC’s before lunch, what can you say? It’s been an awesome day!”

(VRC – Victorian Rally Championship round, conducted over approximately 100 km of special stages.)

Alan Baker
Photos Credits: Ian Smith.