The Cream will rise. Another mammoth day of rallying in the outback on Friday on the run from Broken Hill in far western New South Wales, south to Renmark in South Australia, crossing a time zone on the way.
Leaving the famous town with street names such as Oxide, Sulphide and Chloride Street and in to sandy terrain for the first time, our crews had a 50 kilometre stage before a service break at the Coombah roadhouse. As the crews arrived it didn’t take long to work out that the thoughts of anyone backing off to hold their position were misplaced. Indeed, anyone who did, with the exception of the leaders Travis/Travis would be shuffled down the order without apology.
Winners of day 5 Cuthbert/Runnalls made it clear that it was their intention to charge hard all day in an effort to add a top 5 finish to their CV’s. They won the stage by a minute 15 second, badly cracking a windscreen on a low branch in the process. Holding down 2nd place by just over a minute at the start of the day were Swan/Franklin their VL Commodore. They made their intentions clear by coming in 2nd behind Cuthbert and equal with the overall leaders. They brought the big Holden in to service with a cracked disc rotor on the right front and the crew changed the whole leg assembly in the time allowed. They too suffered a broken screen and their service crew arranged for a replacement to be ready in Renmark at the end of day. The brothers Sawyer were wringing the neck of their Datsun and flew in a mere 33 seconds later. Not to be outdone, Ian and Val Swan, enjoying a reliable run in the good handling, well geared Volvo were just 2 seconds behind the Datsun.
The Ashton/Nixon challenge for the podium all but evaporated on this stage giving up over 4 minutes to their rivals when a tree glanced the left rear of the Galant compounded by a rare misreading of an instruction by Nixon. By end of day 6 they had dropped from 4th and challenging for 3rd to a safe 6th. Their place in class however is still safe and they finished the day in Renmark 18 minutes clear of Officer/Officer. Batten/Snooks starting the day in third and all but gave up their place on this long stage despite not having any major issues. They were 12th fastest but significantly, 2 minutes and 12 seconds behind the 240Z crew of Pickering/Boddy who were behind them at the start of the day by 2 minutes 38 seconds.
Two shorter stages followed before another incredible 41 km stage that would change the natural order things. The two shorter stages were the domain of the second generation (younger) crews. Again Cuthbert led but Matt Lee, co driven by Cathy Elliott were second on both, underlining how competitive the whole package can be. Swan/Franklin and the Sawyers followed them on the results page. Leaders Travis/Travis slowed when a bottom shock absorber mount snapped at the rear of the Datsun but drove around the problem and safeguarded their lead until they could get service.
The 41 km Belmore stage was amazing, and it showed that on endurance events and after nearly 6 days special stage rallying, experience and talent will rise. The Swan Volvo incredibly was FASTEST on stage from another long distance veteran, the Mercedes 280SL of Pat and Bradley Cole, just 24 seconds slower. 3rd fastest was the Pickering/Boyd 240Z, another veteran of endurance rallies in other countries. Mike Batten 4th and Andy Crane, returning to the event after a day 4 driveline failure, 5th. Leader’s Travis reported in for the 10 minute service where the crew were prepared to make a new shock absorber mount. Other crews lent a hand and with a generator and a welder and a hastily customised bracket, they were on their way with little lost time. Swan/Franklin charged in to their service point where the crew were ready to inspect the front left again after receiving a message that they’d taken a hard hit.
However, it was who did not report for service that the buzz in the service area was all about. Brian Canny and Doug Norman, running 13th in the Porsche 944 ran out of fuel in the stage. They were able to get a small amount of fuel and get to stage end inside their late running time, so they are still on course to complete the classic outback trial without a missed control. Many other crews reported heavy fuel consumption on this day; perhaps the sand played a factor. Some crews made it in to Renmark with less than 2 litres left.
Of more significance to the character of the event was the failure of some crews to make it to the end of the stage. This stage was where those who were pushing on came to grief. Neil Cuthbert’s hard charge ended with a failed clutch and he stopped on stage. The equally hard charging Matt Lee’s differential let go for the second time, leaving the crew despondent after their great times on the previous stages. The Sawyer brothers Datsun, hampered by no terra trip or rallysafe readout to accurately make the calls, hit (an admittedly) signed double caution without caution, launched in the ear and landed heavily nose down pushing the radiator in to the fan. After only a short distance the water had been dumped and the temp gauge was signalling for help. The boys changed the radiator for the spare they carry in the back seat but the damage was done. A blown head gasket is the likely diagnosis. The fascinating and friendly battle between the Commodore’s of Hannah/Colihole and Rogers/Hedwards, well in the top half of the field was snuffed out on this stage too when the Roger’s VH had a failure in the timing gears.
Significantly for understanding the psyche of the crews in an event such as this, all four stranded crews were initially declaring at the end of the day in Renmark that their event had ended, yet only an hour later, each were making plans to try and re-join for the final day. In this event above all others, finishing is the prize. The closer one is to the finish the more determined is the desire. To be here in Renmark which has taken such a mighty effort and not finish out the final day would be devastating.
The battle for the placing’s in categories has not changed from the end of day 5. The leaders are safe enough. The real battle will be for the final spot on the podium. Pickering/Boddy hold on to 3rd by 30 seconds from Batten/Snooks, exactly 30 seconds ahead of Swan/Swan. The Swan’s have a 3 minute 30 second lead over next best Ashton/Nixon and therefore look safe for 5th at least, but no doubt the chance of moving up to third is on their mind.
Three stages this morning of 29 km, 27 km and the final “fat lady sings” 10 km and 96 km of transports is all that stands between the crews and the ceremonial finish line at Angove Winery just before Noon. Event Director Phillip Bernadou will pick up the top the crews on the way to the finish and lead them in to the presentation area. All crews that finish will have their photo taken under the finish arch.
Just 162 kilometres stands between the crews in Renmark and their ultimate aim; to finish the 2014 Classic Outback Trial.
Quote of the day: “Again our amazing team have pulled together to make the best of the broken bits. (We are) determined to see the finish under our own steam.” – Matt Lee, 2011 Australian Rally Champion Co-driver.
Leaders in to Broken Hill are:
Category 1: Historic Rally Cars: Ashton/Nixon (Galant)
Category 2: Classic Cars to 1982: Pickering/Boddy (Datsun 240Z)
Category 3: Club Cars (to 1989): Batten/Snooks (Datsun 1600)
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 – Pickering/Boddy (Datsun 240Z)
– Alan Baker
Photos Credits: Ian Smith.