The Fat Lady Sings.
The last day of competition in the Classic Outback trial provided as much drama as any of the previous days. While first place Andrew and David Travis with a 22 minute lead just had to keep in on its wheels to take the win and second place looked safe enough at 4 minutes 26 seconds (although as we have seen, a tyre change will cost them at least 6 minutes), the battle for third was really on. The Datsun 240Z of Pickering and Boddy were a mere 30 seconds ahead of Batten and Snooks who were themselves just 30 seconds clear of Swan/Swan’s Volvo. Pickering was ready to defend his third place with new tyres and determination, Batten was intent on playing his usual game of worrying about himself, but sniffing a podium finish, Ian Swan was going to drive the wheels off the Volvo to position himself to take advantage of any slowing by those in front. There were 3 stages today totalling 66 kilometres today.
Before the day got underway from the park behind the library on the banks of the Murray River, the award for the daily winners in the form of two pocket sized gnomes was presented to Matt Swan and Paul Franklin. Competitors enthusiastically welcomed back to the starting list Matt Lee and Cathy Elliott after breaking down yesterday. Assistant Clerk of Course Steve Hollowood delivered the sad news that the Sawyers and Cuthbert/Runnalls could not continue after breaking down yesterday.
The first stage was 29 km that had a lot of sand and was quite twisty. Ian Swan took 2nd fastest time, 33 seconds ahead of Pickering and 58 seconds ahead of Batten. This would have moved Swan up to 4th from 5th place and now just 27 seconds behind the 240Z of Pickering. A heavy blow landed in the first round of this 3 round title fight.
The second stage called Border Blast by the organisers had crews travelling due south over nearly 27 kilometres of the South Australian/Victorian border. It was a stage that Swan thought would suit the big Datsun more than his Volvo, but Swan was 28 seconds to the better of Pickering and had leapfrogged into 3rd place by a mere second! Matt Lee emphasised his pace in the repaired Holden with a 3rd place on the stage. Batten had an equal time with Ian Swan, himself clawing back some time over from Pickering. Third place would still be decided on the last stage.
The last stage was named “Fat Lady Sings”, a tradition since the Red Centre to Gold Coast trial. It was 10.26 kilometres and it would decide which crew gets the trophy for third. Ian Swan taking a mere 1 second lead over Pickering in to the stage needed to beat or equal Pickering to hang on and hope that Batten did not pull a blinder and run over the top of the both of them. Wringing the neck of the Volvo, he bettered the Datsun by 28 seconds and took second place on the stage. Batten also drove hard and finished 4 second ahead of Pickering on stage. Of note on this stage too was the 6th place of Gary Williamson in his Datsun 1600. A fine result after rolling his car on the first few kilometres of the very first stage last Sunday. Goodness, that seems like such a long time ago!
Category and class winners were unchanged from the previous day, each having enough of a lead to be safe from predation on the final day.
The crews transported back to Angove Family Winery for the ceremonial finish and photographs under the finish arch. Every crew were directed through the arch and stepped out of their car for official photographs. Some took to standing on the bonnets and others to sitting on the roof. The elation of all crews that finished was clear. Too see the spontaneous and genuine joy on the competitors and service crews faces for each team that finished was moving. The drivers and co-drivers were full of praise and gratitude towards their service crews for getting them to the finish line. The Parc Ferme area was full of back slapping and hugs for all. To finish this event is a sweet Victory. After 2300 km of wild and rugged rally stages, of broken machinery and resourceful repairs, of engine swaps and driveline failures, of shredded tyres and choking dust, the crews are left with lifelong friendships and incredible images of our rugged country and a million “if only” moments.
The Classic outback trial 2014 has surely been one of the best rally events ever held in this country. If you were a part of it you have been part of something special. For some it is a once in a lifetime event, but it has provided a lifetime of memories.
Quote of the day: In response to the proposition that the cars he is helping service are getting stronger by the day, Ralf Christensson responded “Oh yes, another week and we’ll be in the lead!” As it was, one of his cars squeaked in to 3rd today.
Leaders in Renmark at the conclusion of the Classic Outback Trial are:
Category 1: Historic Rally Cars Pre 1968: MacDonald/Ellis (Ford Lotus Cortina)
Category 1: Historic Rally Cars 1969 – 1980: 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 – Swan/Swan (Volvo 242DL)
– Alan Baker
Photos Credits: Ian Smith.