Questions with...

Questions with: Bill Bennett

Bill Bennett loves the outback and loves rallying… that’s why he comes out as an official on the COT. Let’s meet Bill and find out what he’ll be doing on COT16…

What is your usual role on the COT? What do you drive out there?
I am a Road Official – in other special stage rallies I suppose I’d be called a Stage Commander or Assistant Stage Commander, depending on whether I am at the start or finish. We work as two teams of generally two people.  We head out to the start of the stage, one team stays put and the other will go into the stage and do the “set up” and then, runs the finish control. When Sweep and Recovery arrives, the start control team follows them in and goes through the stage to clean it up. This means is removing all the bunting, retrieving all the signs, putting gates back as we found them and making sure all competitors are accounted for.

Crew around a campfire.

Team E, from COT 2012, hard at work around the campfire. L2R: Ian Barton, Bill, Graeme Hutchinson and Peter Millear. Excellent selfie work by Graeme.

The vehicle I use for this is a 1999 Toyota Prado, which I have had from new. The reasons I have kept this wonderful car, is because it has : No SRS Air Bags, No ABS, No Stability Control. I keep it in very good condition and it is maintained at a high level to keep the reliability factor 100%.

Who will be traveling with you?
The first event of this nature was the Red Centre to Gold Coast Trial, on which my darling wife Joan accompanied me. The next COT Ian Barton joined me – Ian has been on a couple of Bega Valley Rallies with me as well. My daughter Candice came with me on the Sydney to London in 2014. For the 2016 COT it looks like both Ian and Candice will be joining me.

Bill and Candice worked as a Road Crew on the 2014 Sydney to London.

Bill and Candice worked as a Road Crew on the 2014 Sydney to London.

What do you like about the event – what has brought you back?
This one is a no-brainer. This will be my 3rd COT, plus the Sydney to London, plus the Red Centre to Gold Coast. I love the outback with a huge passion, ever since the 80s when I would go out and conduct the route survey for the Australian Safari with Bob Carpenter. Every chance I get, I like traveling out into my back yard. I thought the Australian outback was one of a kind, until I watched the Dakar Rally. Maybe the South American terrain is nearly as good as Australia’s.

What are your expecting from the 2016 COT?
I am expecting a great adventure and being part of a great team that is going to give the competitors an experience that will live in their memory for many years to come.

Have you been to Alice Springs before?
I have been to the “Alice” many times. Being part of the Australian Safari organising committee for 15 years, gave me the opportunity to visit some of the most exciting parts of Australia. I never get sick of revisiting all the natural wonders of this great part of Australia.

Rally car driv9ing past a sign on a section.

Bill looking determined; Stuart Lister noting down an information. 1982.

Are you planning a bit of a Red Centre holiday as part of your rally?
Because of time constraints, I will not be spending any extra time in Alice this time, but I intend to take the family on a road trip to this wonderful place in 2 years time. Maybe that will coincide with COT18?

What is your rallying and officiating background?
This question is going to be a tough one to answer briefly.
I started in 1966 in Joining the Victorian Sporting car club and officiating at the Templestowe Hill Climb. I spent 5 years on the Australian Safari organising committee and I worked with COT Clerk of Course, Tom Snooks, on the Bega Valley Rally doing surveys, set-up, Safety Officer and general dogs body for some 5 years. I was Course Checker for Rally Victoria, the Victorian Round of the ARC. for 4 years; I’ve officiated at Sandown Race Course for some 20 years, Scrutineer, Corner Marshal, Assistant Clerk of Course (Off Track, Paddock area). And, I’ve been Clerk of Course for 4 Australian Motorkhana Championships. SO, lots of motorsport of all different kinds.

Bill navigating for Bruce Robinson in the Autosport Stages.

Bill navigating for Bruce Robinson in the Autosport Stages.

I was an avid Rally competitor in the eighties, I was lucky enough to have Stuart Lister as a navigator, which I might add, made me look good. As we won a few events through his ability to read maps. I’ve competed in three Australian Safaris, co-driving for Des Harrington in a Holden V8 powered Nissan Patrol ute. We were lucky enough to come home 3rd out right twice. We also competed in a couple of off road events like Pooncarie and Sea Lake. Pooncarie was good for us but Sea Lake conquered us.

As happens to all of us, I got a bit old and a little out of condition and definitely did not have the intestinal fortitude to travel down dirt roads as quick as the younger generation. The way that I get my rally fix these days is to go out and do controls or be on an organising committee in some way.

What is you most memorable COT moment – what sticks in your mind?
One of the memorable moments (there is a lot to select from) came from the Red Centre to Gold Coast. We were due to run a stage NE of Bourke at Ellerslie Station. The station owner invited us all to camp the night before near the start of the stage. Joan and I were teamed up with Darren Snooks and Cameron Jay and two other Road Crews, Steve Hollowood and Chris Jones and Peter and Marg Fraser were also there. It was a great camping area with a hot spring, a big spa made out of a tank, a shower, a picnic table and a very serviceable “out house”. Lovely green grass, camp fire, hot spa, good home cooked food, lovely liquid refreshments. Life Was Good.

Two Road Crews at Elleslie Station in the 2008 RC2GC. LtoR: Peter, the Station owner, Joan, Chris, Marg, Bill, Darren and Cameron.

Two Road Crew teams rendezvous at Elleslie Station in the 2008 RC2GC. LtoR: Peter, the Station owner, Malcolm Robinson (now deceased), Joan, Chris, Marg, Bill, Darren and Cameron. Taking the pic – Steve Hollowood.

What is/was your favourite rally car?
The best sounding rally car ever built was the MKII Ford Escort BDA. (note for Tom, they were fitted with wheel arch flares). But, the best rally cars were all rear wheel drive, where the driver had to drive the car and change gears at the same time.

What is your most memorable rallying moment?
The most memorable time (because it lasted longer than a moment) was doing the 300 odd kilometre stage during the Australian Safari, across the Tanami desert. We constantly reached speeds of 208 kph – unless I get dementia I doubt very much that I will ever forget that experience.

Another time was when Des and I ended up side down in a dam during the Condobolin Cross Country Rally. Long story short, I made a judgement call as to what side of the dam to go around, what I thought was a grassy surface was an outcrop of weeds, there was no sub structure, only air. Two wheels on the LHS were good, but the two RH ones had no support and over we went into the dirtiest, smelly dam on the property. Obviously we survived because I am relating the story, but Des was a bit gun shy of dams for a while after that.

Bill and Stuart Lister in the 81 Honda Scamper

Bill and Stuart Lister in the 81 Honda Scamper

What will you be doing to get ready for the 2016 COT?
Apart from packing the car, I am pretty well prepared, all the gear is packed in boxes, every thing is laid out and ready to go. Having not gone away over the Christmas break, I thought I would do something constructive.

Where are you, and what are you doing as you answer these questions?
I am at work, at Pedders Suspension, Head Office at Keysborough, where I work part time conducting technical training for our technicians.

Thanks Bill… and thanks to you, Ian and Candice for coming back out with us for COT16. See you in Alice Springs!  (And yes, that campsite at Ellerslie, with hot and cold running water and a brick outhouse, is cemented in my memories too! It was a grand night…)


Bill also works as a COT pre-event scrutineer - this shot from COT 2014

Bill also works as a COT pre-event scrutineer – this shot from COT 2014.