The 2016 Classic Outback Trial finally got under way, after Friday’s storms which lashed the region with devastating effect, saw yesterday’s seven stages of competition cancelled.
An eager field of 52 crews from around Australia and overseas gathered at Lasseters early in the morning against the sun-lit backdrop of the magnificent MacDonnell Ranges to begin the quest to conquer the Australian Outback. Awaiting the crews would be five challenging stages covering a distance of 187 competitive kilometres to the north of Alice Springs.
Experienced Argentine pair Jorge Perez Companc and Jose Volta in the Viking Motorsports RS1800 Escort, were blistering on the opening 52 kilometre stage, opening up a 29 second advantage over the Datsun 200B of Neil Cuthbert and Sue Evans, with Andrew and David Travis (Nissan Gazelle) a further minute and a half behind.
Drama began to unfold on the following stage when the Datsun Stanza of Joel Wald and Tracey Dewhurst was thrown violently sideways after hitting a wash-away and subsequently rolled, coming to rest the right way up off the road. Fortunately both crew were OK, but a small fire which was quickly contained ended their day prematurely. Crowd favourites Warren Briggs and Gerry Bashford in the powerful V8 Ford Mustang would also come undone breaking two wheels and causing damage to the front end, after running wide through a dry creek crossing and making contact, but were able to make the car back to Gemtree service to continue.
Meanwhile upfront consistent times from Neil Cuthbert including a win on SS11, enabled he and Evans to end the day at the top of the Classic field, one minute and eighteen seconds clear of the Travis’ Nissan, with Perez Companc/Volta rounding out the top three. Keith and Mary Anne Callinan (RS1800) were fourth followed by an impressive fifth for Ian Reddiex/Mike Mitchell (Toyota Celica) and local driver Phil Kerr and Jenny Cole in a Datsun 1600 which won the last COT in 2014.
Leading into the event everything that could go wrong did for the Holden Commodore VR of locals Ben Kittle/Peter Williams, but the hard work and gritty determination paid off as they took day two honours in the Modern class.
Stephen Riley and John Doble (Holden Commodore VF Utility) were as expected, amazingly fast, in the Cross Country class taking a staggering 4m23s lead heading into day three.
Day three sees the crews depart Lasseters at 8am to tackle six stages north east of Alice Springs for a total competitive distance of 159 kilometres.