After a day’s delay while Alice Springs cleaned up from a massive storm last Friday, we were finally underway to run day two’s stages. The route took us north beyond the Tropic of Capricorn to Mount Yambah and Gemtree for 185 km of competitive kilometres stages and 430 km in total. Like the storm on Friday, the first 2 stages cut a trail of destruction through the field. And like that storm, most of the damage can be repaired, just putting plans back a bit.
The worst news of the day came early. Making its way into the first competitive, Michael and Andrew Sawyer’s Datsun 1600 suffered a terminal engine failure, leaving Andrew by the side of the Stuart Highway waiting for Geoff and Jenny and a trailer. Crushing news for the popular lads who are part of the COT family.
In the Classic category, perhaps to the surprise to some, it was the Argentine Crew of Perez Companc / Volta in their magnificent Group 4 Viking Motorsport Ford Escort RS1800 that fired the opening salvo, winning the first stage of the day (Snake Well, 52 km) by 29 seconds from Neil Cuthbert / Sue Evans (Datsun 200B) but by a staggering 2 minutes from next best, 2 time winner Andrew and David Travis (Nissan Gazelle). It was however the Travis’s worst stage of the day and the Argentinians best. Also fast straight out of the box in the Classic Category was the TA28 Toyota Celica GT of Reddiex / Mitchell, just 7 seconds behind Travis.
However, other crews had drama on the stage. Wallis / Ward (Peugeot 205) lost their clutch on the start line but found a way to continue with the issue largely righting itself as they progressed. Ted and Joel Perkins (Lotus Cortina) ran wide on a corner and picked up damage to the driver’s door but were able to continue unaffected. Many crews suffered bent wheel rims and damaged tyres when the road turned unexpectedly bad in places. The popular, and COT regular N.S.W crew of Cooper / Warner (Ford Falcon XD) were thrown off the track by sandy ruts collecting a tree 25 km into the stage. Though damaged, they were able to press on without further loss of time.
One of our UK crews, John Midgley and John Pullen (Toyota Corolla SR TE71) had a spring in the distributor fail on the first stage for which the crew had a clever fix, only to lose a water hose, overheat and stop 13 km from the end of stage 2, requiring a tow from our Recovery Crew in to Gemtree service. They changed the head gasket at service and will re-join tomorrow out of position 38.
The most dramatic occurrence on stage 2 was the rollover performed by Joel Wald / Tracey Dewhurst (Datsun Stanza) 5 km into the stage when in position 11. They picked the (as it turned out) wrong side of a boggy hole to spear into at high speed which tripped the car over, coming to rest on its wheels. The crew spent the rest of the morning directing following crews to the other side of the bog for a safe passage. A small engine bay fire (if there is such a thing) ended the plan to drive the remaining 42 km, so it was their service crew that made the recovery. With the addition of 5 times Australian Rally Champion Ross Dunkerton to the service crew this afternoon, they have made good the damage and will start out of position lucky 13 tomorrow.
Similar to Wald / Dewhurst, Tony Jordan and Richard Davidson put their Triumph 2.5Pi over on its side running through another bog hole. They were able to right the car but limped in to service at Gemtree for repairs with the Triumph running on 4 and 5 cylinders.
Trouble too for the immaculate 1965 Ford Mustang of Warren Briggs (UK) / Gerry Bashford who destroyed 2 rims and damaged the front suspension in an innocent run wide into a creek crossing. The team faces a long night to return the car to starting condition for tomorrow, Day 3.
By the end of today’s 5 stages Cuthbert / Evans had the lead by 1 minute 18 seconds and 3 minutes 19 seconds from Perez Companc / Volta. Keith and Mary-Anne Callinan in another Welsh built Ford Escort RS1800 are another 2 minutes 20 seconds further back, just getting warmed up. The top end of this Category is shaping up as a traditional Nissan v Ford rally battle. The Reddiex / Mitchell Toyota finished the day well, just 1 minute 27 seconds behind the Callinans. When a flat tyre can take up to 6 minutes to change, it sets up a great Tuesday at the COT.
In the Modern Category, Caroline and Evan Vale in the Subaru Forester formerly rallied by N.S.W. rally star Brett Middleton, book ended the day with a win on the first and last stages, but it was Ben Kittle / Peter Williams (VR Holden Commodore) that finished the day in the lead 2 minutes to the better of the Vale’s winning stages 9 and 11 on the way. Chris and Blake McCormack are another 2 minutes behind in their very much tweaked Mitsubishi Magna. The McCormack’s won stage 10, the third stage today which lifted them from 6th to 4th before edging out Adam Kaplan / Mary Hughes (Mazda RX-7) to take 3rd. Kaplan and Hughes from N.S.W. are newcomers to the gravel rally scene having done many tarmac rallies and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying our style of motorsport. They held on to 4th in the Modern category all day. Bruinsma / McNaughton (Commodore V8) were forced to take a long service break to repair the centre tailshaft bearing hanger which broke on stage 2. John Bruinsma declares though, that the horrible clanging and banging did not slow them at all!
In the Cross Country Category, Stephen Riley and John Doble (Holden V8 Utility) dominated the day winning 4 of the 5 stages. They were bettered only on the 4th stage of the day (stage 11) by Denham / Topliff in a Mitsubishi Triton. Riley and Doble took the honours by just over 4 minutes from Denham / Topliff.
New for the Classic Outback Trial is a Regularity competition. Though this year there are but 2 competitors, they couldn’t be more different or more popular crews. The all N.T. all Lady crew of Deb McCormack and Leonie Kerr are driving a Mitsubishi Magna usually used for Motorkhana’s and their competition is a 1969 Morgan Plus 8 – a lightweight, wood framed, open top British Sports car powered by a 4.6 litre V8 crewed by Phil and Laurette Macwhiter. The Macwhiters have rallied that Morgan in 29 countries, McCormack / Kerr just one; this one. Concerns about the Morgan handling the boggy sections was dispelled when they made it to Gemtree service, but with bent steering. The Morgan transported back to Lasseters to make more repairs while the Magna finished the day putting them in to a strong lead in the Category.
Day 3 of the Classic Outback trial takes us North again beyond the Tropic of Capricorn for another 6 stages and 430 km. Reliability issues may begin to show but the pace will be relentless. In a high quality field, day 3 will shape the tactics for the reminder of the Classic Outback Trial.