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Roller-coaster COT ride

As the sun rose against the MacDonnell Ranges on a chilly Tuesday morning, all but the Sawyer brothers who retired on day two, disembarked from Lasseters for a challenging days’ rallying.

Before formalities got under-way, event co-ordinator Steuart Snooks, presented Argentine pair Jorge Perez Companc and Jose Volta with the COT gnomes, which are awarded to the most deserving crew each day. Day three of competition would see competitors cover six stages, totalling 159 competitive kilometres, north east of Alice Springs with two service breaks at the sensational Hale River Homestead.

As they had done, 24 hours earlier, Perez Companc/Volta (Escort RS1800) were quick on the days’ first test (SS13), however it would be Keith and Mary Anne Callinan in a similar RS1800 who would snatch the opening honours by five seconds. Andy Crane and co-driver Dave Anderson were the stars of the stage, setting the third fastest time in their Peugeot 504.

Winneke Goldfield (SS14), a 65 kilometre stage running against the stunning backdrop of the Georgina Range was by far the day’s most popular stage, with competitors describing it as a roller coaster ride in reference to its many crests and yumps! Overnight Classic leader, Neil Cuthbert bounced back from a slow start to the day setting the fastest time by over a minute to extend his lead over Andrew and David Travis (Nissan Gazelle).

There were many dramas in SS14, with the Ian Swan/Colin Gow Volvo 244 losing a suspension spring just five kilometres from the end, and without any spares, they managed to locate the spring which had gone walkabout and limp through the short SS15 before returning to service for repairs. Both the Huber and Calvert-Jones Porsches experienced gearbox trouble with the former replacing the box at first service. Joel Wald and Tracey Dewhurst’s (Datsun Stanza) retched debut run continued when they lost a wheel on transport between SS14 and SS15, while Keith Callinan broke an axle in his RS1800.

Roadside gearbox change on the Huber Porsche.

Roadside gearbox change on the Huber Porsche.

Navigational errors on the penultimate stage cost Cuthbert and Evans dearly, as they lost 10 minutes and in doing so dropped to third by days end, more than 7 minutes off the lead. The Travis’ subsequently inherited the lead and go in to day four with more than a minutes’ advantage from the Argentine pair. Impressive speed and commitment from Andy Crane netted equal fastest on the days’ final stage and rewarded his team with fourth.

Modern competition saw stage wins shared amongst five crews, however NT locals Ben Kittle/Peter Williams (Commodore VR) maintained their consistency to end the day with a comfortable eight minute lead. Gravel Rally debutante, Adam Kaplan with co-driver Mary Hughes (Mazda RX7), who won the opening stage of the day retired with mechanical failure on the penultimate stage.

Stephen Riley and John Doble (Holden Commodore VF Utility) continued to dominate Cross Country stretching their lead to almost 12 minutes.

Crews have an early start to day four, departing Lassters at 7.30am, heading south of Alice Springs to take on six stages for a competitive distance of 208 kilometres.