Bathurst son and father combination, Andrew and David Travis were the cream of the crop at the end of the 2016 Classic Outback Trial (COT), as they took back to back wins and their third in four attempts, this time in a Nissan Gazelle.
After five days of incredibly challenging stages that tested crews, the event came to its conclusion on Friday, departing Lasseters at 8.30am for four stages and 112 competitive kilometres. However, a rally is never over until the Fat Lady Sings, and that suitably was the name of the final stage.
The first stage (SS30) of the day was a 67km test to the east of Alice Springs and it would be responsible for yet another twist. David and Kate Officer, held a relatively comfortable fourth, five minutes clear of the Volvo of Penny Swan and Tony Robinson but their sensational run would come undone on the final day. They were stuck in a hole on stage, damaging the front end and breaking the exhaust. They eventually resumed but dropped 32 minutes by the time they completed the stage.
In a day when all the Travis team had to do was bring the car home, with a huge advantage over the field, they still managed to win the opening stage of the day ahead of West Australians, Richard Bennett/Matt James-Wallace in a Mustang and Shane Atwell/David Moir in a XY GT Falcon despite making contact with the local wildlife. Mustangs filled the first two positions on SS31, with Bennett finishing 19 seconds clear of Warren Briggs/Gerry Bashford in another Mustang.
Local driver, Phil Kerr capped off a great week of rallying with Jenny Cole to set the fastest time on the penultimate stage of the event in the Datsun 1600 that was so successfully contested by Travis in previous Outback Trials, ahead of Warren Briggs and Penny Swan.
With only the 8.24km sprint at the Finke Desert Track to finish the event, Penny Swan and Tony Robinson provided possibly the most spectacular action of the rally by getting a bit unstuck through a water splash before sliding through a fence and rolling the Volvo, before crossing the finish line to claim an outstanding fourth outright in Classic. The spectacular finish and great result netted them the final set of gnomes for most deserving crew of the day.
At the completion of SS33, Andrew and David Travis were declared winners by a final margin of 26m54s, from the Peugeot 504 of Andy Crane and Dave Anderson, with Phil Kerr and Jenny Cole rounding out the podium places. Richard Bennett finished fifth, Shane Atwell sixth, the Officers seventh after their dramas on SS31, Pat and Brad Cole eighth in the Mercedes, Murray Rogers/Darren Wyth a fantastic ninth and Queenslander Luke Olholm paired with Gordon Trigg rounded out the top 10 in a Datsun 260Z.
For much of the event, it looked like Ben Kittle would be hard to beat in his VR Commodore but a blown differential on day five dropped him out and when the Fat Lady Sung, Peter Neal and Craig Whyburn clinched victory in Modern competition, almost 14 minutes clear of Bill Monkhouse and Andrew Booker (Suzuki Vitara) with Evan and Caroline Vale taking the final step of the podium in the ex MRT Subaru Forester.
In Cross Country, Stephen Riley and John Doble (Holden VF Utility) took the honours by almost an hour from Reg Owen and Russell Cairns (Isuzu MU-X) and Murray Young/Paul McBean (Mitsubishi Pajero).
New to 2016 is the Regularity Class, with the only all female entry of locals Debra McCormack and Leonie Kerr in a Mitsubishi Magna winning ahead of the well travelled Phil and Laurette Macwhiter in the most unlikely of vehicles to tackle the outback challenge, a British Morgan Plus 8 sports car.