Scouts Rally SA once again returned to the Mount Crawford Forest and the northern hills over the weekend of August 1-3 for three heats of intense gravel rally action on some of South Australia’s most challenging roads.
Taking the outright event win and victory in round four of the Australian Rally Championship was Scott Pedder and Dale Moscatt in the Walkinshaw Performance prepared Renault Sport Clio R3. The pairing narrowly claimed victory in all three heats which was enough to snatch the lead of the ARC.
Claiming second place was Brendon Reeves and Rhiannon Gelsomino in the quick little G2 Mazda 2. It was a close battle for much of the event however the Mazda 2 was struck with problems, including non functioning windscreen wipers in heavy rain and the loss of a rear wheel on SS20 when the studs broke, forcing Reeves to tripod back to service. Reeves was able to match the pace of Pedder when everything was working correctly, but these niggling problems kept him down at this crucial point in the championship. With two rounds remaining, Pedder managed to snatch the championship lead.
The pair of Team Citroën Australia DS3 R3’s looked fantastic on the stages but suffered some setup issues and were never quite on the pace of the leading duo. The fastest of the French flyers were Tony Sullens and Julia Barkley, who overcame gear selection issues on Sunday to claim the final place on the podium.
Everyone unequivocally agreed that in the current ARC format, the Classics are where its at. They’re some of the best looking cars, they slide the most and the range and diversity of the field makes them fascinating to watch. It comes as no surprise that Neal Bates and Coral Taylor once again dominated the category in their RA40 Celica, taking a clean sweep of stage and heat wins. You’d expect no less from the man who spent so long building and driving Toyota’s factory rally efforts in Australia. The car prep is spot on, the commitment is spot on – make no mistake, this is effectively a factory prepared historic Celica. And we love it.
In perhaps one of the most unexpected results of the weekend, locals Ross Kingham and Brian Catt punted the trusty Volvo 242 GT up into second place behind Bates. You have to be there at the finish to claim a result, and Kingham proved this by quickly and solidly sliding the Volvo around for three days as his competitors fell away around him.
And there was some pretty serious competition, too. The Porsche 911 of Jeff David and Grant Geelan was the closest challenger to Bates, however they failed to finish Friday’s Heat 1 and a climb back to third was the best they could manage by Sunday afternoon.
Barry Lowe’s new VB Commodore had a troubled gestation, with tuning issues seeing them off the pace on Saturday morning and a roll on the Tweeden stage on Saturday afternoon putting them out of the event. It was a mammoth all-hands-on-deck effort to get the car to the start line, and a broken radius rod sent the Commodore 90-deg left off the road, rolling down an embankment. On Tweeden we were shooting not far from the accident so after the stage we went to help push it on the trailer, and it was a shame seeing it post accident. But never fear, for Barry says it’s fixable and we wait with baited breath to see it properly on song. With more power and less weight than a V8 Supercar, it’s going to be quite the spectacle.
Without a doubt this is the car that everybody came to see, and it was a shame that mechanical problems had sidelined it by the second stage on Saturday morning. I heard it tear through the forest on media day and that five cylinder shrill was like nothing else. Oh to go back to Group B!
After a dominant performance across all three heats Henry Nott and Kate Catford won both the ARC 4WD class and round three of the South Australian Rally Championship in their Lancer Evo 6. Despite niggling gearbox issues late on Sunday and it being only their second event in a 4WD car, the team were on the pace of the front runners and managed three outright fastest stage times, 4 second’s and 4 third outright fastest stage times, as well as the lap record of the Main North Renault Gawler Super Special. To say they are stoked is an understatement.
Matt Selley and Hamish McKendrick finished second place in SARC on the debut of their new Lancer Evo IX. This car was built up from a shell and many boxes of assorted parts over just six weeks, making this a brilliant result for the Racecam team.
Michael Busby and Andy Sarandis earned the final place on the SARC podium in their flame-spitting FC RX7, having a flawless event to also finish as the first 2WD car in SARC. Busby hasn’t rallied for 14 months and the car sat dormant in that time as a new engine was carefully built, and from all reports it’s now a bit of a monster. Excellent.
2013 State Champion James Rodda was set to be a contender, however untraceable ECU problems in his WRX put him out before the event even began. But no stress, because James has recently taken delivery of his new Evo 9 rally car and was able to bring it out for a few runs as a course car. It looks good and sounds good, and I think will prove to be a quick car.
This year marks the first time that the side-by-sides have competed on all the same stages as the cars, and I’ve gotta say that it has to be just about the oddest thing I’ve seen. They’re a two-person mashup of an ATV/quad bike/go-kart/buggy type of thing, and are powered by an immensely torquey dirt-bike engine with a belt drive CVT transmission.
These things are hugely popular in the US for tearing around farms and properties at warp speed for laughs, however their popularity in Australia isn’t as great and the side-by-side rally series is aiming to change that.
The funny thing is that they aren’t slow, in fact SXS stage times are often in the top ten outright. They don’t have the straight line top speed to match the cars, but they accelerate a lot faster and they don’t appear to actually slow down for the corners, so on the tighter stages its an even match.
For 2014 the weather was the biggest unknown, and we experienced almost everything. Torrential rain in the weeks leading up meant that a few stages were cancelled and a few others modified, and on the Friday of the event there was a 50% chance of snowfall in the hills. It didn’t, but it was still bitterly cold in the mornings and on multiple occasions I had so many layers on I felt like the Michelin man trying to operate a camera.
There was so much water about that there was even talk that the event might be cancelled altogether. Damage to the roads is a given and a special fund is set aside to pay to fix them, but when everything is so slushy and boggy there’s sometimes no road left to fix. Luckily though the Forestry department evaluated the roads and gave the go-ahead for competition.
This still presented a Pandora’s box of unknowns, because in a lot of stages the roads were in a completely different condition to when the crews wrote their pacenotes a few days earlier. Forestry were still actively logging right up until the event, and in a few cases entire forests had been cut down.
The rain disappeared on Friday and whilst the forest was still extremely slippery, it was better than a lot of people expected. There were still thousands of treacherous areas waiting to catch unexpected drivers out, such as this corner on the Chalks stage. It seemed reasonably grippy if you were on-line, but slip off the line and you were in for a world of trouble.
The mud also hid submerged tree stumps, and Tommo in the GT Falcon was the only car to find them. He very nearly became beached, but after lots of wheelspin and flinging mud managed to extricate himself.
A stark reality of rallying, in fact any form of motorsport, is the need for volunteer officials because without them the event simply doesn’t happen. Even at a national championship event there are no paid staff, and we can only go out into the forests and enjoy it because of the labor of others. It’s labor that occurs at silly hours of the morning, in all weather and at a cost to the volunteers. Even those of us not competing owe them some thanks.
Scouts Rally SA this year was unfortunately characterised by delays which had a knock-on effect to the rest of the event. These delays, and even the cancellation of some stages, were a result of a few bigger incidents, and a lack of officials. You can’t do much about on-stage incidents but we can fix the lack of officials. A lot of spectators whinged and moaned about the delays, but I find it a funny point that if these same people all volunteered just half a day of their time a year to a sport that they claim to love, these events would be flushed with officials and would likely become an even better spectacle for everyone. Not meaning to jump on a high-horse, but its something to think about. Motorsport, like any sport, is a community. And if people don’t combine their efforts and work for the benefit of that community, it dies off.
It’s always interesting to see the different approaches to super special’s. The old adage that you can’t win a rally but you can certainly loose it rings true, however a lot of the guys like to put on a good show for the spectators. And at the end of the day that’s why we’re all there, so why not?
The biggest news of the weekend was Jack Monkhouse’s huge accident on the Tweeden stage over the notoriously named ‘Brendo’s jump’ (hint – it’s never a positive when you have a jump named after you). This particularly fast stretch of road is approached in sixth gear at close to 200km/h, and over the jump the road dips away and the treeline continues at a deceptively different angle. You need to place the car just right to not fly into the trees, and to do it right is to be as committed as you’ll ever see. Jack took a slightly tighter line than the cars before him, no more than half a metre, and found a large rock on the edge of the road. This sent them spinning into the two big gum trees at 190km/h – Jack and Darren escaped the car with no injuries, but after they got out it caught alight and burnt to the ground.
Any Given Reason went for a sideways ride with Jack on the Friday media day in the S15. More to follow on that in an upcoming story, but it’s scary to think that as of Saturday this car no longer existed. There’s a grassroots campaign happening to help Jack back into the ARC (like Dick Johnson and the rock etc), so if you’d like to donate something hit up the campaign Facebook page for more details.
The Australian Rally Championship moves to its next round at Coffs Harbour on September 11-14, where it plays support act to the Australian round of the World Rally Championship. The South Australian Rally Championship can next be seen in action on September 27 at the re-run of the Walky 100 at Robertstown.