James Rodda and Dave Langfield have won Rally Wattle Range, the first round of the South Australian Rally Championship held recently on April 26-27 in the South East region of South Australia. In a tough event where simply finishing was an achievement in itself, Rodda came through to claim his maiden victory by over two minutes and took maximum championship points over the diverse set of stages.
The pairing of Michael and David Krichauff drove a consistent yet fast event to claim a solid second place outright in their class P5 Subaru.
The final place on the podium went to the Galant VR4 of Mt Gambier locals Paul Heenan and Andrew Kreisl. It was expected that local knowledge would certainly play into the hands of the Galant’s of locals Heenan and Brown, and this was certainly the case.
In a fantastic effort considering it was their first ever rally in a new car, Jamie Pohlner and Ben Judd claimed fourth place in the ex Sam Brand GC8 Subaru. This must have been a special result for the crew, because other than two khanacross events earlier in the year, this was their first serious event.
The top five was rounded out by Barry and Helen Lowe in the thundering VB Commodore. This is fast becoming a very popular car on the national historic rally circuit, and Barry has stepped it up to a whole new level for 2013. The old Holden V8 (itself a wild motor) is out, replaced by a Nascar spec Chev V8. I was told that this engine arrived from the US producing over 800hp, and that Barry has tuned it down to a more reliable 550 for gravel work. It has that spine tingling high pitched wail that is only produced by very seriously tuned race engines, and throws massive rooster tails of dust and rocks wherever it goes.
We’re talking rooster tails that last deep into third gear, and probably more if Barry let it.
Going to an away rally is always good fun, and the Millicent based Rally Wattle Range is building a bit of a reputation for being a particularly enjoyable event. This, however, presented us with a problem. I’d heard stories of how rough the roads were so I wasn’t particularly keen on using my low MX5 for recce, and a friend and fellow photographer’s Camry, usually an ideal stead, had seen one recce too many last year and was now a little long in the tooth for a journey of this length. Needing a set of wheels, we borrowed a new Corolla from a good friend. With the hubcaps removed and the secret sequence of how to disable all traction and stability control, we were set!
We discovered the stages to be a real mix, with SS8 Picannini igniting the most discussion. It varied from sandy roads that somehow managed to still be rocky, to smooth blasts through the pine forest, wide sweeping council roads and cannonball straights, one of which was measured at 1.1km long! It was a love it or hate it stage, and Mark and I both agreed that we loved it. It had a bit of everything.
Such is the variety of Rally Wattle Range that one minute your racing through the forest, and on the very next stage you’re flat out over prairie land.
We were a little worried about the Corolla over some of the rockier sections of Picannini, until we were passed by this seemingly standard Volkswagen Type 3. Not only did it pass us, but it was loaded up with 5 people and riding pretty low at the back. If they can get through so can we, we reasoned, and pushed on.
A few km later we came upon something in the middle of the road, so I got out to move it out of the way. As I approached it I realized it was a Volkswagen exhaust system, and it was still warm! We thought about returning it to the vee dub owner, but one look at its condition revealed that we probably did them a service by leaving it as a roadside tribute to flat four power.
A stop in Beachport for lunch revealed what is just about the strangest parking permit I think I’ve ever seen. We parked there anyway, and came up with an elaborate story about how we were actually high flying lobster buyers from Singapore, in town for the rally. I’m sure it would have worked had we been asked.
This photo sums up exactly why I love rallying so much – it forces you to get out of your regular numbing routine and get lost in a spectacular part of Australia that you’ve never seen before. We may have been a little bit lost and running late, but the sheer beauty of this scene forced us to stop and take it all in. Stunning.
The rally began on Friday night with the first four stages around the South Eastern Automobile Club’s excellent SEAC Park facility, and we arrived just before the first drivers briefing of the season got underway.
Clerk of Course Lionell Stingers imparted some important information, that being that the rally was very nearly cancelled just an hour beforehand. Apparently at the last moment Saturday was declared a total fire ban day, which usually means zero activity of any kind in the forest. It took a fair amount of fast talking for the rally to proceed, and everyone promised to be on their best behavior.
This was my first time to SEAC park and I only really saw it in the dark, but it’s a pretty freaking awesome facility. Blown away would be an understatement, and if I lived in the area I’d most certainly have a dedicated SEAC car.
You could instantly spot the locals, as they were in another league compared to the Adelaide based guys. Local Jason Sims in his Datsun 180B was trading outright fastest times with the Adelaide based front running cars.
The course did a 2.4km loop around the property…
… and even had an overpass! How cool is that!
Some pushed pretty hard and got away with their mistakes…
… while others weren’t so lucky. Locals Jeremy Miatke and James Kerin were sliding their VL all over the place and looked fast, until they tipped it on its lid on the second run.
Old mate Damo was co-driving for Wayne Mason in his beaut little MkII Escort. Everything was going well until they came to a stop right in front of me. They both jumped out, and discovered a broken throttle cable to be the culprit.
Then the idea came that Damo could just sit on the guard and manually operate the throttle with his hand to limp back to the finish, and I was pleading with him to do this. Just think of the photos, you’ll go down in state rallying history! I repeated. I think he was actually going to do it, but the disapproving looks coming from the now present official soon scuttled that idea.
Once again, SEAC is an awesome place, and I’d love to have a drive there myself someday.
It was reasonably late by the time we got back to Millicent, and what us city slickers didn’t realise is that you just can’t simply get a good meal at 1030pm in a country town. Mmm servo dinner! Washed down with a few drinks, it wasn’t too bad, but somehow we stayed up talking until 230am.
With bleary eyes and slightly bleary heads we turned up at the street show in Beachport under perfect blue skies. The street show is the perfect way to start the event, as it practically forces everyone to just chill and relax for an hour or so before the game gets underway. The stresses of car prep and recce are gone, and its a good time to settle the nerves.
Wait… what… is that a crochet car? And are they comparing Beachport to the famed Nimbin?
Wait… what does that sticker actually mean?
Wait… isn’t that the VL that rolled last night?
The rally proper then got underway with SS1 & SS2, Scenic Drive. I think this stage is really something special, and we are privileged to have it as part of our state series.
Just look at it and the spectacular views. Scenic Drive will become an iconic rally stage in Australia, if not the world. I’ve never seen rally photos like these, from anywhere else on the globe. This is WRC level stuff.
And it’s not like this is a token stage either – views aside this is a seriously challenging bit of road with tightening radius corners and plenty of blind crests to test those notes out.
Wattle Range was a rally of attrition, with only 13 classified finishers from 31 starters! 2012 state champions Declan Dwyer and Craig Adams set the pace early on but exited the event due to damage sustained in a nosedive over a misjudged jump. Declan didn’t compete here last year and still managed to win the championship, but with only 3 weeks until the next round at Scouts Rally SA it will be serious race against the clock to repair the Evo in time.
Simon and Yvette West were serious outright challengers until loosing over 20 minutes on SS8 with coil pack issues.
Michael Busby and Steve Fisher were charging hard in the RX7 until a mystery overheating problem sent temperatures sky high and steam streaming out of the bonnet. They parked it to avoid further damage.
Gary Brown and Mike Dale retired when a universal joint in the tailshaft let go at 200km/h! It apparently made quite a racket at that speed, and one shudders to think what it did to the floorpan.
Andrew Burnard and Tim Margach had a minor altercation with a roo, who presumably came off second best.
Wayne and Damo in the Escort had gear selection issues in the middle of the day, and solved them by changing a gearbox during service. They were out of contention results wise, and went back out for the sheer fun of it. But many were not able to fix their cars, and at the final service the service park was littered with broken cars on trailers, the list of reasons seemingly endless.
These guys in the R31 understeered off and got beached in the middle of the forest, and they couldn’t quite believe it when four guys popped out from behind the bush. They hadn’t seen anyone else for miles, and here we were.
It got to the stage when we were cheering on anyone who was still running, especially the guys in the VL. What an effort.
James and Dave were intentionally not looking at results, so they had no idea that they were leading the event when they booked in for the final service.
Burnard’s good luck charm?
The final two stages of the event were held in darkness. Watching rally in the pitch black is really something special. First you hear the car coming from way off – Simon West mentioned that he hit 201km/h just before reaching us, on dirt, in the dark. Then you see the light beams of the cars a few hundred meters before they reach you…
… the corner is then slightly lit up as they approach…
… a fury of camera flashes then appear out of nowhere (photographers seem to hunt in packs for some reason)…
… and then they’re off again into the darkness. Rinse and repeat.
James and Dave did well to win. They drove fast enough to hold a comfortable lead but still preserved the car. And what’s more, James’s WRX was still a bare shell on a rotisserie just 3 weeks ago, and James has been working around the clock (quite literally) to build it back up himself, to rebuild the top end of the engine and to rebuild and install a new gearbox himself in time for the event. They made it with only hours to spare.
And a huge thanks must go to the event organizers. They’ve fixed the problems of last years event, and have put together a brilliant rally at late notice. Wattle Range is fast becoming my favorite event of the season as it is a relaxing event with challenging and exciting stages in a picture perfect part of the world. What more could you want?
From here the state championship heads to the SA round of the Australian Rally Championship, Scouts Rally SA on May 24-26. See you there!
Words and photos by Andrew Coles
1: James Rodda/David Langfield – WRX – 1.24.20
2: Michael Krichauff/David Krichauff – WRX – 1.26.38
3: Paul Heenan/Andrew Kreisl – Galant VR4 – 1.28.01
4: Jamie Pohlner/Ben Judd – WRX – 1.29.08
5: Barry Lowe/Helen Pearl-Lowe – Commodore – 1.29.49
6: Paul Rowe/Alex Raggatt – Legacy RS – 1.39.15
7: Chris Bennett/David Rowe – WRX – 1.41.35
8: Geoff Hobby/Peter Tann – Sprinter – 1.42.16 (+6 points for the awesome sound)
9: Jason Sims/Bev Shute – 180B – 1.44.28
10: Simon West/Yvette West – WRX – 1.48.47 (coil pack problems)
11: Brian Catt/Shane Miller – Excel – 1.50.10
12: Tyson Brown/Mark Chaplin – WRX – 1.54.08 (car stuck in limp home mode)
13: Darryl Brown/Dee Telford – Skyline – 2.43.57 (lost almost an hour getting stuck)