There’s something about rear-wheel drive rally cars sliding sideways through forests that’s simply right. The past twenty years of rally history has shown that driving just half the wheels is not the fastest nor most efficient way of completing a given distance in the shortest possible time, but that’s not the point. There’s a natural theater to sliding a rear-wheel drive rally car because it remains the fastest way for that configuration of car to traverse that particular gravel/mud/rocky surface. Traction is in short supply, so the more momentum the better.
In a world that spent the two decades after the mid eighties pursuing four-wheel drive for speed reasons, and then became stuck in the obscure rut we’re now in where front-wheel drive is chosen for what can only be marketing related reasons, there are but a few hardy souls sticking with rallying’s classic setup at the top level of competition in Australia. The most successful and spectacular of these is Jack Monkhouse, who’s home built and prepared Nissan S15 Silvia is easily the most popular and anticipated car of the championship. Well, was. But more on that later.
Thanks to the generosity of Racecam Race Camera Systems, Any Given Reason was invited out to the Scouts Rally SA Media Day for a sideways, on the limit ride through the Mount Crawford Forest in the co-drivers seat of the famous blue S15. With Jack’s ever-smiling face alongside me and what felt like the heavens opening up above onto an already sodden, muddy track that had been used as the televised ARC Power Stage not long before, I slid down over the jungle-gym roll cage and belted in for the ride of a lifetime.
Given that this is the man who made headlines around the country by jumping at least 6ft high over the famous forest jump at last year’s event, I really had no idea what to expect. What exactly was I getting myself in for?
The surprising thing is that when you’re sitting in the car alongside Jack, it feels oddly normal. Well, not quite. There’s still something a tad perverse about looking at the direction of travel through the passenger window, and then looking up at the windscreen to see it filled with a solid row of trees. But despite a performance that looks on the absolute ragged edge from outside, it feels like Jack is in complete control from the inside.
He’s calmly twirling the wheel in motions that seem almost unrelated to where the car is actually headed, casually clicking the sequential shifter and feeding in the boost after the corresponding thunk of straight cut gears engaging. In these muddy conditions there is a LOT of wheelspin, only pausing for the eerie calmness of getting air over a slight lip or tippy-toeing through a water splash.
The following series of photos are courtesy of Ryan Schembri of RS Photos. Check out his website here.
Pushing hard for an outright position on Saturday afternoon’s Eden High stage, Monkhouse and Masters had a firey crash at the jump that has claimed many big names in previous years, including Scott Pedder and Brendan Reeves. On one of the fastest parts of the stage there is a small jump that sends you airborne right between two of the biggest gum trees you’ve seen. I say small jump because when you drive it in a road car you can hardly pick it, but hit it at 180km/h and you know about it. A few inches either way can be the difference between success and failure – Brendo’s crash in 2009 was caused by the car sitting just a few inches too wide over the crest.
The current front-wheel drive cars create less of a swept line than the four-wheel drives did, so in order to find some grip Jack has to place the inside front wheel right on the absolute apex of the corner, which allows the driven wheels to follow the swept line. Jack cut it an inch or so too tight – almost nothing at those speeds – and found a large rock hidden in the shadows. The car clipped the rock, flew over the jump at a 45deg angle into the biggest gum tree, rolled down the road, backed into another tree and ended up on its roof.
Flames quickly engulfed the car, and miraculously Jack and Darren escaped without injury before the S15 burnt to the ground. This is a perfect example of why anybody involved in motorsport at any level should buy the best safety gear they can afford – Jack and Darren attribute their survival to the extensive Bond Roll Bars roll cage and Velo race seats that unquestionably saved their lives. Inferior safety gear and this would have been a far more tragic story than a lost rally car.
Thanks again to RS Photos for the use of these shots.
The outpouring of support from the rally community and the ‘Bring Jack Back’ campaign (where a digital hat was passed around online, raising over $20,000) has, in Jack’s words, been unreal and humbling. It’s really shown how much people appreciate such a spectacle, and how desperately our championship needs these types of car/driver combinations.
And Jack’s plans for the future? He finds himself at a bit of a crossroads. The last time Jack and his crew completely rebuilt this car after a roll a few years ago it cost him about $10,000, but building a whole new car from scratch is a significantly greater investment. There is nothing left to start with – even equipment like the recce/transport headsets are gone, which on their own are about a $1000 investment. Jack isn’t sure if he should build another S15 or similar and continue fighting at the outright level, or throw his funds into another Datsun build for the classic competition. Either way, whatever Jack finds himself rallying in the future will be built to the same safety levels as the S15 was. Competing at the top level of the sport requires a significant investment in terms of time, commitment and cash, so Jack doesn’t want to jump into something he can’t properly sustain right now.
Whatever they end up doing, because of that Bond Roll Bar and those Velo seats both Jack and Darren are still with us to slide through the forests another day. And when they do, we’ll all be waiting to watch.
Thanks to Jack for taking AGR for such an awesome ride, and to Racecam for making it happen.
Words and photos by Andrew Coles#ARC #Australian Rally Championship #Gravel Rally #Jack Monkhouse #Monkhouse #Mount Crawford Forest #Nismo #Nissan #rally #Rally of South Australia #rally S15 #rally Silvia #rear wheel drive #rear wheel drive rally cars #S15 #Scouts Rally SA #Silvia #SR20