Port Adelaide’s derelict Dock 2 precinct came alive to the sounds of screaming engines and howling tyres recently as the inaugural Port Adelaide Carrera kicked off with a single day tarmac rally style event on Sunday 14 December.
The brainchild of former Targa Tasmania Clerk of Course Stuart Benson, through his fledgling Benson Motorsport organisation, the Port Adelaide Carrera aims to change the face of tarmac rallying and bring it into the heart of major population centers, while making it more accessible for new competitors and spectators.
The basic format is a day event contested over six heats of a single stage, run three times in each direction. Just like a regular rally, the competitor with the lowest cumulative time after all stages is deemed the winner. And just like a regular rally, co-drivers are permitted.
In a unique move there was a special class for vehicles running gravel tyres, which was won by Stephen Mee and Greg Foord in a 1991 Mazda Familia GTR gravel rally car. The little Familia was suffering badly from detonation over the first two runs, but an adjustment to the timing during the lunch break fixed the problem and luckily no damage was done.
Traction was at an absolute minimum and there was something strangely perverse about seeing these cars in an environment so far removed from anything else. It was like a mini Tax the Rich clip, right there in front of us.
… that was punctuated by a long, tightening radius right hander with a train line bump running through the middle. This corner really highlighted how the cars were set up – rally machines and road cars sailed over the bump no problem, but anything with a circuit setup lifted an inside wheel.
There was a lot of conjecture and alarmist internet discussion before the event about the possibility of a car falling off into the port, but with water filled barriers and shipping containers strategically placed there was almost zero chance of this actually happening. It made for rather pleasant shooing conditions though, and this was probably the first event I’ve been to where we were dolphin spotting and talking to kayakers between cars.
It didn’t escape our attention that there was a volunteer coast guard boat patrolling the wharf where the racing was happening. It’s hugely unlikely that a car would end up in the water, but I guess you’ve always gotta put safety first.
The council and then the fire marshals did their best to sweep the course before competition, but it was still massively dusty. It made for a great spectacle but it looked difficult to get any power down.
This end of the track was set to the imposing backdrop of the City of Adelaide Clipper Ship, a constant reminder that despite the derelict appearance of the venue, we were racing on a rather historic part of our state.
Built in 1864, the City of Adelaide is the oldest clipper ship in the world and along with the Cutty Sark (1869), is one of just two clipper ships remaining. It was famous as the primary passenger ship for immigrants to South Australia in the 1800’s, and has just arrived back in Adelaide after an exhaustive volunteer project to save her.
Mark Williams had a successful first outing in his Celica GT-Four, the first outing for him or the car in over four years. AGR readers might be more familiar with Mark as the photographer behind MWP Photography, but in the background he has been working on this project. Mark has combined all sorts of engine bits from different Toyota’s (block, crank, head, turbo etc) to build what he sees as the best GT-Four engine, mixing and matching them with healthy doses of technical wizardry to build a fast and strong motor. This was just the first run and the rest of the car is stock, but expect big things as the project slowly develops.
Damo and his little Mazda 121 are quickly becoming infamous at events like this, and Port Adelaide was no exception as Damo punted this poor little car harder than it was ever designed for, surprising many on the timesheets in the process.
The funniest moment came on the last run of the day, when Damo will tell you he was running well for a respectable outright finish. He saw us standing on the inside of this corner, so decided to pull an extra large handbrake turn for us all.
Of course the hand brake jammed on, and we had several enjoyable seconds laughing as Damo tried desperately to release it and salvage his run. It was not to be, so he finished the run with the hand brake locked on, tail sliding all over the place.
The Port Adelaide Carrera was a bit of a case of what could have been. The event we ended up with was not the event that Benson Motorsports envisioned; if anything it was more like an Ozgymkhana event in a more scenic setting.
What was initially planned and announced was an actual tarmac rally stage through the streets the of the Port Adelaide dock area, run three times in each direction. It would have had a small section around Dock 2, but then would have gone and looped through the warehouses and buildings in a stage closer to 6km in length. It would have been a legitimate urban tarmac rally.
At the eleventh hour the Benson Motorsport team encountered challenges in getting the event off the ground that they just couldn’t face in time. Nobody has really tried an event like this on a closed public road with driver and co-driver for cars that don’t conform to any CAMS rally standard. It was an ambitious undertaking, and they didn’t quite make it.
Rather than cancel the event entirely, they redesigned a course to fit within the docks and while the track wasn’t exactly ideal, I spoke to more people in the pits who were having a great day than weren’t.
In this context, I thought the Port Adelaide Carrera was a success. But I can’t help but look forward to next year and see what the Benson Motorsport team can do with a full year to get it off the ground. These types of fresh new events are the future of club motorsport, and they are certainly responsible for a reinvigoration of the scene.
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