James Rodda and David Langfield have had a fairy tail return to the MRF Tyres South Australian Rally Championship, taking outright victory at the RAA Southern Rally in their first event in over eighteen months.
After damaging the RaceTorque built Evo 9 in an off during the 2014 Walky 100 at Robertstown, the Rally Power Motorsport team have been busy repairing and rebuilding the car from the ground up to be better and stronger than ever. Even so, it was a sprint to the finish and the Evo was only driven on the street for the first time just a few days before the event. The team came to the RAA Southern Rally with the aims of shaking down the car, having a clean event and getting back into the swing of things, and were elated to take the victory by just under 24 seconds.
In their SARC debut, the Mount Gambier based pair of Aaron Bowering and Nathan Lowe took second place outright in their newly purchased Subaru GC8 STi. Delivering a string of solid and safe stage times all day, the pair were in the right place as their more fancied opponents fell to the wayside.
Proving that modern turbocharging and all wheel drive can easily be substituted for a balls-to-the-wall driving style and sheer commitment, Andrew Gleeson and Fred Brewer claimed the final podium position in the mighty Datsun Stanza. Even despite growing gearbox problems through the event that caused them to loose sixth, then fifth, and then fourth gears, the pair made the best use of the mostly tight stages to drive around the problem and nursed the Stanza over the line.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again to anyone who’ll listen, that South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula region, host of the RAA Southern Rally, is a spectacular place to spend a Sunday. As Adelaidians, we really are phenomenally lucky to have it as our backyard.
Tourists travel from all over the world to see this region, and it’s pretty cool that the local council can see the value in allowing us to close parts of it down for a few hours’ to race some cars through it. I think we sometimes take that for granted a little bit, and also forget the equally phenomenal amount of work that goes on for over eight months by members of the Southern Districts Car Club beforehand to make it all come together.
Making an exciting return to the RAA Southern Rally was the only closed council road stage of the event, the famous Balquhidder stage, which takes its name from the Kerry Stokes’ owned cattle property that it runs mostly through.
Balquhidder is one of the classic South Australian stages from the seventies and eighties, and is quite commonly labelled by many as the best rally stage in South Australia. Some have even gone as far as marking it one of the best in the country, on a par with some of the famous stages of New Zealand. Rally driving and competition aside, the views over Backstairs Passage and out to Kangaroo Island and the Cape Willoughby lighthouse make it worth the drive alone.
Experienced competitor Jeremy Browne, who actually rallied Balquhidder as both driver and co-driver during the seventies and eighties, even entered the RAA Southern Rally just to drive it again at speed. Unfortunately mechanical problems in his Mini Cooper S early in the event prevented him from reaching it this year, so fingers crossed both the stage and Jeremy make a return in 2017.
2016 brings good news for the local championship, with MRF Tyres coming on board as the naming rights sponsor of the series and host of a special competition and prize for the fastest crew running on MRF Tyres for the whole year.
And in good news for the event, the RAA joined as title sponsor of the Southern Rally. Their contribution enabled the event to run the excellent RallySafe system for the first time at a South Australian state round, increasing safety for competitors and making it easier for Rally Control to track movements.
The 2016 field was small but it was of a high quality and included an interesting mix of new cars and returning champions. Mark Povey made the SARC debut of his new Datsun Stanza build, and finished sixth with Steve Glenney calling the notes.
After almost a decade away from the sport, Carwyn Harries debuted his new Holden Gemini, taking fifth place with Matthew Henderson sitting alongside. With a properly built two liter under the bonnet, this Gemini surprised many including myself with its stage speed and Carwyn’s spectacular driving style.
This is a very cool car – under the bonnet sits a two liter Pinto motor fitted with a Connaught Warrior 16V twin cam head and a pair of Weber 45 DCOE’s, and behind that sits the holy grail Quaife sequential dog box.
The RAA Southern Rally was shaping up to be a three-way fight for the outright win, but it never quite eventuated. Henry Nott and Georgie Denver came out charging hard and fast early on, and showed incredible commitment throwing the Evo 6 around and tipping it into fast corners with an almost WRC style. Henry and Georgie held a 1 minute 14 second lead after stage three, but a light off caused just enough damage to force a retirement.
Three time state champion Declan Dwyer made his long awaited SARC comeback, with longtime co-driver Craig Adams sitting alongside. This was another case of a last minute finish as their Evo 6 had also only been running for a few days since a major rebuild.
In motorsport the smallest issues can cause the biggest problems, and at the beginning of SS3 the aluminium battery cover broke loose and shorted the battery out; it dropped a cell and the Evo quickly ran out of volts. A jump start from the recovery vehicle allowed them to continue back to the service park where they rigged up their own jump pack to run the car. They rejoined for SS4, and without switching the Evo off until the end of the event managed to set the fastest time on every stage. Unfortunately their retirement from SS3 meant they were ineligible to figure in the outright results.
The MRF Tyres South Australian Rally Championship returns with the Copyworld Walky 100 on August 6.