Adelaide Motorsport Festival – Victoria Park Sprint and the Classic Adelaide Rally

As far as cool things go, there isn’t much that tops closing a CBD’s main boulevard at 5pm on a busy Friday so that a group of vintage Formula One cars can roar through. Welcome to the Adelaide Motorsport Festival.

Hosted by the Sporting Car Club of SA, the central tenet of the festival was to keep alive the proud spirit of the Adelaide Grand Prix, famously hosted by our city during the decade 1985-1995. But it has quickly evolved into more than that; whilst the F1 component is certainly getting better and better each year, it is becoming a celebration of all things cool in the motorsport world and proof that a strong passion for the sport still runs deep in South Australia.

And for the second year the Adelaide Motorsport Festival also sees the return of the famous Classic Adelaide Rally, a competitive timed tarmac rally through some of the legendary stages of the Adelaide Hills and surrounding regions.

It’s a strong formula for a jam-packed weekend of motorsport. The Victoria Park Sprint is a timed circuit sprint in the heart of the city’s parklands, utilising the short section of permanent track originally laid for the first Grand Prix in 1985 and now used annually for the Clipsal 500 race. Whereas the full circuit scooted around to kiss the CBD fringe and back in a 3.78km loop, the Victoria Park Sprint circuit uses only one closed road to form a much shorter 1.8km loop, tackled across the Saturday/Sunday by over 220 competition cars. The Classic Adelaide Rally is based out of Victoria Park as well, and heads out for closed road special stages on the Friday/Saturday, before finishing with two twilight runs around the sprint circuit on Saturday night.

The result is a weekend with so much going on that you just can’t see it all. You end up picking and choosing, and in the evenings when you catch up with your mates for a beer you realise that everyone has seen something different. What’s contained in this story isn’t so much an overall event report; it’s a chronological collection of the things I encountered during those few manic days.

I competed in the Classic Adelaide Rally, co-driving with my friend Guy Standen in his beautiful 1962 Alfa Romeo 2600 Sprint. Yes, this is the freshly built car that we took down to Targa Tasmania back in April and sadly retired just hours’ before the start due to mechanical issues. But with those gremlins long fixed and the car now properly sorted, we were fully prepared and ready for Classic Adelaide.

Friend’s of AGR, Luke Jaksa (left) and James Wiltshire, were our trusty service crew who kept the Alfa in tip-top shape during the event…

… and were ably aided in the service truck by two of Guy’s mates, Marty and Corey.

And just because we love unnecessary challenges and hate sleep, Luke Jaksa and myself took on the not-insignificant task of producing the official Classic Adelaide photography package through our new Sports Car Safari print magazine project. It would be impossible to shoot the rally whilst taking part in it, so we were joined by Mark Williams (left), Stuey Daddow (right) and Ryan Schembri (not pictured, he was away editing photos) out on course getting the shots for us. If you were competing in the rally and haven’t bought the photos yet, help us fund our magazine! Most of the Classic Adelaide action photos in this story were shot by Mark, Stuey and Ryan.

Our Classic Adelaide experience was a refreshing change from the one we had down at Targa Tasmania. There, the final few hours’ before the event started were consumed by tipping bottles of chemi-weld into the poor straight-six and desperately hoping it would somehow hold the head gasket together. Here, we threw on the event stickers and went out for lunch. Guy even went home to mow the lawn and clean the gutters, much to my dismay. I was afraid that we finally had a sorted car and then he’d go and fall off a ladder.

Our only real job after we passed scruitineering was the comms check and to set up the in-car camera. After the drivers briefing had finished on Wednesday evening Luke and I popped down to Victoria Park to finish these few small jobs, and we messaged Guy this photo and told him he needn’t bother with the rally anymore. Strangely he wasn’t that keen on our proposed new driving arrangements though, and as the gutters had been cleaned without injury he advised that he would be taking the drivers seat as planned.

It was such a relaxing evening down at Victoria Park as the sun set behind millions of dollars worth of cars. We spent a good hour just milling about and studying the cars in our own sweet time, taking photos and bumping into friends along the way.

Busby and Ashleigh enjoy the evening, Luke conducts business and makes dealz in the background.

DS – Rap Squat 2k16 MVP.

Once we’d debated correct sticker placement for long enough we piled into the cars and went out in search of true American Bar-Be-Que…

… and boy did Sneaky Pickle deliver. It’s not the meaning of this little chapter to simply communicate the hap-hazardness of our pre event diet, but it’s an attempt to show just what a relaxing time the leadup to the rally was. Everyone had the time off work, and we were all running to the same schedule. There was no question that we all had time to mooch about the cars for an hour and then go out for dinner, no one had anywhere else that they needed to be. That’s pretty rare these days.

We fronted at Victoria Park on Thursday afternoon to get ready for the Prologue. One by one, more and more people were coming out to see the cars. You can tell that Simon Fitzpatrick is a true Renault/Gordini fan – not just taking a photo of an Alpine, but check the brand on that camera strap!

Taking the start countdown that Thursday afternoon was a special moment. After so many headaches during the build and our aborted attempt at Targa Tasmania, we had finally started a tarmac rally in the 2600. We had no idea if we would make the finish or not, but the first major hurdle had been overcome.

The Prologue, it has to be said, was almost not worth the hassle. It was a 700m sprint down to the Victoria Park hairpin and back up the straight again and it was all done in just over thirty seconds. It did act as a valuable comms and camera check though, and I guess it was kind of handy to see how a stage start and finish works with RallySafe, but it was almost the definition of an anticlimax and simply made us anticipate the start of competition proper. Afterwards we went out with some friends to Singapore House for dinner and a single beer before heading to bed for an early night.

Early on Friday morning we joined the fanfare at the official rally start on pit straight of the old GP track, before taking the flag ourselves and heading out to the first stage of the event – Corkscrew.

The first competitive stage had a controversial 3 minute minimum time limit, designed to allow crews to ease into the event before driving at 100%. In short, we blew it by driving too slowly and as co-driver, mistakes like that are my responsibility. Having no idea how fast the 2600 would be, our plan was to drive to the top of Corkscrew Road (about halfway through the stage) at an easy pace, and then drive as quickly as we needed to down the other side to cross the finish line right on 3 minutes. I should have looked at my watch earlier; we went way too slowly and took about two and a half minutes to reach the top of Corkscrew, which meant that even at full tilt we couldn’t reach the finish line at the three minute mark. We crossed at about 3.30, essentially giving away 30 seconds to our competitors before we’d even properly got started. Ah well, at least the car was running nicely.

From Corkscrew we had a run up Anstey’s Hill, and then a sprint across the excellent Chain of Ponds stage, before repeating the trio of stages twice and heading to lunch.

At the end of the morning’s stages friend of AGR Michael Busby and co-driver John Caldicott were embroiled in a battle for the outright event win. This was pretty cool to see, not only were they carrying AGR stickers on the RX7, but I know first hand that winning Classic Adelaide has been a dream of Buz’ since he was a kid. And it was pretty cool to see one of our mate’s on a shoestring budget up there and giving it a proper shot.

The lunch break was at Bird in Hand at Woodside, who put on a delicious Indian tali plate and not nearly enough time to properly enjoy it.

The atmosphere at lunch harked back to the golden days of the Classic Adelaide during the early 2000’s. It’s never been a deadly serious competitive event; whilst that side of the rally is definitely the headline act, it’s always been an event that’s a pleasure to take part in and the 2016 running was no different. The little touches were nice, like walking into the competitors lunch area to find an immaculate 512BB on display.

Ivan Capelli, who had come to the event to drive the Leyton House Judd in the Victoria Park Sprint, took part in Friday’s Classic Adelaide leg driving an Alfa Romeo 4C Spider. And it was he who gave us one of our event highlights as we drove along the access road into Bird in Hand and passed him stuck in traffic, heading the other direction. As soon as he saw our 2600 his face lit up and he gave us a huge beaming smile and an enthusiastic thumbs up of approval. Day made.

We looked over the 2600 and other than a minor coolant weep, all seemed to be going well. I’d actually managed to do some rally mechanic-ing before the start of the previous stage when our park brake jammed on. I jumped on the phone to James, and with his expert advice I crawled under the car and managed to release the stuck mechanisms. We inspected at lunch and it appeared as if my repairs were holding.

There was some slight nervousness in the Busby/Caldicott camp as some power steering issues had presented themselves. Luckily the fluid leak was rectified at lunch and all was fixed and working as it should.

The first stage after lunch was Nairne, one that I had really been looking forward to due to its fast and flowing nature, and one of the first proper chances to stretch the 2600’s legs. Unfortunately once again I messed up, calling a speed reduction zone too early, but I don’t think it cost us all that much time – certainly not as much as if we had failed to slow to the requisite 60km/h before speeding up again.

It’s interesting how our brains are attuned to notice things of interest to us. Even in the heat of competition, I still caught a glimpse of a lovely 246 Dino GTS parked mid stage. It’s good to see spectators bringing their classic cars out to watch the rally like it used to be in the old days, and I was even happier to be able to confirm what I thought I’d seen in the in-car footage.

The transport from the Nairne stage through Strathalbyn and across to the start of the Paris Creek stage was quite long, but it gave a long needed moment to relax and take it all in. Sitting in that Alfa with the Weber’s singing, rolling through the wheat fields and blue skies, we really could have been competing in the Targa Florio back in the sixties.

After the final few stages we transported back to Eurosport Automotive at Kent Town to service the 2600. Thankfully all seemed to be running well, so our service consisted of a mechanical check and a good wash to make it all nice and shiney for the Gouger Street party.

It provided a good chance to have a quick look around Eurosport at what other projects they currently had underway…

… and out the back were a few stark reminders of what can happen when Classic Adelaide bites.

It also provided a good chance to download some images and the in-car footage. Last time we were in this situation was during Classic Targa Adelaide in 2012 in the Fiat 124 and we were finding the footage of our 360deg spin down a wet Gorge, but thankfully this time we had nothing nearly that spectacular to share with the crew.

With a clean car and finally changed out of our sweaty race suits we headed down into the city and through a nightmare of a traffic jam to the Gouger Street Party. I was a little bummed that we’d missed the Formula One parade two years in a row now, where they actually drive all of the F1 cars along through the CBD from Victoria Park and into the Chinatown district at Gouger Street. Last year we rushed a 70km drive from the final rally stage and made it into town with minutes to spare for the parade to be cancelled due to an unexpected rain storm, and this year we were still competing on the Paris Creek stage when it took place. Thankfully Luke and Mark made it down for the parade, and their photos show just what a unique feature of the Motorsport Festival it is.

This really is something quite unique, and it says a lot about both the persistence of the festival organisers and the willingness of the State Government and Police that an idea this cool can even get off the ground.

The traditional Friday night Gouger Street party was always a highlight of the old Classic Adelaide, and it’s great to see it making a resounding resurgence. It really did feel like the old days – the street was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people, there was a stage with live music, street buskers roaming the length and I bumped into what felt like every person on my Facebook friends list. It was crazy.

We hadn’t heard any official results, but when we bumped into Busby and John they were both quietly confident. There was no doubt that they were driving at 100%, but their months of planning was paying dividends and they were simply driving the rally according to their plan.

Next time we saw him all of the TV crews were paying particular attention, so we figured that the event must have still been going pretty well for them.

Classic Adelaide was going well for the other Any Given Reason ‘sponsored’ cars (“here… throw these stickers on would you…”). Karl and Alex in the Porsche 944 were sitting a hopeful but unexpected third in Thoroughbred Trophy…

… meanwhile in the tour Dan and Danielle in the E55 Estate and Tim and Bryce in the BMW E21 were running solidly and having a blast.

We had a big team dinner at Concubine where all of our families came out and discussed the event so far. It was mentioned that back in the old days, when Classic Adelaide was a five day rally, the Gouger Street party marked the halfway point and making it to Gouger was somewhat of an achievement. Here, we were essentially at the end of Day One so it did feel a little hollow, but that didn’t reduce the enjoyment at all.

As you walked the street you could spot the competitor tables a mile away – everyone was on their smart phones, constantly updating to see if the final results had been posted. Just after our entree was served they came through and confirmed that Busby and John were indeed leading Classic Outright, with a 10sec lead over Craig Haysman and Julie Boorman in the TR7.

Just after ten we jumped in the rally car and headed back to Parc Ferme at Victoria Park. Later that night I was talking to some mates who were running a few of the F1 cars and it turns out that we missed witnessing something quite cool by about 10 minutes – they actually drove some of them back to Victoria Park. It wasn’t planned but the permits were still valid, they got permission from the Police and it will probably never happen again. The mind boggles just thinking about it!

The start of Classic Adelaide Day Two was quite late, so I arrived at Victoria Park a few hours’ early to see my Dad, who was competing in the Victoria Park Sprint in his Alfa Romeo.

It was somewhat of a miracle that he was even here – he’d thrown away the stock Bosch engine management for a completely custom Megasquirt system that he’d done himself, and it was only thanks to Mark Williams’ last minute assistance with getting it to run and tuning it the day before that the Sprint had made the grid. It was a relief to hear that it was all running well and he was having fun.

Day Two was bright and sunny… and hot. The morning was shortened from what was originally planned, we were meant to start with a run up Norton Summit, but part of the road had collapsed after the recent weather event and at the last minute it was deemed not safe to run. Instead we began with a crack at the dream road – the full length of Gorge Road, heading uphill. The 2600 was really in its element on this fast stretch of road, with the long straights and roller-coaster corners across crests and brows really giving us the opportunity to have a proper crack at it.

Lunch was at the National Motor Museum at Birdwood. I even had a super-quick opportunity to run inside to check that the Alfa Sprint based Giocattolo was still there, and to discover that my friend Drew’s Vespa which he rode from Adelaide to London a few years ago is now proudly on display (in the background behind the Lamborghini’s).

The second stage of the day was the reverse run back down Gorge Road, and at this point we were sitting fourth in Classic Handicap. We were speaking to the Walker/Stewart Mini Cooper S at lunch who were ahead of us in third, and despite their clutch problems off the line we couldn’t quite catch them. We’d resigned ourselves to fourth but were pretty happy that the 2600 had made it this far with relatively few problems.

We pushed on up into the hills, enjoyed an immature tunnel blast through the Heysen Tunnels with a group of other rally cars…

… and on via the Mount Bold stage to afternoon tea at Stirling.

It was the next stage, the largely uphill Scott Bottom, which would prove pivotal in our Classic Adelaide story. A few kilometers in we detected a burning smell, but it confused us as everything seemed to be functioning well in the 2600.

It wasn’t until we caught the Mini going over the flying finish that we realised we were smelling its burning clutch. Whilst it’s obviously disappointing when a fellow competitor has a mechanical problem, we started to get a little excited that Third might well be within our reach.

The final closed road stage was called Mount Lofty, comprised of a blast up Greenhill Road, a sharp right turn at the junction and then a short sprint along Summit Road finishing (sadly) just before the jump at Cleland Wildlife Park. This has been a favorite road of mine since I started driving and to say this was a highlight of the event was an understatement; the close to suburban location, convenient Saturday afternoon timing and perfect weather meant the stage was lined with spectators. I’ve never seen so many people at a rally stage in South Australia before, and the 2600 was absolutely on song to make the most of it. It was brilliant, not to mention that the uphill nature meant we gained even more time on the Mini and solidified a podium position.

As much fun as we had, the big news was easily Busby and John’s run up Mt Lofty which is quickly becoming the stuff of legend. Despite looking so calm and relaxed, Busby and Caldicott were a massive 13 seconds faster than anyone else, sprinting up the 7.49km stage in an almost unbelievable 4.05. For perspective I went and drove the stage just then in a road car, and at a spirited road speed (having a crack but not breaking the mixed 60/80km/h speed limit) it took me 6.45 with an average speed of 65.77km/h. Busby and John averaged 110.6km/h, which goes somewhat to explaining Busby’s comment of “I’ve been waiting 10 years to do that”.

It was hugely satisfying to complete the road stages and turn back into Victoria Park, just a couple of runs around the short super special stood between us and a podium finish – not a bad debut for the old 2600.

The rally finished with a final two special stages around the Victoria Park sprint circuit, the last run in the dark. Whilst the end of the event was near, it was the classic rally special stage situation where it was impossible to win the event here, but loosing it was definitely on the cards. People still pushed hard – maybe it was the chance to finally have a decent crack around Victoria Park.

We played it safe, although Guy did tip it onto the kerb at the regular Turn 14 on one lap and surely got at least a wheel in the air. Thankfully it all held together and we crossed the finish line in 3rd in Classic Handicap and 14th in Classic Outright.

But more importantly, Busby and John held on to win the event outright, such a brilliant achievement and just reward for the months of dedicated preparation they had both put in to the event. Craig Haysman and Julie Boorman finished second in the thundering Triumph TR8, with Oscar Mathews and Darren Masters delivering a committed drive to finish third in Oscar’s AE86 Sprinter.

It was a quote from Stefan Johansson that Busby had said inspired him that made their victory, in my eyes at least, so pleasing to see. Busby knew he couldn’t win it on power and he certainly couldn’t win it on a big budget, but suspected that he could win it with time and careful preparation.

“Ayrton was always the same, very focused, very intense, very serious. To have the success he had, maybe that’s how you must be, but I could never work like that. If you take a small step away from the little closed world of racing, you find so many other interesting things. But if he’d decided to work in a bank, he’d probably have been running Goldman Sachs within five years. People like Ayrton and Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher, their talent may be no more than five per cent ahead of the rest. But their work ethic is probably 20 per cent ahead. That’s what it takes to be truly great”.

Away from the outright chase, friends of AGR Tim Pryzibilla and Dainis Silins won Thoroughbred Trophy in the Jagermeister 911, the E30 M3 of Peak/Hackett finished second and our friend’s Karl von Sanden and Alex Visintin just pushed the 944 onto the podium in third.

Our class was won by the storming Datsun 240Z of Roger Lomman and Annie Bainbridge, with the bright green Escort Mk1 of Glenn Dean and Jacob Streckeisen in second, and Guy and myself in third. I’ve never sprayed champagne before so we got properly stuck into it, and I now know that it is every bit as exciting and unpleasant as you think it might be. The 20 seconds of action is great fun but you spend the following hours’ of stickiness paying for it.

Classic Adelaide 2016 was an unexpected realisation of a hopeful conversation for those of us running Any Given Reason stickers. About 6 months ago Busby, Karl and myself were chatting over a beer and the comment was made that how good would it be if we all ended up on the podium. We scoffed it off as a bad omen to get too hopeful and never spoke of it again, but that’s exactly what happened. Lest to say, it was a pretty big night out for us all that night.

Of course, the Adelaide Motorsport Festival was far from over. I woke up on Sunday morning with a bit of a hangover, feeling wrecked from having minimal sleep for the previous week and a cold that I’d been fighting for days had taken a firm hold. In a word I felt like death warmed up, but how can you stay in bed when there’s Formula 1 cars racing just down the road? I grabbed the biggest bottle of water I could find, walked in to the circuit to clear my head and prepared for a day of shooting racing cars in the sun.

Truth be told my focus wasn’t really on photography, and it was kind of relaxing. I just tried to stay out of the sun while catching up with some friends in the presence of some truly incredible cars. There was so much going on that it was difficult to take it all in.

Not just incredible cars, but incredible drivers and personalities, too.

Probably the best way to show just how good the Victoria Park Sprint was is to simply list my top 3 highlights of the day:

#3: The shrill sound of the howling V12 in the 1994 Ferrari 412T1 provided a stark reminder of just how far modern Formula One has lost its way; I stood in attention every time it was started and to hear it exercised in relative anger was a rare pleasure. (*I am aware that this is the Ferrari F156/85 which sounds nothing like the 412, but I didn’t actually end up with a picture of the 412 worth sharing…)

#2: The Ferrari F40 GTE, one of just eight produced and in such original condition because it was never raced when new. What makes it even more special is that this is an Adelaide car that has been here for some time. I’ve heard rumors and whispers for years about its existence and it’s so good to finally see it being driven with vigor in the public eye.

#1: Seeing Ivan Capelli set the track record of 43.28sec in the Leyton House March that he raced here in period. It’s one thing to watch these cars be demonstrated, even to be demonstrated at speed. But to see Capelli on the limit, clearly bouncing and moving the thing around over bumps and kerbs and to see little sparks flying out from underneath was something special. He only drove it like that for a lap or two, but it was enough to appreciate the massive speed that these machines still have and the skill level of the guys who drove them.

A lot of the time we give our local events more kudos than they deserve. Because they’re held in our back yard and often organised by our friends we look upon them with rose tinted glasses, but in the case of the Adelaide Motorsport Festival the praise is justified. This is a truly world class event that is right up there with the likes of the Leadfoot Festival, the Tour Auto and Eifel Rally Festival that holds true international appeal.

The Adelaide Motorsport Festival is well on its way to becoming the Goodwood of the Southern Hemisphere but with its own unique style, and I wouldn’t hesitate to welcome anyone from around the world to our city of Adelaide for the 2017 event. Spread the word.

Words by Andrew Coles

Classic Adelaide photos by Andrew Coles, Luke Jaksa, Mark Williams, Ryan Schembri and Stuey Daddow.

Victoria Park Sprint photos by Andrew Coles.

Thanks to Guy Standen for having me along in the co-drivers seat, to Peter the team from Eurosport, to James, Luke, Marty, Corey, my Dad Mike and everyone who helped contribute to our weekend.

And a clip of our in-car from Mt Lofty…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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