2017 – How is it April already?

I’m really not sure whether it’s due to some sort of clever irony, or simply just a common lack of discipline, but things have been a little bit quiet around Any Given Reason for the last few months. The reality of my life around cars this year has been anything but, in fact so much so that I haven’t found the time to sit down and share any of it on this website. The ironic part is that Any Given Reason was invented as an excuse to blag my way into doing cool car stuff, yet fitting the cool car stuff around other commitments has meant there is no time for Any Given Reason. Or maybe, as I suggested in the opening line, it’s just a lack of discipline. Did we really need to go out and see those Fringe shows? Who cares.

In reality I’m not going to find time to finish each full story as I intended, so instead I present to you a rambling yarn summarising the automotive highlights of the last eight or so weeks, which kicked off with a trip to the Bathurst 12hr. After attending in 2014 and 2015, I elected not to go in 2016 as an act of budgetary constraint and I kicked myself severely for making that mistake. ‘Never again!’ I cried, and hastily bought tickets for 2017. Without being able to take annual leave during February, I hatched a plan and badgered a few mates in a similar situation to join me. We would make a trip from Adelaide to the 12hr without missing work – a Friday night flight to Sydney, a rental car to the track, and the reverse journey on Sunday evening.

After a smooth touchdown at Kingsford-Smith myself and friend’s of AGR Ben, Busby and Karl piled into a rental Camry and hit the road North. The beginning of the end came from Busby, looking at our plotted route on Google Maps and hunting for a late night meal stop: “Gents, we can’t drive through Western Sydney and not stop for a Kebab – look, Kebab King is a roadside van and it’s rated five stars!”. When we arrived the atmosphere was stifling and suffice to say that as four white kids we stood out amongst the lurking characters. But it was one of the best tasting Kebab’s I’ve tried, and we made our escape just as the agitated guy pacing around our car was distracted by a rather serious mobile phone call.

We rolled in to the track just after 130am to find the Nismo team working through the night alongside the local TAFE Crash Repair students and lecturers to repair the #37 GTR GT-3, after Florian Strauss heavily tagged the wall during practice earlier that day. The team were clearly exhausted but the locals were enjoying the experience, reveling in the fact that they had loaned the same jig to the Nismo team two years earlier for an overnight rebuild of their GTR damaged in practice. Groundhog day?

Tents were erected in the campsite on top of The Mountain by torchlight and at 4am we finally got to sleep – it had been a mammoth 21 hours since I’d left the house that morning, and I planned to sleep in as long as required to restore full function.

There’s nothing quite like being woken up by the wail of a racing engine at full noise, and as I sat bolt upright in my sleeping bag I was convinced that I’d slept through GT qualifying and it was now mid morning. I tried to pick the tone of the cars to work out what was on track, but failed. In reality it was the 730am first race of the day and I’d only been asleep for a little over three hours. Not to worry – the GT’s would be out for qualifying in a little over forty minutes so I got up, woke the others, grabbed my camera and headed trackside. There’s no morning pep-up quite like a full field of GT cars at warp speed.

There’s just something so right about MOMO sponsorship on a red Ferrari.

The 12hr doesn’t quite yet have the legendary off-track ambiance of races like the Le Mans or Nurburgring 24hr, but it’s fast getting there. True, a lot of the traditional V8 crowd are starting to turn up to watch their Supercars heroes duke it out in proper European supercars, and the atmosphere is certainly more commercial and very different to what it was back when we went for the first time in 2014. But crowd numbers are on the rise and this will surely contribute to making the 12hr an essential stop on the global GT racing circuit into the future. If manufacturer support and the sheer number of interesting cars parked in the carpark are any indication, it’s already happening.

All of the major manufacturers on the grid had corporate representation off-track – Ferrari brought along an F12 TDF and a LaFerrari yet somehow still stole the show with an F40, there were displays from McLaren, Porsche, Bentley and Lamborghini, and AMG even air-freighted a just launched GT R from Germany to smash the Bathurst production car lap record in the lunch break.

In fact, it really just served to highlight the strong links between not just the cars on the manufacturer stands and those on the grid, but the cars we found in the carpark too. A current spec GT car is a very different beast to the production car it’s based on but to the armchair punter they are almost the same – they look similar, they sound similar, and they have strengths and weaknesses in line with the road car. And in the case of the more advanced cars like the McLaren, opening the door of the race and road car upwards reveals the same carbon tub.

It’s a bizarre point to argue that racecars worth three-quarters of a million dollars are relevant to the cars we drive on the road, but I think I’ve got a point. Ferrari 488, McLaren 650S, Nissan GTR, BMW M6, Lamborghini Huracan, AMG GT, Porsche 911 GT3 – we found roadgoing equivalents of them all in the car park.

There was even a Porsche Cayman GT4 and an Audi R8 parked outside a Bathurst pub on the Saturday night, two cars strongly represented on the 12hr entry list. When was the last time you saw a V8 engined Nissan Altima on the road? Or even just a regular Nissan Altima, for that matter.

On Saturday night after dinner and a few beers at the pub, we drove back to the circuit and headed straight for pit lane and our annual evening pit stroll.

This is a highlight of every 12hr trip. On Saturday night the pit lane is open to the public, and its a hive of activity. All around teams are practicing pit stops and charting improvements, checking over the cars and making last-minute adjustments. It’s a chance to get up close to some of the most incredible international race weapons in what must be the most relaxed environment you could imagine.

Some of the Europeans were concerned about the heat that would come during the race and made minor modifications to suit. The PROsport Performance team from Germany had cut extra cooling holes into the Lexan rear window of their Cayman GT4…

… but they were all in good spirits. Even though the teams worked well into the night we went to bed relatively early, keen to rest up for the mammoth day that was to come.

Sunrise at the Bathurst 12hr is honestly the best thing you’ll ever see in Australian motorsport. It even rivals some of the legendary scenes from around the world, and watching the 12hr race start never disappoints. It’s something I’d looked forward to for months.

We arrived to the bottom of the mountain before 5am to find an unexpectedly huge line to get in. We were there a full hour before race start which I assumed would give us plenty of time to rush in and steal an elevated photo point at Turn 1, but I was wrong. We only just made it.

The cars grid up from around 530am, before the race kicks off with a rolling start lap departing at 545am.

The race starts in the pitch black which must be an exciting experience for the drivers. Bathurst is hairy enough in daylight let alone in the dark of night.

There’s about half an hour of racing in the dark before the sun begins to peek over the surrounding mountain range, yet it’s still plenty long enough for the brakes and exhaust pipes to glow a firey orange, exacerbated by sparks from an undertray if a driver runs wide over the ripple strips. Gone are the days of ‘to finish first, first you must finish’; the 12hr has become a sprint race from flag to flag.

As daylight began to break we piled into the car and headed back up to the top of The Mountain to catch sunrise proper.

Watching the sun pop over the horizon and fill the valley with golden energy as the race unfolds right in front of you, it’s the stuff of dreams – sunrise during the 12hr is an experience you simply must have if you call yourself a petrolhead. Unfortunately it didn’t quite pan out for us – cloud cover blunted the sunrise, and the safety car had bunched the field into a train at the other end of the circuit during the only 30 seconds of golden light that broke through. Ah well, at least I caught one car through the haze.

Even with bad light, standing on the mountain in the early daylight watching an international GT race unfold is pretty cool.

I won’t bore you with the race in detail as you can find that extensively reported elsewhere, but suffice to say that the 12hr delivered the goods again, providing another nail biting finish and plenty to talk about. We missed the final two hours’ of the race as we had to head back to Sydney to make our flight home, but we had the live stream going in the car and cheered on the Maranello Ferrari to victory as we sped back to the airport.

Cars & Coffee Unley

Two weeks later and I found myself standing in a sodden car park for Cars & Coffee Unley.

Yes, at least two or three people have asked so it’s probably time to come clean – Any Given Reason is behind the new Cars & Coffee Unley, held at the Unley Shopping Centre car park on the Third Sunday of the month, from 730am. Myself and friends of AGR Luke Jaksa and Ben Fitzsimons have teamed up to get a more sports/classic/super/race car oriented Cars & Coffee happening, in an area a little closer to town and with plenty of space.

It helps that our mates at Bricks & Stones have come on board too, conveniently located across the road. Set in a beautiful old stone building, the lads serve up some tasty breakfast treats and your usual accompaniment of hipster coffee which goes down rather well with the odd and ever changing assortment of cars that these events seem to bring out.

There’s some really cool stuff lurking in the sheds of Adelaide, so we want to provide a relaxed monthly meet where people can feel welcome to bring whatever they’ve got out for a drive and a coffee. You never know what’s going to turn up – see you at the next event on Easter Sunday, April 16th.

Clipsal 500

As soon as Cars & Coffee was done, I found myself throwing everything into getting prepared for the Clipsal 500 weekend. I’d actually managed to secure myself proper media accreditation for the first time.

The big news, and I say this quite seriously, was that the South Australian Improved Production boys had managed to get themselves on the program as a support race. And it’s safe to say that nobody could have predicted just how much of a smash hit the category was, providing arguably the best and closest racing of the weekend.

Just have a look at Race 2 and the incredible battle between Chris Brown (AE86) and Jordan Cox (Civic). The passing move at 11mins has already gone down in Clipsal history as one of the best overtaking moves to ever happen on the Adelaide Street Circuit, and the clip has gone viral with hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube and shares on Facebook. Jalopnik even labelled it one of the best moves they’ve seen and shared the video globally. It’s pretty cool that a couple of grassroots amateurs have overshadowed, in terms of social media reach at least, the entire Supercars category.

The Improved Production committee here in SA should be congratulated for not only having the vision to give it a go, but the persistence to see it through and make it happen. I’m sure IP will be invited back next year!

The experience of shooting Clipsal with proper media accrediation was pretty cool. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years but have never had the opportunity, and it really does open doors to another side of the event I’ve never experienced before.

Walking the grid before the start of Saturday’s race was a particularly surreal experience and the whole time I was almost waiting to be kicked out, for someone to come and move me along. But they didn’t. It was brilliant from a photographic point of view, enabling you to just focus on capturing the moments as you saw them. And there were just so many everywhere you looked.

It was special to work alongside well-known photographers whose work I’ve followed for years, and I found them to be extremely professional yet very helpful in giving tips and advice. Hard work is key, and all of the top shooters arrive at dawn and are working in the media centre until well into the night. It was pretty cool to see a photographer I follow sitting on the next table across editing a photo, and then see that photo on the front page of the Sunday Mail the next day.

If I’m honest I’m not the biggest Supercars fan – I’ve never watched it on TV and I couldn’t tell you who won the championship two years ago, but having such close access to the action really gave me a whole new understanding and appreciation for the category.

These are physical, heavy cars and the drivers are manhandling them every inch of the way. From the grandstands it looks as if they’re just going round and round, but when you get so close that you can feel the breeze hit you in the face as they roar past you notice how hard these drivers are working.

You can tell that these drivers are professionals as the level of commitment is another step up from any of the support categories. As much as I love Australian GT, there’s no doubt that currently Supercars is still Australia’s premier category by a long way.

MSCA Supersprint Round 1 – Mallala

Some weeks beforehand I looked at the calendar and noticed that the first MSCA Supersprint of the year at Mallala fell on the March long weekend, the weekend after the Clipsal 500. It was also conveniently a week after my birthday, and since we never ended up having a housewarming when we bought our house a year ago either, I decided that it all fell together a little too nicely not to do something. Why not invite a bunch of mates to come out and do the Supersprint as some kind of belated birthday celebration, and then come back for a housewarming party afterwards? Perfect!

Not really. My Fiat X1/9 has been finished and running for some time, but since I’d never got around to putting it on the track I still had a long list of jobs to do and no time to do them in. I didn’t even look at the car until a couple of days after Clipsal, but thankfully the preparation went well and I had a car that was (reasonably) ready for the track. The last time I drove it at Mallala was 11 years ago in completely stock standard form, so I was keen to see how it would go.

We arranged a 630am meet at Argo for coffee and then drove up to Mallala in convoy, in the pouring rain. I’d never had my X1/9 in proper rain before and it was a minor miracle that both headlights and the windscreen wipers kept working for the entire drive up. It wasn’t pleasant though – the water spray was loud as it sloshed in the guards, something best avoided in a car made from seventies era Communist Russian steel.

The closer we got to the track the more the sun came out. But we shouldn’t have got our hopes up as this was merely a preview of the day to come. Hot and sunny enough to burn the skin one moment, raining pellets the next.

As in, hot and sunny enough to burn the skin one moment…

…. raining pellets the next.

At times I almost wished I was out shooting properly on track – the unpredictable weather did provide some simply stunning light at times. Actually, scrub that. Putting a helmet on is almost always better than taking photos.

My day in the Fiat was mixed. I went out with the hope that as long as I could do a few laps and still drive it home it would be a good day, and by that reckoning it couldn’t have gone any better. In reality it wasn’t quite so successful and it mostly came down to tyre choice – as it turns out, used 8 year old Avon Formula Ford slicks weren’t such a good idea. In my first run in the dry I had a rude introduction to how cold racing tyres can instantly loose grip, and in my second run the track was sodden and I found them to be diabolically slippery in the wet. In case you’re wondering about the image above, I didn’t manage to hold that slide. Very nearly, but not quite.

My third run in the dry was far better. The tyres (miraculously) switched on after a few warm up laps and I got two hot laps in before the engine temperature began to head north and I called it a day. It was all worth it for those two laps – the little Fiat has huge potential once the bugs are ironed out and it was still seven seconds faster than last time, and with a lot more to come.

A day out at the track with friends, what could be better? We stopped at the Mallala pub for a beer before heading home and cracking on ’till the small hours of the morning.

Targa Tasmania recce

Following right on from the Mallala Supersprint and seemingly providing no let-up from a complete automotive takeover of my life, the next weekend was a flying trip to Tasmania for two full days of recce for the upcoming Targa Tasmania rally. Once again I am incredibly honored to be taking the co-drivers seat of Guy Standen’s Alfa Romeo 2600 Sprint (pictured a few images above at Mallala). Last year we came all the way to Tasmania for the 2016 event and didn’t get to compete due to mechanical issues, so all fingers and limbs are crossed that we have the same perfect reliability that we were blessed with during the Classic Adelaide rally.

We had a huge amount of distance and plenty of stages to fit in to two full days. After flying in to Hobart on Friday night, we hit the road before dawn on Saturday and drove solidly until darkness fell. We got up and did it again on Sunday.

These maps and the Smoothline pacenote book were pretty much my view for two solid days in the passenger seat of the trusty Renault Clio Sport…

… oh, and this. Tasmania is such a beautiful and natural state full of empty driving roads slicing through sheer wilderness.

From Hobart to as far north as Burnie, as far west as Strahan, and back to Hobart via the tightest and twistiest roads Tasmania has to offer. The notes are ready and the car is ready – I’m excited for Targa Tasmania 2017 to get underway in three weeks’ time.

And for now? It’s time to rest for a few weeks. Well, kind of (thanks for the Rallyschool ride, Glee!). The rest of the year is shaping up to be even crazier – after Targa Tasmania comes a move to the UK and a proper crack at covering the European motoring scene. It’s going to be fun!

Words and photos by Andrew Coles

(some of the Mallala photos are by Luke Jaksa – even as slow as my Fiat is, it’s awfully difficult to drive and shoot at the same time!)

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