Taking a Pilatus PC-12 to the Teakle Auto Sprint Port Lincoln

I once read that you know you’re truly baller when you fly private and don’t post to social media about it. Well, I never was terribly baller so I guess it’s okay to keep writing, and in any case there is a strong motorsport connection to this story which means we’re certainly in the clear. And it was a matter of practicality too. Due to other commitments I didn’t have time to make the 1300km round trip by road from Adelaide to Port Lincoln for the inaugural Teakle Auto Sprint, but traveling across the Gulf by air turns the visit into an easy day trip. Why not?

Our plane for the trip was a gleaming new Pilatus PC-12 NG, Pilatus Australia’s own demonstrator and one that had only just arrived in the country after its transport flight from Switzerland. With only 40 hours on the airframe, it still had the plastic covering on the carpets and that “new plane smell”. It was quite a treat – with a list price that runs into the several million dollar range, brand new planes don’t come along every day.

I’ve departed from Adelaide Airport many times before but never in something so small which really put into perspective just how gigantic the international jetliners are. One of the key benefits of the PC-12 is that it features the shortest takeoff distance of any similarly sized plane, something that clearly went to waste on Adelaide’s main runway. The PC-12 needs just 793m of dusty desert dirt track to become airborne, yet here we had the full 3100m of billiard table tarmac at our disposal.

The Adelaide Airport runway even points exactly toward Port Lincoln which meant our flight across would be a simple straight line. There were few clouds in the sky, the air temperature was cool and we had a slight tailwind which all contributed to make one of the smoothest flights I’ve ever experienced.

For those not familiar with South Australian geography this map shows just how much of an advantage flight would give us. It turns a nearly seven hour drive into an easy 45min flight and provides an ideal sightseeing tour over the Yorke Peninsula at the same time.

The specification of this particular example provided seating for 6 in the rear section of the pressurised cabin, in addition to the two crew up front. The PC-12 can be specified with seating for up to 9 in the rear and in other configurations such as for medical care as supplied to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, who run a fleet of 32 PC-12’s.

Not long after we’d reached our cruising altitude of 18,000ft the rural city of Port Lincoln loomed ahead through the windsheild, laid out exactly as if we were looking at a terribly realistic map.

With a gentle bank to the left over Point Boston…

… and then another to the right to line up with the runway, we throttled back and increased the rate of descent in preparation for touchdown.

With a successful touchdown we joined a departing aerobatics stunt biplane on the tarmac and parked right in front of the general aviation terminal. We had arrived at the Port Lincoln Airport – time for some motorsport!

The Teakle Auto Sprint is a two day club motorsport event utilising closed public roads in Port Lincoln’s town centre to create a short loop used for timed runs over the two days. The layout is very similar to a traditional tarmac rally town stage except that competitors had several attempts at it over the weekend. A shortened version of the course was used as a warmup on Saturday, the full version on Sunday, with the results determined from the cumulative time of every run over the whole weekend. The event was organised by the EP Autosports Club Port Lincoln, who enlisted the help of Ultimate Motorsport Events to run the operational side of things on the weekend.

With the start line directly out the front of the local Chinese restaurant on Tasman Terrace, the course sprints straight before making a ninety degree bend at the pub onto Porter Street. A series of sweeping lefts take the course around into the carpark of the Railway Museum…

… where a hairpin turn sends competitors back along the same stretch of road and up to the pub again.

That ninety degree right becomes a ninety degree left…

… which leads into a short straight with a couple of fast bends into the main tourist carpark area.

A forty-five degree left takes competitors onto Eyre street for just a moment, before another hairpin shoots them across the finish line. Get it right and the quick guys can do it in just over a minute. Get it wrong and you’ll end up with a creased fender into a hay bale or concrete barrier. The commitment to the sprint and building it into an annual event is strong, to the point that permanent timing strips were even laid into the road to provide live timing via Natsoft.

Located on a lush strip of grass sandwiched between Port Lincoln’s main cafe/pub strip on one side and the gleaming waters of Boston Bay on the other, the competitor paddock area was one of the most pleasant places to spend some time.

It was quite a juxtaposition – on one side roared the noise and heat of motorsports competition, whilst on the other small sailboats jostled gently on the calm swell.

Around the circuit, people were exploring and getting creative in finding their chosen vantage points. Several spectator zones were securely set up at three points along the course, allowing a fair bit of freedom to wander between corners whilst still keeping spectators safe from any errant cars. The organisers had even set up several grandstands on different corners to facilitate hassle free spectating. I avoided them though – it’s more fun to get creative and explore.

I spent a little while shooting from the grand old balcony of the Boston Hotel…

… and at around midday I even found a way into the local Domino’s Pizza through an entry they’d set up in their side kitchen door. I try to avoid fast food but the staff were so friendly and the view was pretty good so I ordered a Hawaiian and sat down for a little while. From my seat I could see the form up area, the start line and the turn onto Eyre Street. Not bad.

Shooting this course took me back to the George Town special stage in Tasmania or the TT course on the Isle of Man. It’s a veritable playground for photography and the types of shots you can get are only limited by your own creativity and desire to walk and explore. Every building, every kerb, every gutter. All opportunities and I doubt that any two photographers would come away with the same shot.

The caliber of cars was surprisingly high. Regulars from our local South Australian hillclimb and rally scene were joined by an interesting and exciting mix of competitors from the Eyre Peninsula and beyond.

This Gallardo, fitted with an Underground Racing twin turbo kit making a reputed 1275rwp on race fuel, had made the journey across the Nullabour from Western Australia.

And then there were the local surpises and oddities, like an XY GTHO Falcon that competed at Bathurst in 1971 and this 750hp Monaro built for dirt circuit racing. It sounded brilliant and it was a clear crowd favorite.

The Zagame Autosport squad even came across from Melbourne with their pair of 991 GT3 Cup Car’s, fresh from their last Carrera Cup Australia round supporting the Supercars championship at Phillip Island.

I think it’s safe to say that this is the first time a Cup Car has ever lapped downtown Port Lincoln. The crisp flat six and rapid-fire gearshifts sounded glorious echoing off the houses and public buildings…

… although the Carrera Cup control Michelin slick’s did need a little assistance to provide even a modicum of grip.

One of the highlight cars for me was Greg Keene’s new Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport, a factory built racer straight from Porsche Motorsport in Weissach. Its slightly smaller size made it an ideal weapon for the Port Lincoln track, and it is as equally home here as it would be on the starting grid of a major GT4 endurance race at Bathurst or Spa.

The overall event win was claimed by Dan Day in the storming SJ 1000 Subaru STi, who as well as having the fastest cumulative time over the weekend took the full course record of 1.00.40. In the event standings Mark Rundle finished six seconds behind in second place in his Lancer Evo 8, with John Beasley claiming third just over a second behind in his Evo 4.

By mid afternoon we decided to head back to Adelaide so we made our way back to the airport and the waiting PC-12. No departure lines for us – it was straight through the gate and onto the tarmac.

I was lucky enough to sit up front in the right hand seat for the return journey, and with headphones on and tuned into air traffic control it was a fascinating insight into how the skies work.

Once the flight logs and paperwork had been completed and departure approval was granted from air traffic control in Melbourne, the throttle was gradually applied…

… and the big Pratt and Whitney PT6A-67P turbo-prop used only a portion of its rated 1200hp to pull us down the runway and up into the skies. As a complete novice to flying in the right-hand seat I kept my hands well away from the yoke and my feet well clear of the rudder pedals for fear of somehow bringing us down. It’s an irrational fear I know, but better to be safe I reasoned.

The flight-deck is controlled by the Honeywell APEX system featuring four LCD screens displaying more information than my small intellect could handle at one moment. That said, it becomes a lot less complex once you have a slight understanding of the layout and is truly fascinating to observe when control of the plane is not your responsibility. In the middle sits a screen showing all of our navigation and flight planning information, including current position and plotted route of the autopilot system, location of any other aircraft in the surrounding area, and previously input flight information such as our intended destination, assigned runway, and weight of passengers and cargo on board.

In front of me sat the Primary Flight Display, reading the same information as the display on the pilots side. This shows, amongst a lot of other information, our current and set maximum altitude, pitch, yaw angle, wind direction and speed, engine vitals and RPM, and our current speed in knots expressed as air speed, ground speed, and actual ground speed which is the air speed plus or minus wind speed. As someone with no flight training, it’s a lot of information to take in at once.

We fly manual takeoffs and landings, but once we’re a few thousand feet in the air the autopilot takes over. The cockpit, designed as a collaboration between Pilatus and BMW Designworks, is a masterpiece of Industrial Design and highlights so beautifully the hierarchy of importance that is done so poorly so often these days. Everything falls easily to hand, and the information and controls you need regularly and most urgently are situated at the forefront and within easy reach and sight. The controls that you need less often and with less importance and located up high and to the sides. The no-smoking light? That’s right up tucked away. It frustrates me in modern Ferrari’s that the engine start button is on the steering wheel when you only need to use it once per journey. In the Pilatus it sits mounted in the roof above your head.

Vision is excellent, and the PC-12 doesn’t rely completely on technology to achieve it. For example, it is paramount that the eye level of both pilots be exactly the same so as to give both the same field of view and points of reference. To achieve this there is a larger blue ball on the top middle of the dash with a smaller white ball just in front. Both pilots adjust the height of their seat until the white ball sits in the middle of the blue ball, meaning their eye level is exactly the same. Simple but effective.

After a short while suburban Adelaide appears through the windsheild. We were assigned to land in a Westerly direction on runway 23 at Adelaide Airport, the main runway from which we took off on earlier that morning. The flight computer plots a 10 mile imaginary line East from the runway. All we need to do is to intersect that line at some point and make it our trajectory. Simple.

Our flight path takes us over the seaside suburb of Semaphore.

Once we have a visual of the airport and the runway out to our right…

… we begin our bank over the inner city suburb of Mile End and prepare for landing.

Touchdown. From time of departure to time of landing we’ve traveled from Port Lincoln to Adelaide in just 37mins – much more palatable than the seven hour drive.

In fact, we got home from Port Lincoln so early that I still had time to take my Fiat out for a sunset run with a mate to grab a beer in the hills.

Owning, leasing or chartering a plane is an unquestionably huge investment, but I can really understand why people with the means invest in private flight. When you’ve got a lot of distance to cover and time is in short supply, it’s the only way to travel.

Or maybe that’s being too rational. There’s something magical about flight, and as people with a bent for mechanical things we’re drawn to the technology and craftsmanship found in planes every bit as much as we are to vehicles with wheels. It’s just that it’s a fair bit easier to muck about with cars and keep one in your back shed.

Never fear. Whether driving through the hills or tearing around the streets of Port Lincoln, there’s magic to be found at ground level too.

Words and photos by Andrew Coles, and a huge thanks to Sebastian from Pilatus Australia for making this story possible.


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  1. Dale Siegmann April 28, 2017 Reply

    Hi Andrew, I liked your story and pictures. Being part of the committee it is great to see the explanation of our event and with your insight we hope it will help to get competitors and spectators back next year. Congratulations. Very enjoyable read.

    • Andrew Coles May 23, 2017 Reply

      Thanks very much Dale, it was a pleasure to attend!

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