Craig Vincent was the man who guided Possum Bourne to five of his seven Australian Rally Championship titles, but his life has changed dramatically since.
Now confined to a wheelchair, we spoke to Craig about his life sitting beside the legendary Possum, about the trip to Fiji that nearly ended his life, owning Possum’s Impreza World Rally Car, and getting the WRC back to New Zealand.
RSM: You first came to prominence co-driving for Neil Allport at Rally NZ in 1995. What are your memories of that event and your first 'works' ride?Craig Vincent: Taking out the gate post in stage 1 in front of all New Zealand, as Neil sat in the left seat for the first time made that fundamental mistake! Being a works car, the Escort had every spare we needed to bypass the oiler cooler and patch the right corner up to continue on.
Unfortunately, that mistake seemed to flow through to each morning as we went off on the first stage each day. I then felt the pressure from a WRC manager as we were required to get the car home for points, as Bruno Thiry had crashed.
It all came good and we finished behind Possum in 6th to cap off an amazing experience.
Craig Vincent (left) with Neil Allport in the factory Escort at Rally New Zealand in 1995. Photo: Martin Holmes
RSM: The following year, 1996, you joined Possum Bourne in the factory Subaru team. How did the pairing with Possum come about?CV: After three years in the factory 555 Subaru team, 1995 hadn’t been the best of years for Possum and his contract was not renewed. After a discussion with Subaru Australia, the decision was made to return to the ARC to chase of some unfinished business.
Possum purchased a Group A car from Prodrive and he pulled together his old team and formed a Kiwi team to take on the Aussies.
At that stage, Tony Sircombe had been Possum’s co-driver. Tony had taken an opportunity in Indonesia to work with Tommy Suharto, so Possum reached out to myself after talking with some of Neil Allport’s contacts.
We met and spent a weekend in the Raglan area driving some stages, reading and writing notes, and the rest is history.
Over the following seven years we became very good friends both in and out of the car. As most people know, Possum was a very infectious individual, although sometimes challenging as his time management was shocking.
Craig Vincent teamed with Possum Bourne in 1996 and the pair were successful from the outset.
RSM: Did the partnership gel straight away, and what were the key components of Possum's driving and preparation that stood out?CV: I had little experience with notes as I only got to use them once a year in Rally NZ previously, so joining Possum was a massive step up. I found it very easy to adopt Possum’s pace noting system and after a couple of rallies it really started to jell.
I can remember Ed Ordynski passing comment at one prize giving that you can see Possum is back in town, as his checking for cuts and hazards (on stages) were clearly visible during reece.
His preparation to developing his notes to find the fastest line through a corner left no stone unturned, even if it meant getting out and shifting the odd rock or two.
It was an amazing experience to be in a car with a driver fully committed to his own notes and feeling the genuine speed difference from my previous rides. It is really something very special.
Craig Vincent won 5 Australian rally titles next to Possum Bourne.
RSM: Was the Subaru Impreza 555 a step up from anything else you had ridden in previously?CV: The Subaru was very similar to the Ford that Neil and I used in Rally NZ the previous year. However, the difference was Possum’s experience with the factory Group A Subaru.
The car always felt like an extension of him and it never ceased to amaze me at what we could achieve as a team. The sheer strength of the car, alongside the traction and stopping ability, were all things that I had previously never experienced.
RSM: You tasted the ultimate success with Possum, winning the ARC five times. Do you have any particular stand-out memories or results from those years?CV: I don’t think you can go past that first win in Melbourne in 1996, followed by that year’s championship.
The next milestone was first Kiwi home in Rally NZ. As a local that is the ultimate achievement in your home World Championship event.
Every win was special as they all come with their own challenges, as no win comes easy. Rally NZ and Rally Australia were always special as you got the opportunity to mix with the factory teams and pitch yourself against them each year.
We achieved some great results over the years and led Rally NZ at the end of the first night in 1999.
Possum Bourne and Craig Vincent slide their Impreza World Rally Car during the 2001 Rally of New Zealand.
RSM: After 1999, Mark Stacey took over with Possum, and you only did three more WRC rounds with him. Why was that?CV: I actually sat out the ARC in 2000 and just did the WRC rounds, before returning for the 2001 ARC season and Rally NZ. My family and work commitments that year made it too difficult for a full season.
RSM: You pretty much retired after that. Did you feel that you had done everything in the sport that you set out to do?CV: I had certainly achieved well beyond my expectation considering I originally decided to retire from co-driving in 1994, having started back in 1978.
With the decision to ban Group A cars from the ARC, the challenge of Group N did not do it for me, however, I always knew what that meant to Possum and he went on to prove the pundits wrong.
First Kiwis home at Rally New Zealand in 2001.
RSM: Moving forward, you are now in a wheelchair. For those who are unaware, how did that come about?CV: Unfortunately, in June 2009 I was at a work conference in Fiji and after the first day I started feeling a tingling sensation in my feet. By 11pm that night I was paralysed from my chest down.
I was flown back to NZ the following day and after extensive tests it was determined that I had suffered a stroke/infarct of my spinal cord.
As it was explained to me, this normally is only found in someone over the age of 65, and normally in an autopsy, as it affects your respiratory system at C4 level and kills you. Luckily I was 49 and it stopped at C6 with me.
So, 11 years on, I live a very active life from my wheelchair, which is way better than the alternative.
Craig Vincent with Alister McRae and the Vantage team – and Possum's World Rally Car. Photo: Geoff Ridder
RSM: Clearly it hasn't dampened your enthusiasm for the sport though, as you are still involved with Possum's WRC car at events like Ashley Forest and the Leadfoot Festival?CV: Yes, we bought Possum’s very last car – the Vantage WRC “Race To The sky” hillclimb car – and continued to chase his dreams.
Firstly, with Kenneth Eriksson, and over the last six years with Alister McRae. With Alister we have won Race to the Sky, Ashley Forest and four Leadfoot wins!
It has been lots of fun and a great opportunity to keep the team connection, with the likes of Paul Hayton and Chris Kitzen, we’re continuing to do it for Possum.
Craig Vincent and Alister McRae talk tactics at the Leadfoot Festival. Photo: Geoff Ridder
RSM: Do you miss not being in the car competing, or are you comfortable watching from the sidelines now?CV: You always miss the cut and thrust of competing in rallying, which I personally consider to be motorsport’s ultimate discipline.
However, there does become a time or event which determines your future, and watching from the sidelines and admiring what others achieve is pretty satisfying.
I still get the odd opportunity to sit beside Alister and Emma (Gilmour) at tests or corporate ride days, which is very cool.
RSM: Finally, what does Craig Vincent's rallying future look like?CV: Continuing on with our hillclimb monster and assisting with Emma Gilmour, who I have helped since 2005, and more recently Ben Hunt.
Bringing WRC back to NZ is also still on my agenda!
Winners at the Saxon Safari Tasmania in 1996.
The great Possum Bourne in a familiar after event pose.
Possum Bourne & Craig Vincent pushing hard in Tasmania in 1998. Photo: Sport The Library
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