An enthralling battle for the lead in the 2008 Red Centre to Gold Coast Trial continued today as the depleted field of 51 pre-1986 Historic Rally Cars made their way through open but challenging terrain between Mt.Isa and Cairns, via a brief mid-way rest break at Normanton.

While it was the potent V8-powered 4WD Range-Rover of Victorians Matthew Fenner and Stuart Blegg that led the field out of Alice Springs yesterday, seemingly terminal engine problems early on Leg 2 dropped them off the leader board, letting the second-placed crew of husband and wife David and Kate Officer through in their 1970 Mitsubishi Colt Galant.

However on the second of the three stages heading into Mt.Isa, they were overtaken by the hard-charging NSW crew of Mike Batten and Steuart Snooks in their 1971 Datsun 510 sedan, but the Victorian former Australian Rally Champions then regained the lead on the following and final stage of the day to consolidate a 29 second lead.

Third, a further 2 minutes 37 seconds back were early event favourites Graham Alexander and David Stewart from Victoria in their Datsun 60Z, while a surprising fourth so early in the event was the father and son team of Pat and Brad Cole in their 1968 Mercedes-Benz 280SL Pagoda roof roadster, just 26 seconds behind.

“The Mercedes has been in 57 different rallies and has never failed to finish,” assured Pat Cole, with its notable results including victory in the Historic section of the 1999 Middle East Rally Championship and a third place in the 1998 Shield of Africa Rally.

Alexander and Stewart put the hammer down on today’s flat and featureless run to Normanton and by the end of the second of thee stages had moved past Batten and Snooks to sit in second overall, just 3mn.40sec. behind the Officers, while the Coles moved up to third overall in their 2980SL.

Batten and Snooks are currently fifth outright, with Peer Harland and Gavin Lawrence from Kenya surging through the field in their Datsun 260Z to take fourth. Fellow Kenyans Jonathon Savage and Sebastian Tham in their identical Datsun 260Z sit provisionally in sixth place.

Meanwhile 1979 Repco Reliability Trial runners up, Barry Ferguson and Dave Johnson in their ex-Holden Dealer Team Commodore, were moving back up through the field after their first Leg disaster, during which they plummeted to 40th place after getting bogged in thick sand on the very first competitive stage of the event. They left Mt.Isa this morning in 28th place, with many predicting they will be in the top 15 by the time the field arrives at the Cairns Showgrounds from around 12.30pm tomorrow, Saturday.

After their overnight stop in Cairns, the field will head south to Townsville, with the first car due to leave the Cars Showgrounds at 8.00am on Sunday morning. They are due at Strand Park, Townsville from 3.30pm Monday.

From Townsville the Trial then proceeds to Longreach, Birdsville, Tibooburra, Bourke and Goondiwindi, before finishing at Broadbeach Mall on Queensland’s Gold Coast on Saturday afternoon, September 21.
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