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With 100 entries already chosen from the 160 or so who submitted expressions of interest, you would have to wonder what the attraction of the Alpine Rally is. Sure, the Alpine has had a long reputation as being one of the toughest rallies ever conducted in Australia (it’s also the longest-running event, run the first time back in the early 1900s), but other events had unblemished reputations as well.

Certainly the event’s reputation as a long, testing and demanding rally was heightened in the 1970s and 80s when all manner of works and semi-works rally teams included it on their annual calendar. Run traditionally in November, underneath a boiling sun (usually) in the pine plantations around Myrtleford and Bright in north eastern Victoria, the Alpine was seen as being one of those events where just finishing was an achievement, let alone finishing in the top ten.

As a round of the Australian Rally Championship in later years, it saw fields of over one hundred contest the two (and sometimes three) day event. And if you weren’t able to compete, then you had to spectate – there was nothing else for it, it was just one of those special events.

The Alpine probably has no other direct equal anywhere in Australia. None of today’s (or even yesterday’s) events were as long, as rough, as demanding or as contagious as the Alpine. And the competitors kept coming back, as did the spectators, the officials and the service crews who fettled the cars that competed.

But the Alpine lost some of its edge in the late 1990s when ARC regulations forced shortened stages on the organizers, which in turn led to competitors finding it less enjoyable, not to mention more expensive. Even then, finishing an Alpine was something worthwhile to note on your rallying CV, but the old mystique that the event enjoyed was somehow different.

Despite all its changes, for better or for worse, the Alpine wasn’t allowed to die, and when no-one was prepared to take over the reins for it to be an ARC round again, it just became one of those events like the dozens you could name, including the Southern Cross, the 2GO, the Endrust, the Castrol International, the Lutwyche and others – relegated to the back burner.

But the Alpine was too important to be kept hidden away and it was reborn in 2001 as a stand-alone event under the guidance of Stuart Lister from the Historic Rally Association. Today it runs every second year and is again a major event on the Victorian calendar, wending its way through the forests of east Gippsland, several hundred kilometers from its traditional stamping ground in the Victorian Alps.

That mystique mentioned earlier is still present in modern-day Alpines, but it’s in a different form. Apart from competitors still being able to say “I finished an Alpine”, they can also say that by their participation they’re helping to keep this grand old lady alive. It would be too easy to throw in the towel and say that it’s all too hard to run something as long and as tough as an Alpine, but Lister refuses to let it die, despite the enormous work involved. His vision is obviously shared by the 160 crews who indicated their willingness to compete. In this day of special stages of decreasing length, there’s obviously something attractive about a 2-day, 800 kilometre blast through the bush.

The original concept of the event has now gone full circle, with this year’s event disallowing four wheel drive and turbocharging, after a period in the 90s when this was permitted. Perhaps that’s one of the attractions of the Alpine where cost is kept to a minimum and enjoyment is maximized. Make no mistake, this year’s rally will still retain plenty of its character and charm, and the winner will richly deserve his or her victory.

Perhaps it’s time that other states started resurrecting these old, tough and enjoyable events that once ran within their borders. It’s obvious that rallying needs a real good kick along – this might just be the way to do it.

Photos: John Doutch

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