2009 Eco Point Murramarang Bay Stages Rally – Round 5 of the NSW State Rally Championship

The 2009 Bay Stages has been run and won by a close margin of two seconds by Brad Fitzgerald over local driver Kelvin Croker. The rally this year was characterised by dry, sunny weather with cool breezes which contrasted sharply with the previous year’s rally.

This year, the roads were dry, dusty and sometimes slippery. Wayne Amos and his team of SKDAC officials and other helpers have again put on a great rally with a mix of smooth flowing and blindingly quick roads together with some tight winding stuff to keep everyone happy. SS5 River Road North was a completely new stage to recent competitors and was fantastic!

A field of 54 crews were waved away at 12.30pm on Saturday, October 24 from the Batemans Bay Village Centre & Bridge Plaza. This is a great start venue right in the centre of town and gave the public an opportunity to mix Saturday morning shopping and getting close to the state’s top cars and crews before they headed out to tackle the dirt forest roads around the Bay. The Central Service Park was positioned just across the Princes Highway in Mackay Park behind the Bowling Club and was a great venue with plenty of room for all of the service crews to set up for the entire rally.

SS1, SS2 and SS3

Crews headed south of Batemans for the first competitive section, Mogo. The first three special stages took the crews west of the Bay via Nelligen ending up just north of Cullendulla on the Princes Highway.

For those crews who competed in 2008, a special note would have been made in their roadbooks at the call RGL over crest at 1.88km in from the stage start. Fortunately, there was not a repeat of the 2008 accidents across this crest, although the stage was still slippery with tyre pressure settings being critical to success in this first run. The stage was won by Fitzgerald over K.Croker by a margin of 13 seconds. Shellshear had a close call in stage 1 with an off road excursion on a downhill, off camber RGR which cost him 20 seconds. The stage was cut slightly short this year before the crews transported to SS2, Farmers Run, along Firebreak Road. Porsche 911 crew, David was already out of the rally with brake line problems after pulling a ninth fastest run on the first stage.

SS2 Farmers Run at 25.67km was another fast flowing stage characterised by fast forest stages opening up to the cattle grid jumps in open farmland ('possible cattle') and great views as you are airborne across the first jump. Fitzgerald again took the stage win closely followed by K.Croker, 13 seconds behind.

SS3 Old Shannon at 8.85km was a quick blast along Nelligen Road before a TVHR hairpin spectator point into Shannons Road, bringing the crews back onto the Princes Highway just north of Cullendulla.

The crews then headed back to Batemans for a regroup, refuel and service before heading north to Boarding House Road for SS4, the Old Highway. This stage was 13.1km along the Old Highway and Barkshed. These were very fast roads until 9.32km into the stage where some new grading turned the road from a predictable, hardpacked surface into a slippery, loose, dusty and unpredictable road. The front runners created a set of wheel tracks for the remainder of the field to follow and steer through the last 3.4km. For once it was an advantage to be running behind the front runners as shown by G.Croker, taking the stage win from Fitzgerald and beginning to erode his lead.
 
SS5 The River Road (8.86km) was a new addition for this year’s Bay. The road surface was perfect and followed the Clyde River into Brooman Road past Prospect Hill. Although there were no official spectator points along this stage, many residents turned out to watch the crews tackle this short blat along beautifully smooth roads and corners. Unfortunately, the Corolla of Peter Taylor ran out of road at the end of a straight into a RGR and RGL at 2.77km into the stage. K.Croker took the stage win from G.Croker and Fitzgerald. Shellshear had a faultless and quick run pulling equal fourth fastest and was only four seconds off Fitzgerald’s time.

Next the crews tackled SS6, Mares Hill, a long 32.42km. In 2008 this stage was notoriously wet and slippery after significant rain leading up to the event. This year it was dry and the winding climb along Mares Hill Road was fast and twisty until reaching the very fast Western Distributor. By this time of the afternoon the sun was in the west and the odd patches of airborne dust were starting to hang in the late afternoon air. The top three positions for this stage were taken by G.Croker, K.Croker and Fitzgerald.  The crews headed back to Batemans Bay for a regroup and Service 2 before tackling the last two evening stages with spotlights fitted.

After service the crews headed west along the Kings Highway to SS7 Lyons Road, 28km. After a short delay to the start of this stage the crews tackled Lyons and Old Mines Roads. To say the dust was bad is an understatement. The breeze that had been blowing most of the afternoon was gone and the fine “bull dust” hung in the air at every braking and acceleration point in this stage. It was a very long 28km. Car 1 had the best run through and clearly this was shown when K.Croker took the stage win with Fitzgerald six seconds behind. The teams of Long and Shellshear were hampered when a car ahead of them broke down and then limped out of the stage, significantly affecting both of their competitive times due to poor visibility from dust.  Having said this, all crews would have suffered from this phenomenon, especially further down the field.

The final stage was a blat along the River Road next to the Clyde River heading back towards Nelligen. The road was in fantastic condition with tremendous sweeping tight corners and was a great way to end the rally, although dusty in places. K.Croker and Fitzgerald equalled the time along this stage at 7 minutes 24 seconds, however Fitzgerald hung on to take the overall win for the rally. In the 2WD category, team Inall / Wright took first place honours in their Holden Commodore by a slim six second margin from Waterhouse / Crawford in the Mazda RX7.

Final Results

1. Fitzgerald / Hughes
2. K.Croker / Kent
3. G.Croker
4. C.Croker / Lance
5. Roberts / Darby
6. Murray / James
7. Long / Topliff
8. Shellshear / Fletcher
9. Barrett / Batten
10. Martin / Martin

With the final round of the 2009 NSW State Rally Championship to be held in Canberra on November 21, the National Capital Rally looks to be a cracker of a contest in the NSW State Rally Drivers championship pointscore.  M. Amos now leads the championship by two points from second placed driver N.Shellshear. Both drivers will no doubt be giving it their all to win this final round and take the points necessary to win the championship for 2009.

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