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After a nine year absence from World Championship Rallying, driver Mark Butcher and co-driver James Heinrich tackled the extremely fast and challenging roads in the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales this weekend but were left wondering what could have been after a variety of issues put an end to the teams hopes.
The Tasmanian based team faced a variety of technical gremlins before the event and although the team were successful in passing the strict FIA scrutineering process were disappointed when on the first stage the car developed an engine mis-fire. The car was locked up over night and the team commenced the first full day of racing with a 5.30am start from the town of Kingscliffe.
With the car down on power the team pushed on but on the second stage for the day the car suffered a very unusual component failure. The lower front control arm failed causing the car to lose steering and suspension on the front right. Driver Mark Butcher was not shy to make the most of the situation. “We were driving the car as fast as we could due to the lack of power and all of a sudden the steering snatched from my hand and the car pulled violently to the right. At first I believed it was a flat tyre but we only got about 300m down the road before I realised it was something far worse. Lucky for us this all happened at the spectator point. So after diagnosing the fault as un-fixable we jumped the fence and spent the afternoon chatting to spectators and meeting the local farmers who were very friendly and supportive. We even managed to get a cup of tea and a cake!” said driver Butcher.
The DSA Rally Team service crew soon recovered the car and after several hours had replaced both front arms and also fixed the engine miss-fire giving a huge sense of confidence for a strong attack on day 2 of the rally.
Day 2 commenced with another early start and the team were keen to get out and set some quick stage times. Due to the penalties applied for not completing day 1 the team were out of the running for anything but were still keen to see how they could go against the worlds best drivers. “We were pumped up about having a good go and the car felt great on the first stage. We actually had caught the car in front but just before we were close enough to pass we developed a violent vibration. It was shortly after this we had the first of three minor incidents which we later diagnosed as being a loose bolt in the front suspension. The first incident involved sliding backwards into a corner and smashing into a pole. The damage was only cosmetic and not a lot of time was lost. I decided to take it a bit more cautiously after this but only a few kilometres later the team lost front traction and slid head on into a bank and tree. This time only denting the front bumper and guard. To top things off I then misjudged a corner over a cattle grid and found myself on the wrong side of a wire fence. Again we escaped with hardly any damage but we were certainly awake after three very interesting incidents” said Butcher.
The team attempted to find the vibration but were unable to find anything obvious and so decided to push on. On the following stage the car slid slightly wide and touched the edge of a timber bridge. Only damaging a wheel nut the team lost no time and kept up the pace however it wasn’t long before the team realised something serious was wrong. “Mark mentioned that we had lost power and then the front wheel collapsed completely. It was a bit like there wasn’t much else that could go wrong but when we finished the stage we could see smoke from the tyre that was being dragged under the car and then without much warning the engine failed. This was a tough event from the start and we just had a handful of very unusual incidents all appear at once.” Said co-driver Heinrich.
The team once again had picked a good place to stop with the local farmer having his own “Rally Party”. With about 100 people, catering, music and plenty of cool refreshments – the party were very happy to have Mark and James as guests. The party goers were provided with a few rally stories, free DSA Rally Team stickers and even had there photos taken in the DSA Rally Team car. Again after several hours the team had recovered the car but this time it was terminal. The engine had failed and the team were left with no choice but to withdraw from the rally.
“Its been a devastating weekend for myself and the entire team. We worked very hard and had just a row of problems that came from no where that put us out of contention. We however did meet the friendly locals and plenty of spectators. We were also managing the Repco win-a-drive entry driven by first timer Mick Patton and he finished the event in an amazing 27th Outright. In only his first ever event we were very excited to be part of this great promotion and the smile on Mick’s face at the end of the rally said it all!’ said Butcher.
The team are very grateful of the support received from Subaru Australia, Cricks Subaru Tweed, Masons Sign Worx, Chiptorque and AJL. “Without the support of our sponsors we would not ever compete at this level. We certainly hope that all our sponsors can return with us next year in New Zealand and then back the following year to New South Wales.” Said Butcher.
With a new car still on the cards, the team are excited about the future and are already making plans for 2010 onwards. “We had the chance to speak to some of the overseas teams and gained some valuable information on the new Subaru’s.  We hope to move into something newer soon and we have the support of a few very experienced people” said Butcher.
The DSA Rally Team would like to congratulate the winner – Sebastian Loeb and also the organisers of the event for putting on a world class rally back in Australia.
The team are having a short break before heading back to Tasmania where they are leading the NWCC Rally Series and sitting in 4th Outright in the Tasmanian Rally Series. Both of these championships will be finalised very soon and the team hope to be in a good position to maintain or improve on the current position.
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