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Following days of heavy rain the rolling hills of the Lardner Park showground presented a significant challenge for the East Coast Bullbars Australian Rally Championship contenders at this morning’s Pedders Power Stage.
Corners quickly became boggy mud holes, straights became sodden, and the short tarmac section at the stages start proved as treacherous as ice. The two qualifying runs proved that the road conditions were deteriorating, with drivers first run times notably faster than their second.
Eli Evans was the initial pace setter, followed by the usual suspects including Tom Wilde, Scott Pedder and Mark Pedder, but the surprise of the morning was the speed of Steve Mackenzie in his Ford Fiesta.
“In conditions like these maybe having a bit less horsepower is a good thing, and he’s a great driver too,” said Scott Pedder on the performance of Mackenzie.
With showers persisting the top six drivers lined up for the final Power Stage run, with Mick Patton securing the wildcard slot and starting as the first car on the road.
“That stage was great fun,” said Patton when he arrived at the stage finish with his Volkswagen Polo coated in mud. “The stage is very wet. The aim now is to go out to the forest and see what we can do this afternoon.”
Mark Pedder was next into the stage, starting Honda’s farewell to Australian rallying, setting a time almost six seconds faster than Patton. “I’m pretty pleased with that,” he said.
“I was a bit untidy though. Every run the conditions keep changing. If you run wide just a wheel width it just takes forever to get yourself out of the mud and that’s where you loose all the time,” Mark added.
After setting the fourth fastest time during the morning’s qualifying runs Scott Pedder started behind his brother Mark, pushing the Renault hard from the very outset. It was a strategy though that wouldn’t pay off, Scott ruing his aggressive approach the moment he crossed the flying finish.
“I think I got one corner right, that’s it. Way too aggressive, I tried to carry too much speed and it just didn’t work. And that first corner on the tarmac, I’ve had three attempts and three times I’ve got it completely wrong,” Scott explained.
The frustrated Scott Pedder was quickly put out of his misery by his Renault team mate Tom Wilde, the young West Australian’s time a clear three seconds faster.
“I had a really clean run, and I tried to push in the bits that I felt I was too slow in during this morning’s qualifying runs. There were only two bits that I felt I didn’t get quite right and was a bit off the pace,” Wilde said.
The morning’s surprise driver Steve Mackenzie was quickly into the stage though, but unlike his qualifying stage time which would have knocked off Tom Wilde, he found the going tricky and dropped time to fall out of the running.
“Too untidy!” he lamented at the stage finish. “I went wide on one of the left handers and took the side mirror off my side of the car. And then on the last left hander I had a big lock up and understeered and probably lost about a second.”
“It’s a good start to the weekend though and I really hope we can continue this sort of pace we’ve shown this morning into the forests stages this afternoon,” added Mackenzie.
So it all came down to Eli Evans, the Honda driver last into the stage, and ready to extend his run of three previous Pedder’s Power Stage from this season.
Tom Wilde and co-driver Bill Hayes anxiously waited at the flying finish to see if Eli would have the speed to match their time. “I think Eli always holds something back for his last run. If he makes a mistakes I think it’s ours, and if he doesn’t make a mistake he’ll probably take it out today.”
With the time counting down and the sound of Eli’s high-revving Honda roaring into the last corner Wilde quickly realised he’d been bested by a single second.
“Shocked we won it!” exclaimed Eli.”I really thought the conditions today brought out the worst for me, but I must have done enough on the corners I got right.”
“When Glen (Weston, co-driver) told me the time at the end of the stage I was seriously surprised. It’s strange, I honestly thought I’d made a meal of our run, I even managed to take out one of the wooden posts on the hairpin.”
The result means Eli has claimed four out of the six Pedder’s Power Stages this season, and allows him to continue to build momentum heading into the proper forest stages as he looks to extend his unbeaten Round win record this weekend to twelve.
“I pushed this morning, took some risks, and it paid off. I’ll go out to the stages this afternoon and push hard and see if the other guys are in the mood to try to match it,” added Eli.
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