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The much loved seven day, 1515 kilometre Classic Outback Trial, of which 750 kilometres are Special Stage, is still hopeful of starting on time in the New South Wales regional town of Parkes on Saturday, August 8. RallySport Magazine spoke to the event organisers to find out what plans they're putting in place, once the COVID-19 lockdowns are eased. * * * * * While the rest of us are in COVID-19 lockdown and looking forward to the next visit to the supermarket, the organisers of the Classic Outback Trial are flat out with preparations. The Classic Outback Trial, which will see 50 classic and allcomers/modern rally cars compete in the forest and shire roads surrounding the towns of Parkes, Orange and then Bathurst, will not only provide a much needed economic boost for towns and allied businesses, but will be a welcome return of the sport of rallying to many competition-starved motoring enthusiasts. But in order to comply with the post-COVID-19 new world order, and any unforseen further restrictions which may be required to minimise the spread of the world’s newest invisible enemy, there will need to be some changes to traditional peripheral activities and in some cases, minor adjustments to the way the rally can be run. To find out more, RallySport Magazine went straight to the organisers to see what the latest plans are. Phil Bernadou, Classic Outback Trial owner and Event Director since 2009, is nothing if not fastidious in regard to planning and preparation for such a big event. When asked about the chances of the Classic Outback Trial running on schedule in August, Phil was quick to point out that the success of previous events – and the same expectation of success for the 2020 event – lies in the close-knit team of experienced personnel with whom he has surrounded himself.

Mark Pickering and his Datsun 240Z raise the dust in the Classic Outback Trial.

The continued enthusiasm shown by the team has seen significant progress with planning and organisation details which resulted in the coronavirus lockdown having little effect to slow down the planned roll out of the event. We also spoke to the Event’s Clerk of Course, Tom Snooks, who said the uncertainty of the community environment made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic that has proved to be one of the Classic Outback Trial’s  biggest challenges. “We just don’t know what the ground rules will be,” Snooks commented, “so we have gone into serious contingency planning mode and we think that we have covered almost all bases, including plans for dropping some of the associated functions for which the Classic Outback Trial is well known. “We really don’t want or need to change the competition side of things, so it’s more activities like the traditional welcome party and briefing and prize giving functions which we will either have to find a way around, or just simply not hold them. “Documentation and scrutiny procedures will need to change to ensure as few people as possible gather and that the community separation rules are maintained; the competitor and officials briefings would probably not be conducted on a face to face basis, but instead an electronic version issued. Even an internet based Zoom meeting is possible,” Snooks explained. “If handling the road card by officials is considered a problem we could even do away with them, as timing is carried out by RallySafe. We will also need to look at protocols at service locations to ensure there is no close gathering of people. “But you can bet that the event will continue to be competitive and, without doubt, memorable.”

Andrew Travis is a three-time Classic Outback Trial winner.

We were curious to find out more, like what sort of activities will be permitted and what will not? Bernadou: “Like everyone else in the world at the moment, we are at the mercy of the authorities and we have no wish whatsoever to bend any regulations, but the impact of the virus on the sporting world has been significant. “We owe it to our competitors and officials to try as hard as we can to deliver a red hot event that will support the local business community in not only Parkes, Orange and Bathurst, but all the towns along the route, including Condobolin, Molong, Cancour, Sofala and Black Springs, where there will be lunchbreaks and service points. “It’s going to be tricky coping with the social distancing protocols, but it’s just something that we have to work with.  We will find a way through!” Thanks to Phil’s early planning regime, many of the complex aspects of the overall route, and more particularly the Special Stages, were completed before the very much unplanned COVID-19 lockdown of the country commenced. One of the casualties of the current environment will probably be the international contingent, which has been a highlight of the field  in previous years. With three entries already received from international competitors, it’s looking more each day as if the appearance of the overseas drivers will be a non-event. But as with any downside, there is always an upside, and Bernadou claims that the entry list has been increased by more competitors being denied competition during COVID-19 from all around the country, especially those who have had cars all prepped and ready to go. The current entry list is headed by three-time Classic Outback Trail winners, Andrew Travis and his dad, David, from Bathurst.  Their mount again this year will be their trusty V6 Nissan 300SX, which is really somewhat of a rocket ship, albeit a very reliable one, which has seen it blitz the field in the previous two events.  The Travis father and son crew would like to add another trophy to their cabinet this year.

The route for the 2020 Classic Outback Trial is ready and waiting.

So, with the early part of the on-ground work completed, where is the Classic Outback Trial at as far as time lines are concerned? The route has now been finalised and the Road Book has been checked by Bernadou and Officer to make sure the initial instructions are correct.  Again this was able to occur before lockdown. But we were really keen on finding out what sort of plans the event has had to make to comply with the social distancing requirements.  Bernadou continued: “As far as the driving side is concerned, some of our contingencies include allowing more time for servicing at designated service points and perhaps providing competitors a choice of several locations in each service section to ensure correct social distancing.  The jury is still out on a few things. “We are being very conservative and we know that all our competitors will understand that some things may not be the same as they were last time. “Controls will be manned by as few persons as possible and interactions between co-driver and control officials will be reduced to the bare minimum.  We foresee that drivers will be encouraged not to enter a control zone until the precise time and to stay well clear of the control area, and be well spaced along the approach road, if there is any waiting to be done. “We must, however, continue the absolute need to provide officials to man each road closure point, that’s something we could simply not run the event without.  Fortunately there is a very dedicated band of officials who have continued to support the event, so we will be able to ensure competitor and public safety along the Special Stages. “It goes without saying that this year there will be no spectators encouraged or provided for, and as a result the media and community publicity which would normally accompany these large events will be virtually non-existent. “Each day’s start procedures will be affected.  We are considering at this time that each competitor will be instructed to be at the start control at a specific time (and not before!), complete the control processes with the single control official, and then leave the control at the appropriate time.  No fuss, no hassle.  It will be very simple!  But the competition on the stages will be as fierce and as competitive as ever, we can promise you.

The event sees all types of rally cars contesting the tough outback stages.

“We are cognisant that the major financial support for this event is coming from the competitors, so it’s up to us to put on a traditional Special Stage rally for drivers and co-drivers and manage the non-competition components, including servicing, promotions and community engagement in line with the government health regulations and requirements of the time.” Classic Outback Trial will no doubt need to discuss some detail issues with Motorsport Australia in order to relax some requirements to give the event a bit more flexibility, given the current social distancing and health regulations. Phil Bernadou sees no issues there at all and has been grateful for the assistance of the motorsport regulator. He has a strong conviction to run this event for a couple of good reasons.  Firstly, the support of the communities the event is visiting will be paramount.  The Classic Outback Trial will inject over $1 million into the communities of the Greater West of New South Wales, in a one week period.  Certainly this is monies which are desperately needed and will be warmly welcomed by all. The second reason is that this will be the final time Phil conducts the Classic Outback Trial.  After six events, he reckons it’s time to smell the roses, and his wife Louise would agree! So, the signs are very positive for a great outcome for the Classic Outback Trial, which may be the first major motorsport event to be held in the early stages of the post-COVID-19 lockdown. RallySport Magazine will bring you the latest developments as and when they occur. Entries are still open for the Classic Outback Trial and are available from www.classicoutbacktrail.com.au
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