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I’m writing this in the car as we tow our recce car (on a trailer with three wheels…. But that’s another story) across the Hay Plains, heading home from ARC4 in Adelaide, some 775km from Sydney. Looking back, it has been a very eventful few weeks.

Despite the nine week break, there has been a lot to do to the car and I am fast learning that every little job takes much longer than you would ever expect.  Finally, after a few 2am and 3am mornings, it was a relief to get everything loaded, and head to Adelaide. Unfortunately this meant that we didn’t get a chance to do any testing prior to leaving for South Australia so I made the most of our Wednesday afternoon test session down there. It was great just to be back in the car and have a few valuable hours driving. The test road we used was very fast and flowing and emulated many of the stages we would encounter in the rally.  It definitely woke me up!  

Dale had just arrived after 30+ hours in planes from a rally in China (which, I’m sure after listening to all his stories would make for a very interesting blog!). He had a ‘wake-up’ too when we went through a deep water splash and the front floor started filling with water! Dale is a bit precious and doesn’t like getting his toes wet. (Sorry Dale, couldn’t let that comment slip by…. ☺ ) In testing we softened the car’s suspension up quite a bit to maximise our grip and ended up with two different shock settings, one for the fast open stages and another for the two stages we were to run five times each in the Mt Crawford Forest which tend to dig up and get a lot rougher than the shire road stages.

I had watched some of Mum’s ‘in-car’ footage from previous Rally SA’s and couldn’t believe how fast the roads were. Because of that it is also a very technical rally so I knew I needed to ensure we made it to the finish to get as much experience in these conditions, as well as scoring points to go towards the F16 Cup and Rally Challenge.

Recce was a really big day. We started at 7.30am and finished at 5.00pm and had lunch on the go so we hardly stopped all day. I felt really happy with my notes however, so all the hard work was definitely worth it. The event started with quite a technical super special stage on the Friday night at a town called Angaston. For a reasonably small town I couldn’t believe how many spectators were there. 5000 people turned up to watch the opening night and I had never driven in front of so many people before! It was quite nerve racking, starting off, having not competed for two months and getting back into it in front of all these people, but I had to tell myself to forget about the faces and focus on what I was doing. Two clean passes of this stage was a good way to start the rally, with only one minor hiccup. They were letting us go at 15 and 5 second intervals once the previous car had finished the stage, however just before our turn, they stopped the stage to let the spectators cross the track. Suddenly without any warning they opened the boom gate and called 5 seconds!  In all the rush I forgot to turn on my lights! Grabbing for light switches as I got going made for a pretty hairy beginning and not a fantastic time.

Saturday morning, and off into the forest at last! It took the first couple of stages to get into the right rhythm but once we did, everything started to flow really nicely and the car felt great. It was a shame not to have any F16 registered crews in the ARC component to compare our times against, although it was great to have some locals in 2WDs in the State field that I could keep a close eye on.   

On Sunday morning, after getting into a good rhythm and really enjoying the first stage of Heat Two, the second stage certainly brought me back down to earth! Only a few corners in, I got a bit optimistic on a tight right hander and came in way too fast. Knowing we were not going to make the corner, I chucked it in backwards by grabbing the handbrake and we slid off the end of the road into some shrubbery. Being a front wheel drive we couldn’t get enough grip to drive out but luckily there were some spectators on the corner who managed to push us back on the track (thank you very much!) Unfortunately though, we also suffered a flat tyre from the incident and had to stop to change it. Pulling back out onto the road we caught up to a V8 Commodore that had passed us while we were stopped. We then spent the next kilometre chasing down this Commodore whilst trying to dodge all the stones being thrown at us – it was quite exciting.

Eden High was a definite highlight, a really fast 20km shire road that requires really accurate pace notes to be able to drive fast and commit to.  There are a lot of crests and the trees actually encroach on the road so sometimes the corners look very misleading. A flat crest at 60kph during recce can be very different when you hit it at 160kph during competition.

After five passes of the two stages in the Mt Crawford forest, the roads were getting very rough and rutted out. I remember one particular corner, which we would usually take in fourth but we had to take it in third, and the ruts still nearly launched the Mirage off the road. We also had to dodge some big rocks that were getting pulled out by the cars in front of us.  The other interesting moment I had was on the Ridgetops stage, one of these repeat stages. On the Saturday evening Dale and I were having a chat with Bill Hayes about this particular corner in that stage. You come over a blind crest which turns into a right hander between two sets of large gate posts. He was saying that it was flat out if you lined up between two particular trees as you come over the crest. So, with this new found information (and optimism) I came over the crest flat out – but must have lined up the wrong trees! We did make the corner……..just! (I think the audio from Dale as we passed through the posts just about sums it up, but I’m not sure I can share it!)

Once again I owe a huge thank you to all the organisers and officials for doing such a fantastic job. I have never seen so many lollies at every control. It was fantastic, despite the fact I will have to spend the rest of this week at the gym!

A huge thanks, also to Ralliart Penrith, RallySchool.com.au, Silverstone Competition Tyres (only one flat…caused by driver error!), Motographics, Monit Rally Computers (fantastic to use), Braid Wheels AND to my hard working service crew, Trent, Shane, Mick & Mark.

It’s now busy, busy as usual to get the car ready, prepped and tested before heading into the next round at Forster. It will be a new event for everyone so it will be interesting to see how it all shapes up.

Make sure you check out the great Rally South Australia photos in my gallery.

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