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Well, the recent Great Lakes Rally up in Forster, NSW was definitely one I won’t be forgetting soon for a number of reasons…………

I was really looking forward to this event - it was brand new and the location was absolutely beautiful. Being the holiday off-season we were able to find accommodation very cheaply and managed to secure a great house overlooking the beach. I think the hardest thing all week was getting out of holiday mode and into rally mode! We travelled up to Forster on Monday morning so that we had the full week to get ready.

I still can’t get over how beautiful the location was – lots of blue water and white sand with running tracks along the beach. We had tennis courts right behind our accommodation so I had plenty of opportunity to practice - which I certainly needed!

For this rally we decided to test on Tuesday rather than Wednesday so that we had an extra day up our sleeve if we needed it. I hadn’t been in the car since

South Australia, but the test went really well. The road was quite narrow with gutters either side so I wasn’t sure how it would go but I actually really enjoyed it and the car felt great. I made a few small changes to soften the front up a little bit which seemed to help. Murray Coote was also up there for TRD’s testing so he agreed to come for a ride with me. He thought the car felt good, so it was very encouraging to have someone like that offer their advice.

Wednesday was a bit more relaxing. We did some work on the car and gave it a detail, however the rest of the day involved some more running and tennis, a lot of tennis - including Dale “accidentally” (that’s what he said..) hitting a tennis ball right into my stomach – big bruise! We also went out and watched Brendo and Spencer’s test which was good. You can learn a lot just by watching.

After much discussion, I had decided to change my pace note system from 1 – 6, to 1 - 10. So Forster would be my first event on 1 – 10 and I was a little nervous about how recce would go. It actually went really well. I felt the notes were accurate and didn’t find it as hard as I thought to change over…. as long as I remember that a ‘6’ is no longer flat in fifth! The roads also looked great, very challenging with a mixture of everything and a nice tight downhill stage that I though would suit the Mirage.

For the Media day on Friday, the piece of road they used was really fast with heaps and heaps of grip. As always, I find it really valuable to spend as much time as possible in the car so close to the event. 

Finally it was rally day! The first two stages on Saturday morning were short and quite slippery. Luckily the second stage was only a little over 4kms because I got a flat, which in the end didn’t cost too much time. The only problem was we still had three stages to go and now with no spare I had to be careful to make sure I didn’t hit any rocks as we were a long way away from service. The next stage, Knodingbul, was awesome. 25km of a flowing wide and grippy road, (although it was uphill, where we struggled a little). It was still great and definitely my favourite of the rally. The next stage was more suited to the Mirage, tighter and downhill, although I did make a mistake and overshot a ‘turn right’ which cost us some time. The afternoon’s stages were cancelled due to a breakdown in the communications which was a shame, but in the interests of safety they made the right call. With Heat One over and having secured maximum F16 points it was enough to claim the F16 Championship which was pretty exciting!

At the beginning of the year I made large signs of two of my goals for this year- to win F16 and to make 11.5 on the beep test at the AIS. I’ve had these signs stuck on the fridge and on the wall in my room. Now I can tick off one of them – and I’m still working on the other!

With the F16 Championship wrapped up, I rang Mum and joked to her that now the rally really started and Heat 2 would be ‘The Trophies or The Trees’. That definitely wasn’t my attitude, just Dale and I winding Mum up, although the joke backfired on me as we sat in the forest with the car on its lid, for hours, only three competitive kilometres from the finish of the rally! Apart from the disappointing finish to the day, up until that point we were having a really really good day.

Sunday morning we went out to do similar versions of the stages that were cancelled on Saturday afternoon. They were both fast stages but mostly very narrow with lots of blind corners and quite technical. I really enjoyed these ones, despite some slippery bits which got a bit hairy when there was not much road to use. We then did a repeat of some stages we used in Heat 1 including my favourite – Knodingbul. Everything just fell into place and I felt I was in a really good rhythm and the combination of that, and being able to hold more corner speed uphill as the road had more grip, saw us take 26 seconds off our time for Saturday.

The next stage, which was the twisty downhill one, also started off the same. Now with only that stage and the short Showgrounds stage to go, I knew we had to just take one corner at a time but also make sure we took caution in the dangerous areas to make sure we got home. That was what we did during the stage and it was all going well up until a 150 7R…. which is quite a fast corner.

Looking back on it, it probably should have been ‘late 7R’ or ‘blind 7R’ because the corner started off quite easy – which I had thought was the ‘7’ but it actually tightened up a little at a big tree, so coming up to the corner you couldn’t actually see where the ‘7’ was. I just came into it with too much speed onboard and ran wide, where there happened to be a large bank that we clipped with the left rear quarter. I thought that that was all it was going to be but I think I underestimated how much speed we had onboard. It was enough to trip the car up and we rolled along the bank 2 ½ times before landing on the roof. I’ve never been in a roll over before and I couldn’t believe how disorientating it can be sitting upside down in a car. I felt as if I was lying on the roof for what seemed like forever just trying to work out where the door handle was! When I managed to get the door open and get out of the car, I couldn’t work out which direction we had come from.… I went to run down the road to slow the next car and had no idea which way to go. Lucky I have a co-driver!

The car was laying on its roof right across the road so we had to slow everyone right down and they all just managed to drive around it. After that it was a long and depressing wait in the forest going over every little detail and all the things we could have done. At least it was an opportunity to analyse what had happened and its all part of the learning curve. I just have to treat it as a big lesson and make sure I learn from it and take everything I possibly can away from the experience, to hopefully not let it happen again.

I owe a huge thank you to all the FIV and recovery crews for making sure we were all OK and also our crew, Bill, Trent, Shane, Mick and Dad who all had to drive home that night, and for them it turned into a late night trying to recover the car in the dark. Also for everything they did over the weekend and in the weeks leading up to the rally. The car was running perfectly and I am very lucky to have such a fabulous group of people helping me.

One small mistake has had fairly major consequences and now we’ve got such a lot of work ahead of us to rebuild the car for the Rally of Melbourne. I have a few jobs lined up for the next few weeks – trying to earn enough money for the rebuild and I reckon it will be very tight with lots of late nights and early mornings. Mum reckons its character building!




 Pics: Hubble Photographix


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