Melbourne University Car Club members, Matt Swan and Paul Franklin held off fellow club members Steve Ashton and Ro Nixon to take out the 2012 Classic Outback Trial.

Run over seven days in a route stretching from Forbes in NSW to Renmark in South Australia, the two crews were separated by only 46 seconds at the end of Day 6, with a winner take all final day in the offing. Fortunately for Swan and Franklin, driving a 1987 Holden Commodore, the major stage of the last day included some fast sections where Ashton and Nixon, in their 1972 Mitsubishi Colt Galant, were unable to match the pace and with an extra 43 seconds added to the lead and only three short sections to follow the battle, and the event, had been won.

The event offered a wide variety of stages, mostly on access roads around farm stations, with some favouring the nimble Galant, while others favoured the ultimate top speed of the Commodore.

Day 1 was a run from Forbes to Condoblin. The event began with several fancied [ie rapid] crews striking trouble early. The Mustang of Mike Arundel and the pretty Mercedes of Pat Cole each lost a front wheel to the stumps of the 54 km opening stage, while others – including eventual winner Matt Swan – were lucky to just dent the odd wheel rim.

A trio of Datsuns – two 1600s and a 200B – showed a clean pair of heels to the field covering the stage 2+  minutes quicker than everyone else, but the engine of second placed David Travis’ car was about to cry enough!

Swan began cautiously, since the car was completed on the day before the event, and had not yet been driven on gravel! His first stage time was nearly five minutes slower than the top runner, but with the car performing well, he was able to up his pace as the day went on. With day 1 completed, he was in fifth position – but importantly, two more fancied crews, Mike Batton and Ross Runnalls, had struck trouble and missed the odd control. Neil Cuthbert  (200B), was a clear leader, but had had a drive shaft failure, not a regular problem, allowing the field to stay in touch.

Day 2 – Condoblin to Cobar - began with another stage favouring the nimble vehicles – where Ashton blitzed the field to have his first fastest stage time - but following immediately, a high speed dash around a canola crop gave Swan his first fastest stage time, taking back all his loss and more.  The next four stages of the leg enabled the faster vehicles to claw back time over their nimble rivals.  Cuthbert’s 200B was both nimble and fast but was beginning to have some more mechanical issues with the fuel pump and starter motor slowing his progress. Gary Williamson (Datsun 1600) led after Day 2, a mere 27 seconds ahead of Ashton, with Swan a further 45 seconds back.

Three long stages made up Day 3 – Cobar to Ivanhoe - with conditions first favouring Swan (40+ second gain), then Ashton (40+ second gain) then honours quite even on the last.  At days end, Ashton lead Swan by 36 seconds, with Williamson losing time on the third stage to drop to fourth.  None of the top three had been higher than fifth fastest on any of the stages, with excellent times emphasising the “if only” factor for the re-joining crews.

Competition time for the leader was now  5 hours 49 minutes – equivalent to five State Championship rounds, and a couple of years of ARC – and there were four days to go!!


Day 4 – Ivanhoe to Broken Hill - and the organisers had a further five stages totalling 153 km for crews to take on.  The fast open stages favoured Swan’s Commodore over Ashton’s Galant – though both struggled to get into the top 10 on the morning stages. Swan managed his second stage winning time on the last run of the day to finish the day leading Ashton by two minutes, though both could have been headed by, now third, Cuthbert if not for the return of drive shaft issues late in the day. Williamson was still fourth, with a hard charging John Giddings (Datsun 180B), closing to within 18 seconds after a good drive.

Day 5 was almost a rest day, with only a couple of blasts around the Broken Hill Speedway and a testing 12 km stage to lunch at Silverton before returning to Broken Hill. With all to lose and little to gain, Ashton and Swan were again only fifth and eighth fastest on the short stages, and little change to the outright order, though the gaps were now 1:51 between Swan and Ashton, and only seven seconds between Williamson and Giddings.

Day 6 – Broken Hill to Renmark – presented yet another 150+ km of station roads, broken into six stages.  Only the second of the day favoured the faster vehicles, so Ashton made useful gains on all bar that – taking his second fastest-on-stage on his way to reducing the overall lead to just 46 seconds (after more than nine hours of competition). A determined drive by Williamson, and a few electrical problems for Giddings, meant a gap of more than two minutes separated them in third and fourth.  Cuthbert’s Datsun 200B finally cried enough, with a tooth coming off third gear and damaged steering putting paid to his effort in a very fast car. This left his hard working service crew with one final task – drag the reluctant Datsun onto the trailer.

Day 7 – Renmark to Renmark – began with one longish stage, a run along the South Australian-Victorian border.  Extremely worried about what Ashton might be able to do on the day's tight, but short stages, Swan attacked the border run and managed his second fastest stage time to open the lead to 1:29 – surely enough with so little distance still to be covered.  Giddings closed in on Williamson, but only by 21 seconds,  so the top three was settled.  Swan managed another fastest stage time on the short second stage – he was still pressing on while many of the opposition were now driving to the finish perhaps – and by the end of the event, a win by 1:45 was achieved.  Not bad for a vehicle that was driven for the first time a mere eight days earlier – that drive being from Melbourne to Forbes for the event .

To say that Swan and Franklin were thrilled with their win is a great understatement, and a testament to Swan's preparation skills as well as the team management skills of Franklin, not forgetting the tireless service work done by Cale Pearce throughout the event.

Top 5 Results:
Matt Swan – Paul Franklin, 1987 Holden Commodore, 9:43:59
Steve Ashton – Ro Nixon, 1972 Mitsubishi Colt Galant, 9:45:44
Gary Williamson – Peter Batt, 1968 Datsun 1600,  9:50:50
John Giddings – Tony Jordan, 1975 Datsun 180B,  9:54:37
Andy Crane – David Anderson, 1970 Peugeot 504,  9:57:13 


Photo: Peter Otzen

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