Dual Australian rally champions David and Kate Officer in their 1970 Mitsubishi Galant have provisionally taken an early lead in the 2008 Red Centre Gold Coast Trial as the field of 70 pre-1986 rally cars returned to Alice Springs this evening after the first of 11 days of competition in the 7,600 km marathon event.

However their closest rival today was not one of the other highly fancied 2WD rally cars, but the thundering 1978 Range Rover of fellow Victorians Matthew Fenner and Stuart Blegg, which posted the fastest times of anyone on the sandy Stages 1 and 3 of the event.

In third place as the field prepared to depart Alice Springs for Mt.Isa early tomorrow (Thurs Sept. 11) was the potent 1970 Ford Capri Perana V8 of Queensland’s Paul Darrouzet and Victorian Simon Brown, although they were being pushed hard by veteran rally driver Graham Alexander and David Stewart in their Datsun 260Z.

Kenya’s Jonathon Savage would have been right amongst the leaders, but he caught some fencing wire in his Datsun 260Z’s from end on the first stage of the day and it cost him and co-driver Sebastian Tham nearly four minutes to untangle the wire from their suspension.

NSW’s Mike Batten and Victorian Steuart Snooks were also quick in their 1971 Datsun 510, but paced themselves well to follow the Kenyans home today. However they will have to work hard to keep the more powerful cars in view on the longer and faster stages to come.

Also striking trouble on the same sandy Stage 1 was nine-time New South Wales Rally Champion Barry Ferguson and David Johnson in their 1979 ex-Holden Dealer Team Commodore. They were stuck firmly in the sand when fellow competitors David Brown and David Carra from Victoria stopped to help in their 1980 Mitsubishi Sigma.

But instead of hauling the Commodore out of the sand, their snatch-strap instead wrenched the rear bumper, its supports and tow hook from the Sigma’s body and Ferguson and Johnson lost nearly 25 minutes before they were finally extracted by a four wheel drive competitor.

“I’m not worried at this stage,” said Ferguson, who finished second in the 1964 and 1979 Round Australia Trials. “It’s a long event and everyone will have some sort of issue at some stage.”

After departing Alice Springs from 6.00am tomorrow morning, the competitors are expected to arrive at Mt. Isa’s Buchanan Park from 6.25pm after their 883 journey, which includes a further three competitive stages.

From Mt. Isa the Trial then progresses to Normanton, Cairns, Townsville, Longreach, Birdsville, Tibooburra, Bourke and Goondiwindi, before finishing at Broadbeach Mall on Queensland’s Gold Coast on Saturday afternoon, September 21.

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