Former Australian Rally Champions David and Kate Officer driving the 1970 Mitsubishi Colt Galant they purchased five years ago for $50 have won the 2008 Red Centre to Gold Coast Trial.

They provisionally finished the 11-day event 6min.8sec. ahead of the 1975 Datsun 260Z of fellow Victorians Graham Alexander and David Stewart, with the NSW crew of Mike Batten and Steuart Snooks a further 4min.7sec. away third in their 1971 Datsun P510.

Fourth place went to Victorians Alan Upton and Matt De Vaus in their 1978 Datsun Skyline C210, resisting a late charge by the NSW Peugeot 504Ti crew of Andy Crane and Tony Jordan, while Kenyan competitors Jonathan Savage and Sebastian Tham finished sixth in their Australian-built and prepared Datsun 260Z.

Conducted from September 8-20, the 14th ‘Round Australia’-style event was run in the spirit of the original 1953 REDeX Trial and attracted a diverse field of 70 pre-1986 rear-wheel drive historic rally cars and recreational four wheel drive vehicles.

Just 27 vehicles completed the full 7,600km course with its 39 special stages, some up to 100km in length, but competitors were unanimous in voting the event “the experience of a lifetime”.

The husband and wife team of David ‘Dinta’ and Kate Officer were no strangers to the winners’ circle, with David winning the Australian Rally Championship in 1984 driving a 2.4 litre Group G Mitsubishi Galant, while Kate went on to take the Navigators’ title beside David in their Mitsubishi Starion in 1986, becoming the first woman in Australia to win a national motorsport title.

However they both rated their Red Centre to Gold Trial victory right up there with their national titles.

“We knew the car would have the strength, but never thought we’d have the speed to really challenge for the lead in this event,” said David Officer, whose 1780cc Galant produced just 84kW at its rear wheels when the car was dynamometer tested just before the Trial.

“However we drove it hard and kept the maintenance up and here we are – delighted!” he said.

Second-placed Graham Alexander said two major factors cost him a shot at victory:

“We made a tactical mistake by not really going for the lead in the early stages,” he said, “But we felt we had a package to fight for it later in the event.

“However we really lost the Trial in the four stages held in the dark out of Tibooburra on Thursday morning. We simply couldn’t match the Officers’ pace while following in their dust and that cost us roughly the margin we lost by.”

Third-placed Mike Batten was rueing an early puncture near Mt.Isa that cost him four minutes, but he and navigator Steuart Snooks had closed to within 38 seconds of Alexander and Stewart by the end of yesterday’s final leg, when they took a wrong turn 5km from the end of the stage and dropped four minutes and all hope of second place.

“We’re disappointed of course,” said Batten, who is better known these days for his spirited tarmac rallying in a red early 1960s Volvo PV544, “but our goal was third place or better, so we cant be too unhappy.”

Nostalgic entrant Barry Ferguson in the same No 17 Holden Dealer Team Commodore that he drove to second place outright in the 1979 Repco Reliability Trial, eventually finished 17th in the Red Centre to Gold Coast Trial after losing considerable time when bogged in deep sand on the
very first stage of the event south of Alice Springs.

“We’re happy,” he said. “Of course we’d like to have been further up the order, but we’ve had a great time and the car is going like new.”

An interested spectator at the Broadbeach finish on the Gold Coast was the car’s original creator – rally expert George Shepheard, who built the three Holden Commodore team cars that took he first three places in that 1979 event.

Competitors celebrated the end of their adventure at the event’s Official Presentation Diner at the Royal Pines Resort on the Gold Coast.

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